Strange Bedfellows -- George W. Bush & the New York Times

One of the curiosities of the New York Times is its habit, since George W. Bush took office, of assigning a gal reporter to the White House, apparently to generate warm and fuzzy puff pieces about the Commander in Chief. I've had difficulty fathoming this obsequious approach to a president who is otherwise diametrically at-odds with the Times' generally liberal profile.

My best guess is that the Times panders to Bush in this respect to "balance" an otherwise critical approach to his policies, including his efforts to dismantle Social Security, his recent veto of health coverage for poor children and, of course, his solipsistic prosecution of the debacle in Iraq - a propaganda-fueled war that has injected into the American discourse words like "gulag," "torture," and "electrodes" that were previously exclusive to paranoid autocracies like Red China and Stalinist Russia.

Perhaps all the Times is seeking is a little "human interest" in its treatment of the president. And who better to cover the up-close and personal George W. than a girl? The current Times ingAf(c)nue assigned to this beat is Sheryl Gay Stolberg, whose latest softball was a Veterans Day feature entitled "Bush and Relatives of Fallen Lean on Each Other."

(Note that in this usage, "fallen" doesn't mean "oops." It means "dead.")

Dubya, according to Stolberg, isn't just a damn-the-torpedoes warmonger. No, indeed. He has a tearful, gentle, compassionate side, which emerges only in secret meetings with the families of the fallen - er, "dead." However, as Orwell suggested and as Stolberg's story eventually reveals, some fallen are more equal than others.

Stolberg's story starts with Melissa Storey of Palmer, Mass. - whose husband, Army Staff Sgt. Clint Storey, "fell" after a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq. It then rambles on through 73 column inches, including two photos of the president hugging "folks," as Bush likes to call them, whose husbands, fathers, sons and daughters he has sent to their deaths. This is a lot of news space for meetings, according to White House staffers quoted by Stolberg, that are "deeply private" and never, ever publicized.

What went wrong here? How did these "deeply private" meetings with Mrs. Storey and so many other "folks" get exposed? Who leaked?

We know that, normally, the Bush regime is good at secrecy, especially when it comes to Iraq. There was the matter of banning all photos and video of American soldiers' coffins being unloaded - in the wee hours of the morning - at Dover Air Force Base. Moreover, this is the administration that called Ted Koppel a traitor for reading, aloud on TV, the names of the dead. This president established a firm policy of never attending dead soldiers' funerals, lest he emphasize the "negative" aspects of his war. This is the administration that falsified the facts, then stonewalled, then lied about the death of its foremost celebrity GI, Cpl. Pat Tillman, ultimately forcing Tillman's parents to literally sue the government for the truth (which has yet to be declassified). This regime, also, briefly undertook - for reasons of thrift - to ban individual funeral services at stateside Army bases. It failed throughout the first three years of the war to provide body and vehicle armor to its troops, despite the enemy's heavy dependence on the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that killed Sgt. Storey. This administration failed to provide adequate care for its wounded veterans until a grisly exposAf(c) in the Washington Post revealed filth, neglect and needless deaths at Walter Reed Hospital. This administration has been consistently deaf to outcries for a new GI Bill of benefits for combat veterans of the "global war on terror" in the Middle East.

But why dwell on the negative?

According Stolberg's crack reportage, countless families of those veterans, both half-alive and dead, think George W. Bush, whom they like to call "the "comforter in chief," is "a big softie" and "a good guy."

OK, not all of them. Melissa Storey got invited to the White House after writing a letter pledging her undying fealty to Dubya. She said "I don't hate him because my husband is dead." Er, fallen. White House staffers ferreted out Mrs. Storey's letter and invited her to the Oval Office. However, another letter-writer mentioned by Stolberg, Bill Adams of Lancaster, Pa., sent Dubya a different message, Adams wrote that the military had lied to him about the death of his son, Brent. Had he been granted an audience with Bush, Adams admits he wouldn't have reached out for a hug. "My son's life was squandered," Adams said.

Guess who didn't get invited to the White House.

From Stolberg's latest puff piece, two lessons come pretty clear. The first is that the hardest thing for any family to admit is that a child of theirs, killed in the flower of youth, has died in vain, in dubious battle. The second is that there is no human depravity from which some of its victims cannot be called forth to forgive the unforgivable.

Let us remember that Hitler's favorite photo ops showed him cuddling with children. Joseph Paul Goebbels, the Feuhrer's propaganda chief and one of the great public relations pros in history, lacked the imagination of Dubya's publicity squad. But, if he'd had a chance to learn from the Bush White House, who knows? He might have unearthed a few befuddled victims of his war, perhaps the family of a Warsaw ghetto Judenrat cop trampled by his fellow Jews in a food riot. The ensuing photo op would have immortalized the family hugging Hitler inside his HQ at Wolfsschanze.

Wolfsschanze, conveniently, was in Poland, making it convenient to ship the family - still starry-eyed from their visit with the charming and empathetic comforter-in-chief - straight to Auschwitz...

Where no cameras covered the unloading of the trains... sort of like cargo planes in Dover.

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