Attorney General John Ashcroft was the subject of two prominent reports in yesterday's news, the first having to do with a federal appeals court's reversal of his attempt to ban physician-assisted suicide in Oregon and the second reporting on his news conference with FBI Director Mueller concerning nonspecific threats of heightened terrorist activities.
In the assisted suicide case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was particularly critical of Ashcroft's arrogation of an authority he does not possess. It found his "unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers . . . far exceeds the scope of his authority under federal law."
Conspicuously absent from the Times' report on the Ashcroft-Mueller "news" conference was Ashcroft's assertion that the dramatic effect of the March 11 Madrid bombings on the election in Spain "could embolden al-Qaida to try to influence U.S. elections through attacks here," according to the Associated Press.
Based on the Attorney General's well-documented disdain for the law in general and democracy in particular, one may reasonably conclude that Ashcroft is setting the stage for the invocation of martial law and the cancellation of this year's presidential election. Of course, fear of al-Qaida will be the justification for any such move. And based on recent history, it is likely to be a move the Times will support.
In view of the Times' feeble apology on Wednesday for its abdication of responsibility in uncritically parroting the administration's misrepresentations leading up to the Iraq fiasco, and its promise to try to do better, a little skepticism might be in order here. Rather than remaining the handmaiden of a blatantly fascist administration, the "newspaper of record" might have appropriately noted that the "news" conference had no news content and that the principal message is the same as it has been since September 11, 2001: Be afraid, be very afraid.
Mr. Betz is a New York attorney.