NY Times' Sanger, Bumiller smeared Clinton over Pakistan trip


New York Times staff writers David Sanger and Elisabeth Bumiller used the opportunity presented by President Bush's March 3 visit to Pakistan to contrast Bush's "more public landing" on Air Force One with Clinton's 2000 visit, in which, Bumiller wrote, he "slipped into Islamabad for six hours on an unmarked military jet." However, both Sanger and Bumiller ignored the historical and political context of Clinton's trip to Pakistan and the security measures taken by Bush that undermine any notion that he "arrived with a roar on Air Force One."

During the March 3 broadcast of PBS' Washington Week, New York Times staff writer David Sanger used the opportunity presented by President Bush's March 3 visit to Pakistan to assert that Bush "didn't sneak in [to Pakistan] the way President Clinton did" in March 2000, because Bush "landed Air Force One there." Sanger echoed a comparison Times staff writer Elisabeth Bumiller made in a March 3 article, when she contrasted Bush's "more public landing" on Air Force One with Clinton's arrival aboard an unmarked military jet. Then, in the March 6 edition of the paper, Bumiller wrote: "Unlike Mr. Clinton, who slipped into Islamabad for six hours on an unmarked military jet, Mr. Bush arrived with a roar on Air Force One." But, while security was a factor in Clinton's trip, other factors also contributed to his decision to visit Pakistan, reportedly reached amid "intense disagreement within the administration," over conditions under which the visit would be made -- factors wholly ignored by Sanger and Bumiller. Moreover, contrary to Bumiller's and Sanger's suggestions, Bush traveled to Pakistan under intense security measures that included decoys and deflection, undermining Bumiller's assertion that he "arrived with a roar on Air Force One."

At the time of Clinton's 2000 visit to Pakistan, only five months had passed since Gen. Pervez Musharraf had seized power from then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup during a time of escalated tensions between Pakistan and India over the disputed Kashmir region -- a fact that the Times reporters overlooked. The March 26, 2000, edition (subscription required) of the Times noted that Clinton's brief visit was "an effort to defuse tensions in a region that he has described as the most volatile in the world," and that Clinton had decided to visit Pakistan following "intense disagreement within the administration." Moreover, PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer suggested at the time of Clinton's visit that one reason for the Clinton administration's hesitation in making the trip was that it "didn't want to appear to legitimize the new military government" of Musharraf.

Notwithstanding Bumiller's assertion that, unlike Clinton in 2000, Bush "arrived with a roar" on March 3 in Islamabad, Bush's own trip also involved tight security. The Washington Post reported on March 5 that the Pakistani and U.S. governments jointly enacted "extraordinary security measures to protect Bush and his entourage" in advance of the visit, including clearing the streets in Islamabad and cracking down on demonstrators who had planned protests. And, as Bumiller noted in her own story, Air Force One landed in Pakistan with its running lights off and window shades drawn to reduce the plane's visibility. In addition, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted, a limousine motorcade and two unmarked Blackhawk helicopters awaited Bush's arrival. Which mode of transportation he used once Bush landed was not disclosed publicly.

Sanger's comments came after Washington Post White House correspondent Peter Baker asked him whether Bush's trip would "do anything to sell him and his policies."

From the March 3 broadcast of PBS' Washington Week:

BAKER: This comes at a time when Muslims were very upset with these cartoons that were printed in the Danish papers. And in Islamabad and throughout Pakistan, there've been protests and so forth, which has sort of morphed into an anti-American generally -- sentiment or expression of that. How much is a visit to Pakistan do you think -- do anything to sell him and his policies to the Islamic world?

SANGER: It may help a little bit because he's done a few things, Peter, that we didn't expect. One of them is: He landed Air Force One there. He didn't sneak in the way President Clinton did. He's staying the night. He's showing that he's making some kind of commitment.

From the March 26, 2000, edition (subscription required) of The New York Times:

In an effort to defuse tensions in a region that he has described as the most volatile in the world, President Clinton today asked the military leader of Pakistan to show restraint in Kashmir, where Pakistan and India most recently battled last summer, and to reopen a dialogue with his Indian neighbors.

But after more than an hour and a half with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Mr. Clinton received no assurances, said a senior administration official who participated in the meeting.


Mr. Clinton, who decided to come to Pakistan after intense disagreement within the administration, spent barely six hours in this country, arriving from an extensive five-day tour of India under some of the most elaborate security precautions ever devised for his travels.

After his meeting with General Musharraf, Mr. Clinton made a direct appeal to the Pakistani people in a live television broadcast in which he addressed them as friends of the United States. Instead of looking toward a future of economic collapse and potential war, the people should choose the path of economic security and peace, the president said.

From the March 24, 2000, edition of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, which featured senior correspondent Margaret Warner:

WARNER: President Clinton has spent the last five days touring India. Tomorrow he'll visit India's neighbor and rival, Pakistan, for only five hours. Whether to make even this brief visit was fiercely debated within the White House. The Secret Service was reported to have concerns for the President's safety in Pakistan, a country that harbors more than its share of Islamic terrorists.

Today, Shiite Muslim students in Karachi staged anti-American demonstrations, shouting, "death to America," and holding up signs that called Mr. Clinton the killer of the Muslim world. The administration also didn't want to appear to legitimize the new military government of General Pervez Musharaf. Five months ago, Musharaf ousted elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's civilian government in a bloodless coup and put Sharif on trial. Yet President Clinton is also troubled by rising tensions in the region over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, especially now that India and Pakistan have tested nuclear devices.

From the March 5 edition of The Washington Post:

Only hours before Bush's appearance, the Pakistani government cracked down on political leaders and others planning to protest the president's visit. In the city of Rawalpindi, about 10 miles from Islamabad, police arrested about 20 members of Tehrik-e-Insaaf, a small political party, as they staged a noisy but peaceful demonstration, beating some of them with bamboo sticks as foreign journalists and camera crews recorded the scene.

The protest was supposed to have been much larger, but early Saturday morning, police detained the leader of the party, former international cricket star Imran Khan, and placed him under house arrest, along with about a dozen other party officials, according to a party leader who remained at large and declined to be named for fear that he could be arrested. Later Saturday morning, blue-uniformed police blocked the driveway to Khan's palatial hilltop home near Islamabad and barred reporters from entering.

Reached by telephone, Khan speculated that Musharraf had ordered his detention because "he's just petrified that there could be a lot of people" at the protest. Khan added, "These double standards have to be exposed. ... To call this democracy is a joke."

Bush and Musharraf did not mention the crackdown in their only joint appearance in the heavily fortified capital. The city's streets were cleared as Pakistan and the United States took extraordinary security measures to protect Bush and his entourage two days after a U.S. diplomat was killed by a suicide bomber in Karachi.

From the March 4 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

On the ground, Bush, the first lady and the rest of the presidential party were greeted by local officials, as well as several television cameras.

But how the Bushes got from the airport to the U.S. Embassy was a secret. Two unmarked Blackhawk helicopters awaited the couple, as did the usual black presidential limousine. The Bushes walked toward one of the helicopters, but the view of them was blocked by the limousine, making it impossible to tell if they got in the car or on one of the aircraft.

The motorcade traveled at speeds of up to 70 mph. The president and his wife, Laura, spent the night at the ambassador's residence within the U.S. Embassy compound.

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