Time Skips Holder Controversy, But Implied Ashcroft Was Unfit in 2001 Cover Story

Time magazine hasn’t devoted a single article to Attorney General nominee Eric Holder yet. (He’s drawn one short mention since being nominated.) This is a big change from eight years ago, when Time had a blazing cover story on George Bush nominee John Ashcroft. With a close-up of Ashcroft’s half-darkened face peering out with a one-eyed Cheneyesque glare, Time asked SHOULD THIS MAN BE ATTORNEY GENERAL?

In their cover story, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy suggested the Ashcroft nomination was a viciously ugly Bush move, as they began:

So you fought a long and painful battle to become President of the U.S., and it will soon, at last, be Inauguration Day. The Bible your dad used is back for the swearing in, 16,000 yellow roses, 500 lbs. of peach cobbler, tons of fireworks and Ricky Martin are all being readied for the gala celebrations, and you have only yourself to blame if all people remember from this historic week is the historically ugly struggle you ignited in the halls of the U.S. Senate.

Sure, news magazines telling the American people you're historically ugly will have no impact on their memory. Gibbs and Duffy saw only poisonous discord in the making, as they unloaded their discordant anti-Bush editorializing:

Ashcroft's nomination has become the latest battle in America's Forty Years' War, a fight over race and culture and politics that runs from the civil rights movement to the Clarence Thomas hearings to the showdown in Tallahassee that gave Bush his presidency in a way that left many black Americans feeling that their voices and their votes did not count. Now the President who promised to be a uniter, not a divider, faces opposition to Ashcroft from virtually every liberal interest group: feminists, greens, gay-rights and gun-control advocates and, above all, civil rights organizations that charge Ashcroft with exploiting race for political gain throughout his career.

And that means that the President-elect, who told TIME several weeks ago that the greatest misconception about him is that he is racially insensitive, is now defending a key nominee in a fight so fierce it may once again be hard to tell the difference between winning and losing. There are Democrats publicly denouncing Ashcroft and privately praying he survives, so they can raise money and inflame partisans for years to come. There are Republicans publicly pledging their support and privately wondering why Bush chose a man who all but guaranteed that the era of good feeling would be over before his presidency even begins.

Is it possible that Bush did not see this coming? He told friends he thought Ashcroft would sail through because the Senate protects its own, the Republicans would support whatever a new President wanted, and Ashcroft believed he had the Democrats under control. It is true that Bush spent many days and nights of the Florida war down at his ranch with the TV off and the radio turned down. Was that cool detachment, as his aides claimed, or does he perhaps not see the depth of the wounds he is so confident he can heal?

By contrast, while Time went on to cast Ashcroft as a fervent religious conservative seen by his allies as "St. John the Divine," Time’s glancing mention of Eric Holder cast him as a moderate that disturbes the ACLU. In an article in the December 8 print edition entitled "Closing Down the Dark Side," Time’s Mark Kukis wrote:

Obama will need to direct his Attorney General to issue new legal guidance that supersedes all those legal opinions, seen or unseen, if he hopes to prevent a return to such practices in the future. Former federal prosecutor and onetime trial judge Eric Holder, Obama’s pick to lead the effort as the top man in the Justice Department, earned a reputation as a relatively moderate legal thinker when serving there as a senior official in the Clinton Administration.

That concerns some civil libertarians. "If you leave these on the books, you leave a bunch of loaded guns that future Presidents and agency heads can pull out and shoot when they want to," says Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis