Rude Awakening

Major news organizations need to snap out of 9/11 emotionalism and ask impolite financial questions about Saudi elites and President Bush

"A Houston lawyer, Baker is senior counselor to the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based international investment group that is one of the nation's largest defense contractors and which has Saudi Arabian investors and banking ties to the ruling House of Saud," AP reporter Tom Raum wrote. "The first President Bush and former British Prime Minister John Major are also on Carlyle's payroll as advisers. The group's defense interests could possibly benefit from increased military spending."

New York Timescolumnist William Safire, a former speechwriter for President Nixon and hardly anti-Bush, has repeatedly denounced the Saudi government's failure to help investigate al Qaeda, and the U.S. government's unwillingness to confront the Saudis. In fact, Safire wrote a blistering column about one of the U.S. government's most shameful post-9/11 acts -- the decision to let 14 members of the bin Laden family flee the U.S. for Saudi Arabia in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 bombings. "[T]he royal family wanted its and bin Laden's relatives yanked home, [Saudi Prince] Bandar said 'Jump,' and the U.S. replied, 'How high?'" is how Safire put it.

He was right to be aghast. Letting the bin Ladens -- people with intimate information about a serial mass murderer -- flee the jurisdiction, supposedly because they might be in danger, runs counter to the most basic tenets of criminal investigation. Safire suggested that the Bush administration rolled over for the Saudis in regard to the bin Ladens because the administration doesn't want to push Arab governments out of the anti-terror coalition.

I don't know why we rolled, and continue, apparently, to roll, when it comes to pressing the Saudis for cooperation in finding al Qaeda members, and the people who fund them. But before the next 9/11 sobfest, I hope U.S. media organizations with international reach will have remembered that good journalism is necessarily rude and have gone on to determine whether our government's Saudi softness is, or isn't, a product of global presidential cronyism.

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