Lt. Alterman

Lt. Alterman September 22, 2003

So I'm reading Eric Alterman's latest column in The Nation and I start to see this strange image. It's Eric in a rumpled raincoat, an unlit cigar in one hand and a notebook in the other, his glass eye ever-so slightly askew.

It's Alterman as Columbo.

It made me wish that somebody in the Washington press corps would take a cue from Alterman — or from Peter Falk — and confront the president with the contradictions and bizarre falsehoods of what we've been told about his actions and whereabouts on Sept. 11, 2001.

BUSH: "I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower –"

COLUMBO: You actually saw the first plane hit?

BUSH " — the TV was obviously on. But I was whisked off there. I didn't have much time to think about it." [actual quote from Dec. 4, 2001]

COLUMBO: Aw geesh. That must've been a horrible sight. Mrs. Columbo and I were having breakfast and we didn't have the TV on, so …

BUSH: "There was a TV set on. And you know, I thought it was pilot error, and I was amazed that anybody could make such a terrible mistake. …" [actual quote, Jan. 5, 2002]

COLUMBO: So what did you do, when you saw that first plane hit?

BUSH: "Immediately after the first attack, I implemented our government's emergency response plans." [actual quote from Bush's speech to the nation, Sept. 11, 2001]

COLUMBO: I see. I see. Well … Okay. Okay then. I guess that's that. Thank you for your time.

BUSH: Glad to help officer, the secretary will show you out.

Columbo heads for the door, then stops, touching one temple with the index finger of his cigar hand and reaching for his notebook.

COLUMBO: I'm sorry Mr. President, just one more little thing …

The rumpled lieutenant goes on to ask why the president "implemented our government's emergency response plans" when he thought it was merely a case of "pilot error." And he asks why those plans were not actually implemented until hours later. And how the president could have seen the first plane hit the towers when that image was not even broadcast until days later.

In episodes of Columbo, the wily detective patiently gathers up the suspect's contradictions and then forces the suspect to confront them. Once the suspect realizes that contradictory and discredited answers are no longer an option, they confess the truth.

Read Alterman's column. President Bush's confrontation with the truth is long overdue.

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