Ted Koppel, Crank Caller

As war against Saddam creeps ever closer, anti-war partisans are feeling powerless and underappreciated. To them, the media seem dominated by a White House war machine that is intimidating sheepish reporters. Helen Thomas, who doesn't ask questions so much as accuse the administration of heinous motives and declare that President Bush is the worst leader in our history, is their kind of "reporter."

Some in the press are hearing these left-wing complaints and rushing to counter-program against the apparently oppressive grip of Bush media dominance. Last week, the anti-war media forum of choice was ABC's "Nightline," including a 90-minute "town meeting" that asked the loaded question: "War in Iraq: Why Now?"

What ABC wanted to say, but couldn't, was "Why Ever?" The panel of six experts was split half and half, but the questions were tilted way off to the left: 11 of 13 inquiries posed to them stressed time-worn anti-war bromides.

Viewers mostly heard exaggerated math ("millions of people in cities all across the United States are protesting war"), aggravated cynicism (our government's "pseudo-pretext for liberation"), and calls for enervated Jimmy Carterism (a foreign policy that makes us "loved and admired, and not just feared and resented").

Koppel set the tone for the meeting by undermining America's moral authority: "There's a sardonic two-liner making the rounds in Washington these days: ''How do we know that Saddam Hussein has biological and chemical weapons? We have the receipts.' Nasty, but there's an element of truth to it." He added "there wasn't a great deal of outrage from the Reagan-Bush White House" when Saddam gassed his own people in 1988. That's misleading.

President Reagan condemned it, Secretary of State George Shultz condemned it. What we forget is that the media barely covered it at that time, making our lack of memory easy to exploit. They didn't have "a great deal of outrage," either.

Just as he spent years smearing George Bush the Father with wacky leftist conspiracy theories claiming the Reagan-Bush team engineered an "October Surprise" in 1980 to keep the American hostages in Iran until after the election, Koppel now charges Bush the Son is a tool of oil barons and neoconservative intellectuals who want to take over the world. It's Hillary Clinton's wild-eyed vision of a vast right-wing conspiracy gone global.

Liberals always snickered at the reality of a Soviet Union aspiring to global tyranny, but now the imagined dangers of a neo-conservative Politburo have them in cold sweats. Koppel began the show: "It has been called a secret blueprint for U.S. global domination....A small group of people with a plan to remove Saddam Hussein, long before George W. Bush was elected President....And 9-11 provided the opportunity to set it in motion...Tonight, ''The Plan.' How one group and its blueprint have brought us to the brink of war."

The evidence Koppel produced would make Lyndon LaRouche proud. He began with a Scottish newspaper, the Glasgow Sunday Herald, breathlessly announcing a "secret blueprint for U.S. global domination" that included Iraq. But then, he added, "a similar, if slightly more hysterical version" from the Moscow Times claimed "Not since Mein Kampf has a geopolitical punch been so blatantly telegraphed, years ahead of the blow." Koppel added: "Take away the somewhat hyperbolic references to conspiracy, however, and you're left with a story that has the additional advantage of being true."

Wait a minute. Koppel plucks a Russian newspaper out of obscurity to compare the White House defense strategy to Adolf Hitler's manifesto of fascist oppression and he can only suggest it's "slightly hysterical" and "somewhat hyperbolic"? This kind of sloppy Nazi smear is usually left to crank callers on talk radio.

Koppel's supposedly objective guide to this "cabal" was left-wing professor Ian Lustick, who denounced conservative attempts at American "hegemony" last week in the far-left Nation magazine, and recently told the Philadelphia Daily News: "This is not a war on fanatics. This is a war of fanatics - our fanatics." The central fanatic in Lustick's horror movie was not Saddam Hussein, but Bill Kristol and his Project for a New American Century. Even ABC had to admit that for its hype, Kristol's "secret blueprint" was very public and is still available on the Internet.

Every full-throated complaint that the media elite are stooges for war can be rebutted by the anti-Bush, anti-conservative broadcasts of "Nightline" and nearly everything else on ABC News these days. They are not pro-war. They're not even neutral like Switzerland. They are making Peter Arnett's CNN heyday look objective.