Crisis response tested

Tuesday, March 29, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:44 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What was learned: Betty Winfield, MU journalism professor, used different research methods to categorize types of attorneys general during war crises and the way they interpret and enforce laws during such times.

Winfield used these models to better understand the actions of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to look at the relationship between governmental powers and civil liberties.

“We can look at any predictability in these and maybe become a better democracy,” Winfield said.

How it was learned: By using law journal articles and historical studies, Winfield researched 78 attorneys general and named four types: the coordinator, who follows the president’s wishes no matter what; the extreme aggressor, who is more ambitious and takes aggressive action; the extreme aggressor fall guy, who takes the heat for the president in court or in public; and the leveler, who tries to counter the actions of the administration by taking a different course.

Winfield determined that Ashcroft’s actions in regards to civil liberties showed aspects of the coordinator and the extreme aggressor.

What it means: “Ashcroft was very public, like Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson’s attorney general during the Red Scare,” Winfield said. This points toward the model of the extreme aggressor because Ashcroft used the media to his advantage when he took actions in his own interest, she said.

Why it matters: “This gives context about what an attorney general does and what others have done,” Winfield said. “This will tell us a lot in regards to the new attorney general. If he continues in the same way Ashcroft did, it says a lot of Ashcroft. He may have just been doing what the president wanted and become the fall guy for the president.”

Where to find more information: This study was published in the fall 2004 issue of Missouri Law Review.

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