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Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

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Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

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Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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December 3, 2003

Governing Incorporates the Press and Vice Versa: The President's Secret Flight to Baghdad

If word leaked, the trip was to be cancelled. Air Force One would head back to DC. That does not mean the trip was wrong to undertake or to treat as news; but its legitimacy lies outside the logic of "things happen and we cover them."

So on Thanksgiving Day President Bush takes with him five reporters, five photographers, a TV producer and a two-person camera crew as he flies into Baghdad under cover to eat turkey and pose for photos with 600 American troops. After a few hours he boards his plane and flies back, generating excited headlines on a traditionally slow news day.

Reporters who rode along had to keep the trip a secret until Bush was safely gone from Baghdad. They could not tell anyone where they were going. Their cell phones were taken away by White House aides.

The American political language does not include a grown-up vocabulary for such events, which are co-equal with the publicity they generate and could not exist without that publicity. We have two main ways of talking about such cases— one tends to be critical, the other admiring. Both see themselves as sophisticated and up-to-date. There is reason to doubt that.

The first language is summed up well in Matthew Yglesias’s terse dismissal at his weblog: “How much do you think this little poll-driven PR stunt cost the taxpayers?” Publicity—a “stunt”—is just public relations, where the truth value is close to zero, and sometimes less. A key distinction is drawn between symbols (fake) and what is often called “substance,” (not fake) which is held to be symbol-less. (And what a fascinating proposition that is.)

Here there is talk of media events, photo opportunities and the art of staging. The essence of the event is said to be artifice, the manipulation of images. Or it is faux news, news that is not really news because it is just theatre, a poll-driven ploy, a manipulation of the public, and of the gullible press.

These observations prepare the ground for criticizing the publicity-maker, sometimes in openly cynical terms. (See the comment section here.) They serve equally well in criticizing the press for its cooperation. Thus, Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism told Howard Kurtz: “Reporters are in the business of telling the truth. They can’t decide it’s okay to lie sometimes because it serves a larger truth or good cause.”

There is a second, more admiring language for talking about publicity of the kind seen on Thanksgiving. Here the savvy sensibility prevails. A trip like Bush’s is praised, not as great theatre but as smart politics, which is theatre— sometimes. Thus, Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for National Review Online, told Kurtz the Bush trip was “a political masterstroke.”

In this discourse, one is inclined to grant that symbols count, and so clever use of symbols is just good politics— smart when it works because it shapes public opinion your way. It is thought to take advanced skill and even cunning to plan publicity-conscious events. This includes the art of timing. Max Boot in a Wall Street Journal commentary: “This could not have come at a better time.”

The savvy analyst fixes on details that go into staging the event, shrewdly chosen by advisers who tend to emerge as heroes (or very, very good at their jobs) in this kind of account. Michael Deaver was thought to be that guy in the Reagan White House, a genius at staging the “presidential.” The savvy discourse blends smoothly into a realist dialect, as in this observation from Boot, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations:

As FDR realized, a large part of modern warfare must be waged in the public arena. The battle over symbols and images can be as important as the battle for any hill or town. This is particularly the case in a guerrilla war where there are few conventional measures of success and the “center of gravity” — to use Clausewitz’s term — lies in public opinion, American and Iraqi.

Let’s back up. In 1919, the modern publicity state officially began during the peace talks held at Versaille after the Great War. Statesmen and diplomats realized then that a new factor had entered the negotiations, which was publicity. For it became obvious that the demands and positions of the victors—England, France and the United States—were being affected by the reaction back home to news of the talks progressing. And news of the talks progressing was more or less instantaneous now that international telegraphy, mass circulation newspapers and the wire services were firmly in place.

Back along the same wires came word of public reaction and debates in parliament, plus what the papers at home were saying. The politics of the modern news cycle was already in train. If what was said in the negotiating room leaked out and caused a fuss at home, then that fuss was in the room the next day and affected the talks. So here was the publicity effect in international diplomacy, happening in real time or close enough.

The effect was often described as the rise of public opinion in international affairs, but it was equally the rise of the mass press and of publicity— the principle of “playing to the domestic audience” had been established. So too the role of the media wiz as adviser. This is British Press scholar Anthony Smith (Goodbye Gutenberg, 1980):

At the Peace Conference of 1919 all the major statesmen kept key newspaper publishers and editors as their advisers. Those who had demonstrated during the war they held power over the popular imagination seemed to hold a key to the principal political problem of the democratic world of the 1920s, which was how to govern in an age when political power was spread across so large a mass of people.

That is one thing to keep in mind when discussing (or dismissing) made-for-media events. Their origins are in the spread of power to more people, or, to be more precise, the inclusions of publics in forms of politics that had once been reserved for elite actors, who now have to act with “public opinion” more in mind. Even the most naked publicity stunt is an acknowledgement of limited power because those whose power is unlimited need not bother with publicity; they can do things in secret, then claim not to have done them.

A second thing to keep in mind is that the kind of events that flow from the publicity effect—a given nowadays—cannot be separated from press coverage of them. In effect a new kind of politics came to recognition in 1919, which we still struggle to talk sensibly about.

For example: Ask any of the reporters who accompanied Bush to Baghdad what they were doing there and, after allowing for the unusual circumstances (extreme secrecy) they would say they were there to “cover the president’s surprise trip to Baghdad.” Which sounds reasonable enough until you realize that the president’s trip did not exist as a workable idea outside the anticipated news coverage of it. This realization takes under three seconds.

The whole notion of the trip as an independently existing thing that could be “covered” is transparently false, as the White House warning to journalists demonstrates. If word leaked out, the trip was to be cancelled—it would no longer exist—and the airplane would turn around and head back to Washington. That does not mean the trip was illegitimate to undertake or to treat as news; but it does mean that its potential legitimacy as news event lies outside the logic of “things happen and we cover them” or “the president took decisive action and the press reported it.”

Here, the press took action and it was equally decisive. It agreed, first, to go along and record the scene and then to keep the flight a secret; and these decisions by journalists were not incidental to Bush’s decision to go but integral to it. Would the trip have made sense, would the danger have been justified, if reporters and camera crews were not taken along? The answer is clearly no. But this means the press is part of the presidency, an observation that, while true enough, makes it harder to cover the presidency as an independently existing thing.

Here is Rick MacArthur, publisher of Harpers magazine and author of a book on propaganda during the Gulf War, during a radio interview with Amy Goodman:

The remarkable thing about it is the press – the White House press corps anyway, has now turned into…has turned to full time press agency for the President of the United States. The proper thing to do in this case is to refuse the secrecy agreement and say we’re not going to be participants in a photo opportunity, which is merely done to help your re-election campaign, and if that aborts the trip, well, it aborts the trip.

But press doctrine cannot handle an event like “journalists decide to abort Bush trip to Baghdad,” and this is a factor in why it did not occur. The trouble goes way beyond the press, however. We have a halfway discourse about publicity and modern politics, and it has stood there, half-finished, since at least 1919. It sorts symbols from substance but it does not take the next step and tell us when symbols actually have substance— and when they do not.

It tells us that politics is theatre but not how to know when it is merely theatre— and when it is not. Our halfway language talks of photo opportunities; and this is supposed to signal our awareness of staging. But when does a photo op become an opportunity actually to understand the world of politics— and when is it not? Our awareness has not developed to that stage.

The best passage I know of about this riddle is the concluding one in Susan Sontag’s great work, On Photography (1977). Rather than try to solve the problem of our lacking a grown-up language, I will allow her language to frame it:

Images are more real than anyone could have supposed. And just because they are an unlimited resource, one that cannot be exhausted by consumerist waste, there is all the more reason to apply the conservationist remedy. If there can be a better way for the real world to include the one of images, it will require an ecology not only of real things but of images as well.

“A better way for the real world to include the one of images.” We don’t have that. But if we did, we would be smarter.

See the comments section for remarks by: Lou Boccardi, Tom Mangan, Andrew Tindell, Cole Campbell, Roy Peter Clark, Les Gura, Charlie Martin, Kaye Trammell, Matthew Coggins, Rivlax and others.

Listen here to a radio interview I did about this post for NPR’s “On the Media.”

Jeff Jarvis reacts to this post.

Under the heading “Those Who Can’t Do, Teach,” James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web calls this post a “breathtaking example of pointless academic bloviation.”

Robin Sloan at the Poynter’s STUMP site has a different view.

Canadian journalist David Akin reacts.

New York Magazine’s Michael Wolff writes on a similar theme: “We accept that the manipulation produces the news (only the hopelessly cynical will keep moaning about that). We’re judging the dexterity of the sleight of hand.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at December 3, 2003 12:41 AM   Print


Interesting points on what to call this. I think that there might be an existing, although not popularized or often remembered, term.

Boorstin would call this a pseudo event [see "The Image: Guide to Pseudo Events in America" by Daniel Boorstin]. I think that term, along with most news currently covered by the large media outlets, fits. It is an event covered & made to look like news. But it is created. Thus, pseudo event.

Boorstin goes into an interesting discussion about what this does for the American electorate, but I'll spare you here.

Posted by: kaye trammell at December 3, 2003 8:47 AM | Permalink

Part of the problem is our fixed definition of news. If the president goes somewhere he's never been before, it's news. If he flies into a war zone under the cover of darkness in total secrecy and we find out about, it's news.

There's no way to *not* cover such a story, even when it's a contrivance. And no matter what we say about how staged it is, the images are Bush cutting the turkey with the troops or him calling it off and blamnig us for the security breach. Either way he wins ... with this story.

I'm not sure if this is really a problem so much as a description of the environment. Lots of stuff beyond Bush's control will generate negative headlines. What matters is the sum of what happens over months/years, and the White House image team can't contrive all of it, or even a small fraction of it.

Posted by: tom mangan at December 3, 2003 10:03 AM | Permalink

I pipe in here.

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at December 3, 2003 10:08 AM | Permalink

Oops. Here:

Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at December 3, 2003 10:13 AM | Permalink

The problem I have as a journalist, and an editor, is that the reporters appear not to have bothered to contact their bosses about this trip. They just were given the instructions by the Bush team and went along with it.

I don't think it's right for journalists to blindly accept conditions. You have to stop and consider the ramifications, and if you're not capable of doing that yourself, you'd better make damn sure to talk with your boss.

It seems to me that any smart-thinking journalist, given the demands presented by Bush, should say, "First, let me call my office to apprise them, or I won't go along with this story.'' And if they say in return that you're either dropped from the group going or the trip is canceled, well, that's their decision.

The most important thing journalists can do on an assignment is think critically. I'm not sure that was done by the journalists who went along with the White House on the Bush trip to Iraq.

Posted by: Les Gura at December 3, 2003 10:19 AM | Permalink

We ought to be a little less frenzied about the Bush Baghdad journey. It doesn't represent the end of journalism as we know it. Nor is it the last time we'll all turn out to cover something important that might also have a political value to the player(s). The secrecy was reasonable. And the idea floated in some quarters that we might somehow have had a duty to leak and thus blow the trip because it was a photo op is loopy. If presidential "disappearances" start to become routine, then we have a different issue to deal with and I'm sure the press en masse would rise up, and properly so. This was one of a kind.

Posted by: Lou Boccardi at December 3, 2003 11:08 AM | Permalink

I was visiting my aunt and uncle, both in their 80s, in the mountains of Virginia while President Bush was visiting Baghdad. My uncle, a veteran of D-Day, voted for Bush but is not pleased with his handling of the economy or the war in Iraq. (My aunt also voted for Bush but didn't offer her current assessment of his performance.)

Both of them saw his visit to Baghdad as a symbolic gesture -- a gracious gesture toward the troops. They kept talking about what a thrill it must be for the men and women who met the president and broke bread with him. They saw the president extending himself -- by making a long and arduous trip, not to mention taking some risk by flying into a war zone -- to honor and thank the troops. To them, the press afforded them the opportunity to witness the president's gesture and the troops' pleasure at his gesture.

The White House didn't want the press corps to spoil the surprise? Sounded reasonable to them. If someone is invited to a surprise party, keeping it a surprise is a reasonable condition of the invitation. If the party's sponsor has to threaten to cancel the party in order to guarantee the surprise because some invitees cannot be trusted otherwise, it reflects more on the invitees' unreliability than on the sponsor's willingness to waste resources.

Their "reading" of the event is not that it was pseudo but that it was substantively symbolic and symbolicly substantive. Are public memorial services for victims of catastrophes or ticker-tape parades for championship teams pseudo-events, or are they ritual expressions of sorrow and celebrations of achievement? Bush's trip, like any surprise party, may have involved contrivance, but it still struck my aunt and uncle as a legitimate way to say "Thank you" on a national holiday of thanksgiving to troops with their lives on the line.

From this perspective, coverage that downplayed the meaningfulness of the gesture and focused on the political payoff for Bush's re-election or on the manipulation of the American people or on the impingement upon press prerogativew would be inauthentic. It's fair enough to raise questions about whether this is the most appropriate way or time or place to say thank you -- that at least acknowledges the subtantive symbolic dimension of the trip. But to dismiss the trip out of hand does not ring true to people who expect the president to participate in memorial services and celebrations -- and maybe to throw a surprise party once in a while.

Posted by: Cole Campbell at December 3, 2003 11:49 AM | Permalink

President Bush's trip can, after all, be categorized under the label "Things happen; We cover them" according to the following logic:

This stunt was an implicit attempt by the White House to undo the damage of its previous--bungled--Mission Accomplished stunt. The uniform-clad Commander-in-Chief returns to the troops but this time to share their present danger, not their premature triumph. He is even depicted standing in the cabin of Air Force One to supervise the dangerous corkscrew landing into Baghdad International in the same way that he was depicted next to the pilot when he landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

The fact that so many of the attributes of the stunt recapitulated the previous one even though the underlying message contradicted it (the Mission is now Unaccomplished) holds out the promise that this photo-op is merely the second in a long series. We can expect the White House to orchestrate endless permutations on this theme in the months to come. If so, this preoccupation would be newsworthy, in that it bespeaks underlying uncertainty about the course of the war. In this case actions--even only symbolic ones--speak louder than words.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at December 3, 2003 12:21 PM | Permalink

Was the President's flight to Baghdad an example of "things happen and we [the media] cover them"?

Yes, it was.

If the reporters had said "no, we're not coming", the President would have gone anyway.

It's very hard to envision the President's going to Baghdad without some representatives of the press corps. But the reason is NOT that the press corps was essential. The reason is that it is very hard to imagine reporters passing up such an important opportunity.

And indeed, there is no serious ethical point at stake here: if the President is going with or without press coverage, then it makes sense to agree to provide coverage.

If someone doesn't believe Pres. Bush would have gone to Baghdad without the press, then there is little I could say to change his or her mind. As for me, I have no doubt about it.

Posted by: Matthew Goggins at December 3, 2003 1:35 PM | Permalink

I've been a working journalist for 25 years. Someone at my paper suggested I read this astonishingly self-absorbed drivel. After doing so, I can only ask how on earth we can wonder why we're losing readers. The amount of time spent navel gazing takes one's breath away. I'd elaborate but we have a paper to put out.

Posted by: Rob Fredericks at December 3, 2003 1:48 PM | Permalink

A lovely and thoughtful commentary that fails in one essential assumption: the Bush trip did have a reason to happen even if there had been no news coverage outside of White House press releases. It was, to the military, a visit by the Commander in Chief, to the war zone. It was a sign the chain of command knows they're there, all the way up. The staging, such as it was, is a classsic military trope: the commander way up the hierarchy shows up, meets the troops, says inspiring words, shakes a lot of hands, shows the troops that they are collegues, kameraden, by serving the turkey. It shows why in languages like German, with an "initmate" pronoun, everyone in a military organization uses that pronoun: you can be sure that if they had been speaking German that Bush would have insisted on everyone using "Du".

To somsone who has never been in a military unit, this seems like silly posturing; so be it. Ignorance is never strength.

Beyond that, in a war, it's the President's job to maintain morale for the whole country, and to maintain the rest of the world's understanding that the US maintains its committment to the war. These aren't just "political" issues in the narrow sense of keeping his job: they are an essential part of prosecuting the war.

Finally, as far as the notion of a news organization saying "We're going to report it, cancel the trip if you dare" -- imagine the results. First of all, it would mean that the news organizations would, soon enough, have to report "After CNN revealed the secret plans, the President's trip was cancelled. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card released a statement saying, 'Due to CNN's irresponsible release of the President's planned trip to visit the troops in Iraq, the trip had to be aborted. By making the trip's itinerary public, CNN put the lives of the President, the crew of Air Force One, and the press pool members in severe danger. CNN's irresponsibility forced the President to order Air Force One to return to Washington to ensure the safety of all aboard.'" Imagine the consequences for CNN: I, for one, would be demanding their press privileges be rescinded, and I don't think I'd be alone.

Second, once CNN had proven it couldn't be trusted to handle something like this, CNN would rapidly love access to many other sources. Maybe not all of its sources, since self-aggrandizment seems to conquer honor so often, but the consequences would be severe, long-lasting, and -- honestly -- utterly justified.

Posted by: Charlie Martin at December 3, 2003 1:51 PM | Permalink

Back in the 1950s Aldous Huxley wrote an unusual series of essays for Long Island's Newsday, reprinted in a book titled, "Brave New World Revisited." Each chapter devotes itself to a theme raised by Huxley in his famous dystopian novel.

Of particular interest to me is a chapter on *Propaganda in a Democratic Society.* Here Huxley provides us with some of the grown up language we need to understand Bush's visit to Iraq and the role of the press.

Most important is his distinction between rational and irrational propaganda. Here's what he writes: "There are two kinds of propaganda -- rational propaganda in favor of action that is consonant with the enlightened self-interest of those who make it and those to whom it is addressed, and non-rational propaganda that is not consonant with anybody's enlightened self-interest, but is dictated by, and appeals to, passion."

Although our culture dismisses propaganda as pejorative, it is naive to reject the notion that the press plays a role, sometimes intentional, sometimes unwitting, in the propaganda campaigns of a nation at war.

What should we do about it? More advise from Huxley: "All that is in our power is to be as truthful and rational as circumstances permit us to be, and to respond as well as we can to the limited truth and imperfect reasonings offered for our consideration by others."

Posted by: Roy Peter Clark at December 3, 2003 2:27 PM | Permalink

As a gubernatorial press secretary many moons ago my boss decided on a spur-of-the-moment tour of state prisons. No press, he said. There'll be hell to pay, I told him. Don't care, he responded. So we went. His goal was to get information he couldn't get from an announced visit. What was the press' reaction? They were furious. But it was a big story all the same. The same would have happened with Bush's trip. The press wasn't needed. I suspect the pool was invited more to prevent the whining later and less to ensure coverage.

Posted by: rivlax at December 3, 2003 2:36 PM | Permalink

It's easy to get caught up in the question of how newsworthy Bush's visit was, but that misses Jay's point. The point is that for the press, like quantum mechanics, the observer affects the outcome.

The press likes to state that it exists independently of the news and it just reports what happens. Bush's trip is just one more example of how that isn't true and hasn't been true for the last 80 years. It's long past the time for the press to be honest about their role in creating the news.

Posted by: Matthew Morse at December 3, 2003 3:00 PM | Permalink

I like this discussion. I do not have an opinion on whether the press "should" play along or should not. The journalism ethics questions are not the ones I am taking up. Others should and will.

My interest is in naming the parts of a situation that is stuck, intellectually. In tracing the origins of our missing languages today. In showing that pressthink, for a certain class of cases, is not "wrong" or unethical. It just does not show up. It cannot handle the case. Its common sense statements make no sense.

This, I think, was one. The people in the comments above who are saying, "what's the big deal?" (several) disagree with me that pressthink cannot handle the case. Sure it can! they say. This is just a...

I believe pressthink has dead spots, gaps, circular statements that do not go anywhere. I happen to be interested in those particular spots, (sunken treasure, in my line of work) so I write about them. Make sense?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 3, 2003 3:44 PM | Permalink

I think I divine another reason for the Iraq beanfeast:

Posted by: John Smith at December 3, 2003 9:19 PM | Permalink

Jay, I agree with a lot of what you're saying. I just think the argument is flawed in that it depends on the notion that the Bush trip exists as a potential news item as such, and only as a potential news item. If, however, we operate on the presumption that there might have been a reason for it outside of making the news before the Lions' game, a lot of your argument sort of folds its tent and slinks off: the news people are then covering something.

Posted by: Charlie Martin at December 3, 2003 11:46 PM | Permalink

The only news story to be told here is the reaction to the Bush trip. The trip itself was not news, but piece of PR staging, and all those who went on it weren't journalists. They were dress extras.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at December 4, 2003 12:52 PM | Permalink

Charlie: I would argue with you on the logic of the Bush trip, sans press. It seems to me that this is symbolic action with a real political purpose, in addition to the staging part of it, which is also real.

The political purpose, as I understand it, is to "show" things: to show that Bush supports the troops, to show that he has confidence in the military, to show the nation (voters) what kind of military leader he is, to show hostile forces in Iraq what the United States can do, to show the political class (and possible enemies) that not everything he does is predictable, to show that he's willing to face danger, and so on.

To show. This is politics as public communication. It has media built into it. The most approved, most legitimate, most effective and most trusted method for doing that is to have a free press there to record and report what happened: yes, he went to Iraq under dangerous conditions. Yes, he had dinner with the troops.

Morale: a major objective, right? The object of that exercise is not the 600 in the hangar at the airport. It's the hundreds of thousands of Americans in Iraq and stateside whose lives have been take over by his war.

How are those people to be reached, to be shown? By a rumor that there was a secret visit Thanksgiving night? By special grapevine in the military? You are going to inject a rumored sighting--confirmed by the Pentagon later--into the Middle East? I don't see that as practical.

Thois trip required the press to come along, in order to be legitmate and to be effective.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 4, 2003 1:55 PM | Permalink

Unstated in Jay's latest point about a journalistic presence being indispensible to the President's ability to put on his show is his implicit assumption that subsequent reporting on the show replicates its desired propaganda message.

As Jay suggests, Bush may well have thought he was showing that he "supports the troops," that "he has confidence in the military," what kind of "military leader he is," and so on. The reporting of the details of the trip conveyed contradictory messages too: how homesick the troops were in their unexpectedly protracted tours of duty, how dangerous supposedly-liberated Baghdad is, how embattled the occupation garrison is, how alienated it is from the Iraqi population and so on.

Journalists report all the time on stories which are only stories because journalists report on them: that is what the constant search for the latest watercooler buzz is all about. In any case, their task includes an assessment of how substantive or symbolic, orchestrated or spontaneous, authentic or faux the event is.

Jay suggests only two registers that a reporter may offer in performing this task "cynical" and "savvy". This surely is too limiting. And the fact that a journalist's presence was a prerequisite for the event to have taken place in no way limits any journalist from reporting on it in unlimited terms.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at December 4, 2003 4:48 PM | Permalink

Andrew, you wrote: "Jay suggests only two registers that a reporter may offer in performing this task 'cynical' and 'savvy.'" Well, not quite. I called one critical, the other savvy, and the critical, I said, can shade into cynical. You are right these two "types" are not the only choices journalists have in reporting and assessing an event like the Bush trip. My assertion is that the two types are the dominant ways we talk about such events-- not just journalists, everyone. Also, there is a difference between "stories which are only stories because journalists report on them" and events that would not happen if they did not incorporate the press.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 5, 2003 9:57 AM | Permalink

Hey, Jay, what's with deleting the critical posts? Can't take a little opposition. I called you a Onanist before, but you're worse than that. You're one of those dissent-crushers I keep reading about.

Posted by: crusty old editor at December 5, 2003 7:03 PM | Permalink

Comments have been closed after seven completely abusive ones within 30 minutes, all but one anonymous.

Update, Sun. Dec. 7: Comments re-opened on the hopeful assumption that the rush of abusive ones is over. Like most webloggers, I do not allow that.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at December 5, 2003 7:50 PM | Permalink

Game Theory and the Collective Subjective

As a citizen looking for fair play, not pragmatism taken to the level of Grand Theft Auto, I'd be much happier with this discussion given a considered context beside the moment. We got here because we left from where? It appears as if the press prefers the Embedded Status imposed by this administration.
On Bush: For a man who loves his men, why is this man, a Compassionate Conservative, absent for the bereaved families of the lost and maimed soldiers; a fitting place to put sympathy given his responsibility for their fate.
As a reelection stunt at taxpayers expense this sneaking about to appear with turkey in tow is due to the skill of the puppeteer, Carl Rove, pageantry designed to show a sartorial puppet's new uniform with the Big V. Has the audience, the press, not noticed the Big V? It's not a subliminal message.

If Bush's junket were preceded by some admission of manipulation of events leading to his Bay of Tonkin, the subsequent war and its aftermath by staffers and officials that are no longer working in positions to continue this orwellian ruse, I would applaud his attempt to gather the world community in an effort to redeem missteps that the arrogance of power produces -- a Cold War Hangover –– so many toys soo little time. And,"You know he tried to kill my daddy."
Kenneth Lay of Enron didn't donate his jet for this trip, we, the taxpayers underwrite these fits of whimsy and grandstanding –– Brown and Root provided the turkey.
What are we to make of the abuse of power, bad theater sanctioned as public relations by a press unwilling or unable to distinguish the difference.
Is it willful ignorance that propels a press to prefer the embedded status it now enjoys?

Posted by: Gus O. Kahan at December 8, 2003 4:51 AM | Permalink

This is silly. There are a number of reporters in Iraq that could have covered the President's trip without being able to tip off anything before hand. Bush did a favor to the press corps by allowing them to come and cover it themselves rather than letting the other Iraqi reporters scoop them.

Posted by: ruprecht at December 8, 2003 3:08 PM | Permalink

I suppose Bush could have done the whole thing with no press whatsoever. Then what would it have been called?

Posted by: Brian Jones at December 9, 2003 9:06 AM | Permalink

From the Intro