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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.

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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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April 13, 2004

A Prime Time News Conference Before a Special Interest: Make Sense to You?

The moment calls for a rough grilling by a special interest group eager to sink your standing with voters. (Liberals, too.) This would appear to be the logic of tonight's White House press conference. But that logic went bust this week.

President Bush will be on national television tonight, taking questions from a special interest group.

It would seem to be an odd practice, but unless the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta is making things up, that’s what the White House decided yesterday: appear on prime time before a self-serving bunch who don’t represent anyone, and indeed have been losing authority. “For perhaps the first time,” Aluetta wrote, “the White House has come to see reporters as special pleaders—pleaders for more access and better headlines—as if the press were simply another interest group, and, moreover, an interest group that’s not nearly as powerful.”

But according to the New York Times account of why Bush decided to meet the press tonight, a sense of alarm explains it: “Officials say they are concerned that events beyond their control, from the battlefields of Iraq to a hearing room in Washington, threaten a carefully planned re-election campaign,” wrote Adam Nagourney. “The unease in Mr. Bush’s circles was one reason, an aide said, that Mr. Bush scheduled a prime-time news conference, a custom he has never liked.”

Then some supportive Republicans are brought in to explain why it’s a good idea:

“There are many things he should say and will be saying over the next few days,” said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 3 Republican in the House. “And I’m glad he’s doing that. He should be explaining some of the positive things that are happening in Iraq. I think he should be explaining the level of resistance, and what he intends to do about it.”

But if “explaining” were the point, surely a prime time address to the nation—fully justified by the turn of events in Iraq—would do better. Why doesn’t Bush speak over the heads of the press and explain himself that way? That’s what savvy presidents do, I am told. Then I read in the Washington Times, a paper more friendly to Bush, the remarks of Republican political consultant Scott Reed. “I sense that the White House recognizes that it’s time to get this commander in chief back on the offensive,” Reed says. “He will remind the American people that we’re in a global war on terrorism and reconnect with concerned voters who are concerned about what is going on in the world.”

Hmmm. Reconnecting with voters, certainly an honorable aim, is much easier when you can speak directly to them. This again argues for a speech in prime time, not a press conference. Reminding the American people that we are in a global war on terror is what the administration does every day. Bush never tires of saying it. Not apparent why a press conference is a better “reminding” medium.

Bush dislikes the drama of the televised press conference (this will only be his third in prime time). His advisors see the press as a special pleader, full of careerists looking for handouts or dirt. His most passionate supporters find justice served when the liberal press is put down or treated with contempt— since they believe the press shows contempt for Bush, for Republicans, and for the majority of right-thinking Americans.

These, then, are the people and circumstances the White House chose for question time. Seems a bit weird. For according to the Times again: “Officials say they are concerned that events beyond their control, from the battlefields of Iraq to a hearing room in Washington, threaten a carefully planned re-election campaign.” And from The Note, a product of ABC News, comes this explanation:

A senior White House official tells ABC News’ Kate Snow: “The decision for a press conference was to give the American people an update on the war. Last week was tough, and military operations have now been underway for several days, so he thought it was the right time to provide context as well as explain the way forward. We know 9-11 will come up, but we believe the American people are far more interested in what’s happening in Iraq.”

Let me see if I’ve got it. In tough times, the moment calls for a rough grilling by a special interest group eager to see your standing with voters sink. This will permit you to re-gain control of the national agenda and the election campaign— far more effectively than a leader speaking directly to hearts and minds of the American people.

Make a lot of sense to you?

Actually, there is a logic to what the White House is doing. But it collides with White House press think in the years of W. Bush. The argument for a press conference is hinted at in the Washington Post’s story today: “The news conference will give Bush a forum to address concerns that have caused a dip in his election-year popularity.”

The “forum” idea is that it helps the President when he is seen as facing his critics, answering questions that are on people’s minds, explaining policy to those who are more skeptical, more probing. That’s not done in a speech. The evening news conference is a live test of leadership. When your leadership is in doubt, or polls show a softening, you take the test on national TV. If you pass, you have “answered the questions.” You have responded to critics, and your defenders have more to work with. It’s not difficult to imagine momentum being regained from a sequence like that.

But this works for Bush only if the press is in fact a legitimate critic, and seen as such by Americans whose doubts you are trying to answer. Only if the press conference is a legitimate forum for raising and answering doubts can it have any effect in restoring the glow of leadership. The test argument is weak unless it’s a strong test the President meets tonight.

And if the press with its probing provides President Bush the opportunity to show leadership, explain policy, add context and re-connect with voters at a moment of political trouble, all things his supporters have said, then the press cannot be merely a special interest group and it cannot deserve the administration’s contempt. But will that attitude be re-considered? Auletta’s lengthy New Yorker piece included this:

At the tenth solo press conference of the Bush Presidency, on October 28th, Bush was asked twenty-three questions, all but two of them on international issues. His staff was unhappy with the nature and tone of many of the questions, and thought they displayed the distance between what concerns the press and what concerns the public.

Of course, “distance between what concerns the press and what concerns the public” cannot be the premise of tonight’s event. The White House must be counting on reporters who articulate some of the concerns of the public. Otherwise, why take the risk? Auletta continues:

Catherine Martin, a public-affairs assistant to Cheney, saw what she referred to as an “unconscious” liberal bias. “It’s interesting how, before they ask their question, reporters stand up and give a little spiel that taints what the question is,” she said. “It’s their view of what is going on… . And it’s not the same thing as objective reporting.”

This is the liberal bias thesis, but I wonder how people who hold it view Bush’s decision to submit to grilling by a bunch of liberals. After all, just two weeks ago, Philip J. Trounstine of the liberal journal Salon was demanding it.

It’s time for the political writers to push, probe and prod candidate Bush just as enthusiastically as they have John Kerry and the merry band of roadkill Democratic contenders. They should be screaming for a full-blown, hour-long press conference. They cannot be satisfied with two-question opportunities from the White House press pool or Tim Russert’s one-on-one on “Meet the Press.”

Given how they have peppered Kerry with questions about name-calling, claims of foreign support, Botox, and other minor “issues,” isn’t it time to bore in on Bush regarding 9/11 and the war in Iraq?

Now there is one theory that would explain why Bush agrees to face on national television a crowd of discredited, reflexively liberal, contemptuous and contemptible people who either wish him ill or unconsciously taint their every word. It’s the idea of press as foil, the useful idiot, so outrageously biased or pedantic, so carping and clueless, that by comparison Bush appears in a flattering light, and gets the people at home cheering when he handles the situation with ease. The President re-connects this way with the audience, which also detests the press.

I am sure there are some who believe this, too. But if it were true, then the White House, praised for its sense of control, would be regularly availing itself of this controlled fix, and Bush would love press conferences. (He would love going on with Tim Russert too.) And he doesn’t. He hates it. His people try to avoid it. The contempt for journalists and the “special interest” thesis, both of which look like realpolitik thinking about the press, always had one weakness from a realist perspective. And when the President walks into that brightly-lit room tonight, the folly of it will be clear.

Not only does the White House need the press to reach the nation where the nation is right now, but the President would like to have before him a legitimate—and, yes, representative—press corps raising legitimate and representative doubts. Otherwise, tonight’s move is senseless. But suppose the campaign to discredit and marginalize journalists—as a special interest no different from the trucking association or teacher’s unions—had actually succeeded?

Then there would be no leadership forum available tonight. The option of re-gaining momentum that way would be lost. I doubt the lesson will be learned among the Bush team, but it will be there to absorb for anyone with eyes and ears.

UPDATE, April 13: After the Event… I don’t get into how Bush or the press “did,” leaving that to more classical pundits.

One thing in particular made me think during the event and after— this matter of mistakes. It was a big theme of the questioning, and it gave the President the most trouble, literally baffling him at one point. He had to remark how he was under pressure to come up with an answer and… couldn’t. Some anger at being “tricked” or put unfairly on the spot by the question (any mistakes after September 11th?) was also apparent.

BUSH: I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. John, I’m sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could’ve done it better this way or that way. You know, I just — I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn’t yet.

No doubt there will be criticism of the press for harping on the you never made a mistake? issue, and trying to bait the President. And there will be criticism of the Bush camp for tending to rely on the doctine of infallability, and of Bush for being dumbstruck at the question: any mistakes? All three complaints are valid.

Bush did not succeed tonight in discussing any of his mistakes, or notifying us of their existence, except for one moment, and I thought it was done with his voice, not the words. He repeated in reply to one of the mistakes questions, “the country wasn’t on war footing, and yet we’re at war.”

Since sole responsibility for putting us on the footing belongs to the Commander in Chief, who is also responsible for knowing when we are at war, those statements in sequence might suggest a mistake. It was Bush’s voice that suggested, at least to my ear, the pain of knowing you had sole responsibility, and had failed.

David Brooks, reviewing the week with Jim Lehrer and Mark Shields last Friday, spoke up about the infallability doctrine in the Bush White House. He said he had asked people in the operation, “why don’t you ever admit a mistake?” and was told: we tried it. That’s right. During the summer, Wolfowitz came back from Iraq and said, we didn’t do some things well. The next day… bam, all the coverage was about that: Wolfowitz admits… The press ignored everything he said about Iraq working as planned!

Thus: why bother? You’re going to get slammed either way. It isn’t realistic to go around admitting to even small mistakes. We tried it. Brooks told this story, and shrugged in “that’s what the White House will tell you” style, which he has perfected.

But here’s what no one ever tries to explain to me (and it won’t happen in tomorrow’s punditry, either): Let’s say it isn’t realistic, politically, for the President to admit mistakes. Does that mean Presidential infallability, which the White House went back to after the Wolfowitz experiment, is to be treated by serious players as the more realistic premise? It hasn’t done well for the Popes.

Aftermath: Notes, Reactions & Links…

Click here for the transcript, April 13th Presidential Press Conference.

Jeff Jarvis comments on this post.

The American Spectator’s John Tabin writes: “Next time, Bush ought to take the advice that NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen gave on his blog yesterday: skip the dance with the press, and just give a speech.” I wasn’t aware that I gave any advice, but thanks, Spectator people.

Others seem to suggest I was advising Bush. Instapundit, for example.

Ross Mayfield comments on watching the press conference to see if this post’s thesis was borne out.

Political philosopher Peter Levine comments on this post and the event:

“Reporters basically asked the president, over and over again, “Do you feel bad for what you thought or did in the past? Do you feel that you are competent?” That kind of question makes reporters look like adversaries (the “liberal media”), but it’s actually a total softball. What can the president say except, “No, I am not a failure”? There was virtually no chance that such questions would illicit interesting news.

Posted by Jay Rosen at April 13, 2004 4:16 PM   Print


Joshwa's racing form:

-- Bushco has done its job in discrediting the media as elitist liberals, thereby making the admin look better by comparison.
Jay: 4:1 no, else they'd be doing it more often:
Bushco: 3:2 bushco seems to say so, but logic dictates otherwise?
Joshwa: 16:1 I bet this is what bushco is thinking, but it'll head south quick.

-- The reporters are there to accurately represent potential bush voters' concerns, and bush will answer their criticisms.
Jay: 1:1 (?) Couldn't figure out what you were really thinking here
Bushco: 8:1 maybe they think they'll get lucky?
Joshwa: 4:1 only if the balance of power remains in equilibrium; see below

-- Bushco has miscalculated, and the reporters will eat him alive.
Jay: 3:1
Bushco: 64:1, else they wouldn't be out there tonight
Joshwa: 3:1 (this whole 9/11 thing has got the big mo, and the press corp is starting to have a taste for blood)

Actually, my analysis hinges not on how well the press treats the prez, but the opposite, how the prez treats the press. If he gets thrown a few fastballs (and he will), the question is who gets control after that-- prez or press? And then, how will prez (or press) come off for having put a stranglehold on the questioning?

You just KNOW it'll be a power struggle-- who gets to define the agenda. I don't think it'll be as well-behaved as the last one. Look for the entire corp to rally behind Helen Thomas (if she's allowed in the building) to throw the clutch plays.

Posted by: joshwa at April 13, 2004 6:51 PM | Permalink

Oh wait. I just did that whole "Master Narrative" thing with the sports metaphors again, didn't I? ;)

Posted by: joshwa at April 13, 2004 7:02 PM | Permalink

I support President Bush and the military on his policies.

I'm looking for my President to tell me the military is about to quell the insurgency in Iraq using whatever force is necessary.

I'm also looking forward to the results of tonight's press conference and reactions by the majority of Americans who are a lot smarter and better informed than some of leftist liberals think we are.


Posted by: Donald Larson at April 13, 2004 7:51 PM | Permalink

Ah, the networks might not have had made so much time available and less people would see it live if the networks didn't smell blood and potential points on the left....

Posted by: researcher at April 13, 2004 8:10 PM | Permalink

This press conference is all a show. This article was very well written and provided a lot of insight. I just laugh sometimes when the premise that the "media is liberal" and that's why george will do so well, since he will be seen as the 'slayer' of that evil liberal media" is thrown about.

It's almost childish since the president uses the media as much as the media is using the president. Like symbiotic leeches.

Post-speech wrapup: It was brutal and just agonizing to watch, democrat OR republican. A perormance which caused me to wince in pain at each additional minute of unscripted babble.

Posted by: jack at April 13, 2004 9:49 PM | Permalink

I didn't see and haven't read the transcript, but I think the reason Bush wanted to talk to reporters is that he knows they won't ask any probing questions and appearing before them makes him look as if he can take on anybody.

Posted by: micah holmquist at April 13, 2004 9:59 PM | Permalink

This press conference was beyond pathetic. it was quite frankly, disgusting. This man doesn't have the competence of an elementary school janitor.
His arogant smugness is sickening.

He's repeating the same lies over and over and over. Fugue state, in point of fact.

The line about "Brown People" SHOULD live in infamy. But as out press corps is nothing but a pack of bought and paid for whores I seriously doubt if it will be mentioned at all.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at April 13, 2004 10:11 PM | Permalink

I wait for the post-speech polls before paying out on the line...

Post speech, I put the line at -4.5 point dip in approval, just beyond error margins.

Mitigating factors? Not everybody stuck around for the money quote at the end.

Posted by: joshwa at April 13, 2004 10:20 PM | Permalink

What makes you think the major networks would carry a speech without the promise of questions?

Posted by: Bush apologist at April 13, 2004 10:36 PM | Permalink

Confirming Jay's fears, I think the national press corps gave an incompetent and self-damning performance this evening. They basically asked the president, over and over again, "Do you feel bad for what you thought or did in the past? Do you feel that you are competent?" That kind of question makes reporters look like adversaries (the "liberal media"), but it's actually a total softball. How about some forward-looking questions? For instance, in whom will sovereignty be vested on June 30? Does Mr Brahimi get to decide? Can we negotiate with al-Sadr, or must he be destroyed? Will the Iraqi government have veto power over US military deployments? What changes do you anticipate making in US intelligence agencies? How will democracy be restored in Pakistan? A serious president would have no problem with these questions, which are perfectly fair and neutral. I suspect that our fearless leader would have some trouble answering cogently. But he certainly doesn't have anything to fear from the folks who get to ask all the questions on our behalf. And when do we vote on whether THEY get another four years? Oh, that's right--they're self-appointed.

Posted by: Peter Levine at April 13, 2004 10:41 PM | Permalink

I say the President's approval goes up after tonight's Press Conference. I have no doubts about his policies or resolve.

While he didn't come right out and say "use whatever force is necessary" in quelling the insurgency in Iraq, what he did say is close enough for me.

The one question I would have liked him to answer is when are we going to attack Iran and Syria for supporting terrorism in this Third World War that the terrorists started?


Posted by: Donald Larson at April 13, 2004 10:45 PM | Permalink

"Some of the debate really centers around the fact that people don’t believe Iraq can be free; that if you’re Muslim, or perhaps brown-skinned, you can’t be self-governing or free. I’d strongly disagree with that."

Who was he "debating" with about this? Why is race subject to "debate"?


Posted by: David Ehrenstein at April 13, 2004 11:03 PM | Permalink


Posted by: David Ehrenstein at April 13, 2004 11:04 PM | Permalink

My argument was that there's confused thinking in the White House about who the press is, and what it's there for. There's a certain incoherence there, and it interests me. If you accept the special interest argument about the press (or its cousin, the liberal media thesis) then the national forum argument for the news conference is thrown into confusion.

Are you responding to critics? For that you have to have critics worth responding to. Are you playing the reporters for fools? If it's that, then they better be fools for your strategy to work. Even then, how does handling the questions of fools help you explain your Iraq policy any better, or re-assure voters of your strong sense of command? Isn't a burlesque more likely? Is that what Bush needs at this hour?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 13, 2004 11:25 PM | Permalink


I don't have much faith in the press. I rarely find the reporters asking the questions I think of.

I rarely find a reporter who asks a question that is supportive of a President. For more than 40 years, I've watched many press conferences covering the Cuban Missile Crisis to tonight's presentation. Most of them look a lot alike to me.

Most reporters I see on TV are wimps. They all talk alike. They all ask basically the same types and kinds of questions. It's as if the college they attended taught them "wimp speak" and they all got A's in that course.

I wouldn't blame this President or any President in the last 50 years for how they handle press conferences. They know the questions the reporters are going to ask because the reporters are so predictable in their approach.


Posted by: Donald Larson at April 13, 2004 11:40 PM | Permalink

David said:


Well, I agree it's an East vs. West war. In fact it's the Third World War, but nobody in office wants to call it that yet.


Posted by: Donald Larson at April 13, 2004 11:43 PM | Permalink

Thanks for making tonight twice as interesting

Posted by: Ross Mayfield at April 14, 2004 1:59 AM | Permalink

In regards to "Race War" idea; the President was saying that some people on the Left who say that "Iraqis cannot become self-governing because of their history" are racists.

A position that I agree with; some on the Left are racists, and some of those who are not follow policies that are pretty much identical to racist policies (guess we could call that 'institutionalized or unconscious racism.'")

Posted by: Tadeusz at April 14, 2004 2:15 AM | Permalink

I think there is too much inbreeding in the Washington press. The news agencies need to rotate reporters into the WH from places like Boise, Wichita and Peoria who reflect the concerns of people who are not Washington insiders. The groupthink of the WH press is breathtaking. How is this helping our republic when they have a chance to question the POTUS they end up asking the same question over and over? When the first question was about Vietnam and "quagmire", how many people across the country thought "What the hell does Vietnam have to do with anything"? Vietnam matters to the elites, the rest of us have learned the lessons of that conflict and moved on.

Posted by: paladin at April 14, 2004 9:19 AM | Permalink

What's with this "some on the left" meme, Tadeuz? Is that the latest from L. Brent Bozzell?

Posted by: David Ehrenstein at April 14, 2004 10:51 AM | Permalink

I'm sure the Washington Times, which asked a critical question, is going to have a good laugh watching the blogosphere blast the liberal media questioners.

These press conferences are a worse idea for the press than the president. Why would the press ask a "supportive" question of the president instead of what they should ask: critical ones. Plus, they really can't probe the president because they can't ask several follow-up questions, which is what it would take to start a dialogue or get ANY politician to take on a topic.

So the press is forced to ask abrupt and sometime pravocative questions because they have to fast-forward the thought-process.

The press has no interest in unelecting Bush, just scrutinizing him. See the process is like learning how sausage is made.

Posted by: John at April 14, 2004 11:27 AM | Permalink

Jay, I share your bemused wonderment about the way the WH perceives the press. I had never watched a Bush2 press conference before last night; I watched the entire performance, speechlet, Q&A, and post-conference analyses by various members of the punditocracy. I found the differences between the opening speechlet and the Q&A simply astounding. The opening speech was an attempt to speak over the press' head 'to the people'. It was logically incoherent but emotionally consistent. I thought Bush did a pretty good job delivering his lines, especially the more fervid bits about 'freedom' and 'liberty'. The listing of the mythical calendar countdown to Iraqi democracy, however, was not particularly well-thought-out, in that the real issue is the June 30th handoff and the imminent invasion of Najaf. Calling Sadr names and saying his backers are only a few among many simply doesn't address the visible realities in Iraq. Nevertheless, Bush sounded almost believable in this speech. He appeared to believe himself.

Then came the actual press conference and it simply fell apart. I do not like Bush or his policies, but I felt horribly embarrassed for him. Most of the questions were open enough for him to finess with ease, but he was so clearly ill at ease and teetering on the brink of some obscure fury. I really did find it astounding that he could not think of one thing he regretted either doing or not doing in regard to either 9-11 or the invasion of Iraq.

All this said, I really do not know why the White House decided to go ahead with this -- Bush is so bad at doing these exchanges that it's almost simply not worth it. It's absolutely worthless when the expectations of actually hearing what the hell the plan is aren't realized. And that's what happened here -- the uplifting message from the Almighty that was the premise of the opening speech got way blurred by the fumbling, faltering, futility of the As to the Qs.

Even though the opening speech wasn't a bust, it was marred by Bush's obvious unease. He has a number of tics that are off-putting to the watcher. He licks the corner of his mouth constantly and moves back and forth at the podium; he seems to be kicking one of his legs frequently. I suppose if the press were to appear to be vicious or unfriendly, these behaviors on his part could make the viewer feel protective of him. But the press wasn't acting like attack dogs last night. The questions were earnest and fair, given the gravity of the situation the country finds itself in.

I think, over all, that this effort wasn't made to convince fencesitters or make anti-war folks rethink. It was addressed to the Bush followers, to keep them in line. What I don't think the White House people thought about in advance was the strong possibility that Bush would be so bad that he would scare viewers. Which he did.

Posted by: Dschultz at April 14, 2004 11:30 AM | Permalink

Paladin said:

"Vietnam matters to the elites, the rest of us have learned the lessons of that conflict and moved on."

I totally agree.

How Senator Kennedy can get up and talk about Vietnam when his late brother put us there is curious. He also supported President Johnson who escalated the Vietnam War. A war by the way, that was never any of our business because our security wasn't directly threatened.


Posted by: Donald Larson at April 14, 2004 12:48 PM | Permalink

"How Senator Kennedy can get up and talk about Vietnam when his late brother put us there is curious."

Maybe that is exactly why he can get up and talk about it? Because he's seen this movie before?

Or are we supposed to think that people who have never experienced the tragedy of Great Power ego trips are somehow wiser than those who have seen the results close up?

Posted by: Jason Lefkowitz at April 14, 2004 1:25 PM | Permalink

Jay--how about this as an explanation to preserve the White House's pressthink as logical and coherent?

You assume that the press conference is a "forum" for the President to "explain" his policy, "reconnect" with voters and "test" his leadership.

What about if we see it as only the final one of those four?

George Bush's performance last night demonstrated, yet again, that his style is, to use the popular euphemism, "disciplined." He sticks doggedly to his talking points, often repeating the same answer to several differnt questions, sometimes even resorting to the precise same verbal formulations.

This is not the activity of a person engaged in rhetoric or persuasion. He did very little explaining or reconnecting. Mostly he was reiterating. For a public speaker with so few forensic skills, a forum is a very inapproriate place for him to present himself to voters.

So perhaps he was not talking to voters at all but instead directly to that inside-the-Beltway "special interest" the national political press corps.

Just because an institution is a sectionial interest that does not mean it does not have to be paid attention to by Presidents (a pro-life speech here, a display of religiosity there, a slogan spoken in Spanish here, a dispensation for the pharmaceutical lobby there). Even ones that are presumed to be hostile, like national news media, need to have their demands catered to so that their hostility is mitigated.

Perhaps the President's appearance before the press corps was intentionally as content-free as it seemed. Perhaps his actual words were beside the point. Perhaps his mere appearance to answer questions was the logic of a symbolic exercise. He pursues his "carefully-planned" re-election campaign by defanging criticism that he is too disengaged.

If so, the White House's view of the press as a special interest (with waning but not yet dissipated power) is vindicated. He placates the punitocracy by subjecting to their questions and submits himself to a "test of leadership" simultaneously--an ordeal in both senses of the word. The test however consisted of nothing but the act of replying to questions. It had nothing to do with whether those replies had any persuasive impact on actual voters.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 14, 2004 4:23 PM | Permalink

If the White House doesn't take the media seriously it's because they have become a bunch of clowns. They have become actors in this partisan political game. Read blogs by journalists. They are partisan. They stopped being objective for years. They have all become columnists. Not more, not less.

Posted by: Ricky Vandal at April 14, 2004 4:41 PM | Permalink

Jason said:

"Or are we supposed to think that people who have never experienced the tragedy of Great Power ego trips are somehow wiser than those who have seen the results close up?"

I wasn't in Vietnam, I was in the U.S. military 1970 and 1971, but I didn't go to Vietnam.

I know a lot about what my friends and country went through because of the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon policies that sent friends of mine to their death or gave them life-time injuries.

I watched my nation go through hell because of the support of that war by politicians, including Senator Kennedy.

He wasn't against the Vietnam War back in the early and middle 1960's. Maybe he is wiser now, but those of us that knew it wasn't right for America to be in Vietnam before he realized it are wiser than he will ever be on the matter.

Senator Kennedy to my knowledge never apologized about being wrong in Vietnam. He's fighting the wrong war now and his remarks cause harm to the morale of our troops.

Senator Kennedy was wrong about Vietnam and he's wrong about the War on Terror, including this part of that phase in Iraq.


Posted by: Donald Larson at April 14, 2004 5:48 PM | Permalink

I don't think the WH press corps would like you calling it a special interest. I appreciate your candor.

How many of them ever watch themselves on TV? They seem to be playing to each other rather than to the consumers of news.

Posted by: AST at April 14, 2004 6:17 PM | Permalink

AST: It's the White House, according to Ken Auletta, that calls the press a special interest. I was reporting and commenting on that fact, and I tried to ask if the claim--just another special interest--still made sense, given how the same White House decided that meeting the press and its questions during a time a growing public doubt was the wise thing for Bush to do.

Thus, the first line: "President Bush will be on national television tonight, taking questions from a special interest group."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 14, 2004 6:24 PM | Permalink

Don, Are you a federal government employee?

Posted by: Gil at April 15, 2004 6:17 PM | Permalink

I think what Bush wanted to do with the press is like what creationists try to do with "Intelligent Design" ( see Timothy Burke here - ) and what non-religious people try to do with using religious arguments on religious people (e.g. Crooked Timber here - ) - namely using forms of argument that you yourself wouldn't find credible, to attempt to persuade those who _do_ find that form of argument credible.

So it doesn't require that Bush et al. see the press as legitimate, as long as they think that some in the audience _do_ see the press as legitimate, and as long as they think they stand a chance of not falling on their political faces.

Posted by: Anna at April 16, 2004 11:15 PM | Permalink

Fascinating take on the Lott affair. Incidentally, last fall I published a paper on it as well, "Parking Lott: The Role of Weblogs in the Fall of Sen. Trent Lott." You can access it here: ... my name also links to it.

Posted by: at March 17, 2004 04:09 PM

Posted by: Chris Wright at May 13, 2004 2:27 PM | Permalink

Fascinating take on the Lott affair. Incidentally, last fall I published a paper on it as well, "Parking Lott: The Role of Weblogs in the Fall of Sen. Trent Lott." You can access it here: ... my name also links to it.

Posted by: Chris Wright at May 13, 2004 2:27 PM | Permalink

From the Intro