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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.

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Group Blogs

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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 25, 2004

Bush to Press: "You're Assuming That You Represent the Public. I Don't Accept That."

"In our system, the press has the role of..." Generations of journalists spoke confident sentences like that. The press is a vital check on power. It's quasi-Constitutional. Bush, head of government, rejects this idea. That theory has gone down, he says. And you guys don't have that kind of muscle anymore.

Mr. Bush managed to once more beguile the reporters with his Texas Churchillian rhetoric about America’s place in the world and his feelings about freedom. His non-answers hung in the air, blocking the vision and hearing like swarms of black flies, confusing and distracting the press, which seemed gaga and unable to bat them away. Mr. Bush, prepared, saw the questions coming. Everybody did. When he didn’t want to answer a question, he just moved to the next reporter, who generally felt honored to be called upon.Joe Hagan, New York Observer, April 24, 2004

Data point: I read that. Then I got an email from a PressThink reader, Harris Meyer, a Florida journalist asking how any pundit, “particularly a liberal talking head like Auletta,” could, after watching Bush’s April 13 press conference, conclude what Ken Auletta of the New Yorker concluded in an interview with WNYC’s On the Media last weekend.

I guess I would have to say the press lost. The president holds the cards. First of all, he dominates almost half the press conference with a statement. And then he chooses not to answer the questions. Now if, if someone had asked him a question that threw him off stride and caused a headline that - where he looked foolish, that would be one thing. But no one asked him that question. He did not behave foolishly. He’s not, obviously, the most fluent, articulate speaker, but Bush did better than, say, he did at his last press conference, or better than he did on Meet the Press.

Meyer attached the transcript in his e-mail, a second data point. I had intended to read it, when I had the chance, because I’ve written about Auletta, and tapped his reporting on the Bush view of the press. But then I realized as I scanned the text: I did that same interview with On the Media. It was recorded it on Thursday (April 15) at WNYC with host Bob Garfield, a voice in my ear from Washington.

The interview with Garfield (about ten minutes of Q and A) was blogging by radio. The occasion for it was something I posted at PressThink just before the news conference. There, I was trying to capture what was strange about this event: A Prime Time News Conference Before a Special Interest: Make Sense to You? So that’s what we talked about. But the producers told me on Friday they had decided not to air the Q and A, which happens frequently, for all kinds of reasons. (Producers have to make their calls; a wise radio guest takes no offense.) Third data point: my almost interview, an incomplete act of blogging by radio.

Auletta was the right choice, anyway. Others have done the complaining. He’s done the reporting on the subject, pushing further into the mind of the White House than anyone else. To me, and to most journalists, this gives him unique authority to speak. A good radio show is about that. Auletta, for example, can describe Bush at a barbeque for the press in August, where a reporter says to the president: is it really true you don’t read us, don’t even watch the news? Bush confirms it.

And the reporter then said: Well, how do you then know, Mr. President, what the public is thinking? And Bush, without missing a beat said: You’re making a powerful assumption, young man. You’re assuming that you represent the public. I don’t accept that.

Which is a powerful statement. And if Bush believes it (a possibility not to be dismissed) then we must credit the president with an original idea, or the germ of one. Bush’s people have developed it into a thesis, which they explained to Auletta, who told it to co-host Brooke Gladstone:

That’s his attitude. And when you ask the Bush people to explain that attitude, what they say is: We don’t accept that you have a check and balance function. We think that you are in the game of “Gotcha.” Oh, you’re interested in headlines, and you’re interested in conflict. You’re not interested in having a serious discussion… and exploring things.

Further data point: The Bush Thesis. If Auletta’s reporting is on, then Bush and his advisors have their own press think, which they are trying out as policy. Reporters do not represent the interests of a broader public. They aren’t a pipeline to the people, because people see through the game of Gotcha. The press has forfeited, if it ever had, its quasi-official role in the checks and balances of government. Here the Bush Thesis is bold. It says: there is no such role— official or otherwise.

Generations of journalists have been taught to believe differently. Their sentences start like this, “In our system, the press has the role of…” and then they go on to describe journalists as a check on power, which is quasi-Constitutional only because another part of the Constitution, the First Amendment, says you can’t lesiglate the role of the press. The Bush Thesis takes the “quasi” part and pushes on it.

The thesis, in turn, is influencing policy: “why should we have to talk to you?” On the whole, Bush doesn’t. In January, Auletta reported that Bush had held eleven solo press conferences while president. Over a comparable period, his father had done seventy one and Bill Clinton thirty eight. The White House line when these figures come up is that the president just does things differently. He’ll meet reporters one on one, or answer questions in other venues. This defuses the issue. Meanwhile, a different line of argument is born. “Stiff ‘em, they don’t represent anyone. People are on to their game.”

The “unrepresentative press” is a political conviction widely borne. Some of its strongest proponents are those who hold to the liberal media thesis. (Parts of which are more and more acknowledged in the media. See this from ABC’s The Note.) It’s also an attitude among the president’s most conservative supporters— many of whom don’t trust the press for the same reason they don’t trust teachers’ unions and trial lawyers. To them, a decision to “stiff” reporters, a conniving special interest, is not only acceptable conduct by a sitting president, but a refreshing policy change— and smart constituent politics.

For the conservative populist in the Bush base, the White House press is a liberal elite. If its currency is questions put to the CEO, then you can de-fund the left by having the CEO not answer the reporters’ questions— on principle, as it were. (And no principle better explains the daily press briefings in the current White House.) Then there’s the resentment out there among supporters of the war in Iraq, who believe the press committed an outrageous lapse by not covering what was going right, ignoring a great story about democracy and freedom, in effect playing Gotcha in a war zone. (Glenn Reynolds, for example, here and here.) They too might warm to the Bush Thesis, which has not only its logic but a constituency out there.

Previous presidents had the same resentments, of course, and drew cheers in parts of the electorate for voicing them. Previous presidents avoided the press, or routed around it with TV and photo ops. All presidents try to manipulate the news. It took until Bush the younger for the imaginative leap to be made: Attack the claim that any public interest at all is served by “meeting the press.” Remove the press from the system of checks and balances. Deny that it’s any “fourth branch of government” (Douglas Cater’s idea, 1959.) Don’t just work around a troublesome crew. Be bolder. Reject the reporters’ claim to be channelling the public and its questions.

Not only that. In January, Auletta reported the following on the Bush Thesis: “the White House has come to see reporters as special pleaders,” an interest group “that’s not nearly as powerful as it once was.” Bush thinks the national news organizations don’t have the influence Richard Nixon and other angry presidents saw in them. Here the Bush Thesis is like a mafia read, a Sopranos script: “You don’t have that kind of muscle any more, so shut the f… up.” He basically said that. I don’t read you or watch your news. NPR? Sorry, I don’t listen. Am I out of touch with the American people? Nah, not worried about it. Playing Gotcha when America’s at war— now that’s out of touch! Fifth data point: at the top of the government, the press is seen as a declining power.

Among various puzzles in the cluster of ideas I have called the Thesis, there’s: why did the Bush team feel comfortable placing hundreds of “special pleaders” with the tanks and troops invading Iraq? If the press doesn’t represent anyone, then by what logic did the administration agree to embed reporters? Another analysis must have taken hold. Here are several possibilties:

  • “Feed the beast, or the beast will bite you by looking for news on its own, and watch out— these days it can go live and unsupervised from the battlefield by satellite.” If so, then the press still has muscle (in that situation) and the Sopranos boast is vain, delusional.
  • “We cannot afford to have Al Jazerra or other Arab television dominating the video and live coverage of the war.” If that’s true, then the press is a critical factor in the success of the American war effort, and the “special pleader” thesis looks ridiculous.
  • “Latent partriotism and the journalist’s life and death dependence on the soldiers will bring us sympathetic coverage.” In other words, the Gotcha nerve can be cut. Reporters in the embed program were doing “with ya” not “gotcha” journalism.
  • “Actually, all we want is the cameras; unfortunately, they come with journalists, but we can neutralize them and get the pictures we want onto TV screens.” Here Sopranos logic holds, and the press is so powerless it can used as a front, laundering images for the Pentagon through the medium of news. (Or, you can set up your own transmission system for news from Iraq. See this from Mark Jurkowitz in the Boston Globe.)

No doubt there are other possibilities beyond these. Data point, number six: The administration doesn’t always hold to the Bush Thesis.

By April, Bush was under pressure from the 09/11 commission to answer more questions and release information. The occupation of Iraq had taken a dangerous turn. Richard Clarke’s book was causing a sensation in Washington. Approval ratings for the president’s handling of the war had slipped some. The normal confidence and discipline of the Bush White House had turned into rigidity amid shifting events. And at a moment of political trouble, preparations for a prime time press conference began with Bush, Karl Rove and his advisors.

Data point: Bush—with Rove’s counsel—decided to meet the press when the president was in some trouble. Why, if he believes what he said in the summer? “You’re assuming that you represent the public. I don’t accept that.” Here, perhaps, the Bush Thesis weakened under the press of events. Or maybe not. Maybe it goes forward even in the exceptions.

In preparing for the ritual, the White House team anticipates the questions the president will face, reviews his answers, underlines things to be said at any opportunity— emerging with The Talking Points. It’s up to Bush to synthesize this advice, and get comfortable with the answers he will give. Data point: Perhaps 90 pecent of the questions will have been guessed by the time he strides in.

How is this even possible? Auletta has an interesting answer: Because meanwhile the press is getting its own talking points together: “They rehearse what is the question we’re going to ask that will shake the president off his talking points, that will force him into a moment where he gives us a candid response, or he shows vulnerability that gives us a gotcha moment or a wow moment.”

The president has his scripted points, the reporters theirs— and neither will be moved off the script. The kind of question that cannot be predicted, of course, is one born live, a spontaneous response to something that happens at the press conference. Ted Koppel when he does Nightline prepares one question for each guest, the first one he will ask. Beyond that he wants everything to flow from what’s said on air.

In the East Room ritual, with so much at stake (international embarrassment, for one) both parties cooperate to make sure the Koppel moment never happens. Data point: On April 13, they both read from their scripts. For the press, this meant: Were you at fault? Do you accept responsibility? Were there any mistakes? Going to apologize? “They repeated the question, because if the president was pre-programmed, so too, many reporters are pre-programmed,” Aultetta said. Brooke Gladstone, (see my earlier interview with her) then asked “how did this play as a media event? Who won or who lost?” His answers:

  • Bush won.
  • If he had been knocked off stride he might have lost, but it didn’t happen.
  • We know he’s knocked off stride when there are headlines that make him look foolish, but they didn’t happen either.
  • Why? Because Bush “did not behave foolishly,” that’s why. (Even though he was shaky at times.)
  • He “did better” than his one-on-one with NBC’s Tim Russert, a performance so shaky it rattled the president’s supporters.

Harris Meyer wants to know: how could Auletta, operating in the role of pundit, conclude these things? Well, in order to say who won a White House press conference, you need in hand, prior to an up or down verdict, some intelligible standard for political achievement in press conferencing. For his standard Auletta goes back to the “drama” of confrontation, ritualized by the script— the predictable effort to knock the president off stride, the president’s determination to stay in form.

You score the contest by whether the headlines say: Bush knocked off stride… If yes, they got to him. Press wins. If not, then he prevailed. No knock out, decision to Bush. So my answer to Harris is: don’t look at the Auletta verdict, look at the standard that created the verdict, which is not his personal handiwork but a common style of reasoning in Washington journalism, punditry and the political class.

A typical example is this assessment from Adam Nagourney and Eric Litchblau in last Sunday’s New York Times: “Evaluating the 9/11 Hearings’ Winners and Losers.” It’s a news story about who came out looking good from the hearings, in the estimation of insiders and operatives. Thus Matt Bennett, a political consultant and Democrat, is quoted about commissioners Bob Kerrey and Richard Ben-Veniste: “They were a little too combative, and it sort of came off as a nasty spat.”

That very peculiar construction, “it came off as…” identifies the “who won?” style of Beltway thinking. Some of its virtues are to be empty of political content, (and thus applicable to whomever is in power) agnostic on questions of truth, exacting on matters of appearance, preoccupied with positioning and technique, and with how things look to a hypothetical observer who is never quite identified. “How will this play, politically?” is the same mindset speaking. Recognize it?

Come in with another standard, and the verdict changes. If transparency in government is the critical standard, and the press conference a means of achieving it, did Bush “win?” (I would say no.) If self-expression for the president—revealing what’s in his gut, displaying his convictions—is the standard, then the president probably achieved that. He won fuller expression as a man of resolve. If a clearer, fuller and more coherent explanation of policy is the right standard, and the press conference a kind of teaching platform that includes the press, then no one did very well.

To me what’s amazing is how little is expected of Bush as an artful politician, even among his supporters. By taking a “buck stops here, you betcha I’m responsible” approach to the mistakes questions, he might have shown the mature, manly, quasi-heroic virtues for which he and the Bush family are admired by many Americans. Not that it would have been easy, but the proper kind of apology to the families could have transformed the entire political dynamic around 09/11. But no one expects such things of Bush. (See blogger Rand Simberg on the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in reviews of Bush’s performance.)

A more skilled politician could have re-framed the June 30 date for passing “control” to the Iraqis and created room for himself, relaxing the pressure to phony up the import of the handover, which is now building as the press gets ready to observe progress on that date. Not even the minimal standard of appearing to answer questions you have actually skirted gets applied to Bush, for as Auletta observed he didn’t answer some, zoned out on others, and evaded in a flagrant way— yet still won the encounter. It’s a mystery to me why Bush’s political friends would be happy with any of this.

The idea of the press as the “fourth estate,” which is the big idea Bush rejects, is usually traced to English historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881.) What Carlyle wrote puts a different light on Jeff Jarvis saying at Buzzmachine: send some bloggers to the White House press conference! I took him to mean that independent voices, writers representing no one but themselves and their public reputation, without rank or representation, should be in the mix with the press. Jeff meet Tom Carlyle, writing at a time when the press was newly arrived on the political stage:

Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact, …. Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable. ….. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures: the requisite thing is that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite.

Whoever can speak to the whole nation becomes a power. There is still a reporters gallery, and it is still speaking the language of a Fourth Estate. But perhaps its weakness is in speaking a language Americans recognize as theirs. Bush is challenging the press: you don’t speak to the nation, or for it, or with it. (See Hagan on this point.)

He cannot sustain this challenge all the time—thus, the April 13 press conference, thus the embeds—but it is a serious argument. Intellectually, it’s almost a de-certification move against the press corps. There’s a constituency for this, and it picks up on long-term trends that have weakened the national press, including a disconnect between Big Journalism and many Americans, and the rise of alternative media systems.

As a first step out of this trap, journalists need to ask themselves: how did we become so predictable? Is it possisble to go back, and pull the wire that made this so? The game of Gotcha does exist. Auletta, a liberal journalist, can recognize it as easily as Karl Rove. Knock him off stride. Get him off the talking points.

But instead of rolling our eyes, we ought to realize that Gotcha has been incorporated into a new thesis, now in power in the White House. Behold the basics of President Bush’s press think. You don’t represent the public. You’re not a part of the checks and balances. I don’t have to answer your questions. And you don’t have that kind of muscle anymore.

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…

John Kerry tells the American Society of Newspaper Editors: if elected, he’ll have monthly news conferences. Editor and Publisher: “After the speech, when asked to elaborate on his feelings about the need for regular press events, Kerry declined to openly criticize Bush, but said press conferences were ‘an important forum and an important way to communicate with our country.’” Clearly, a difference between candidates.

Listen to the Ken Auletta interview or read the transcript here. (WNYC)

For an earlier Q and A with Auletta: Bush’s Press Problem. (New Yorker Online, Jan. 13, 2004)

For Auletta’s Reporting: Fortress Bush (The New Yorker, Jan. 19, 2004)

Jeff Jarvis at Buzmachine reacts to this post with this:

Yet there are many who claim to represent us, The Public. Winning presidents and political parties do. The press does. But they don’t. Bush didn’t win the majority of votes; he doesn’t represent us. The same could be said of every President, since so many of us don’t vote. Nobody elected the press; they elected themselves. And they certainly don’t represent everyone since there are so many who don’t pay attention to them.

So the first fallacy is that there is one public. The second is that anyone represents us. But the third — the one the matters — is that the relationship is representative at all. That’s the misnomer.

The relationship, instead, is one of service.

Read the rest. One of Jeff’s titles is an advisory to the press: You don’t represent me; I hired you.

And in the comments @ Buzzmachine reader and writer billg puts it exactingly: “It isn’t the job of the press to represent the people. It is the job of the press to report the news to the people. But, it isn’t the job of any single press entity to report all the news, all the time. The press isn’t doing its job when it stops reporting the news and replaces it with entertainment packaged as news, i.e., pundits, magazine shows, talk shows, etc.”

I posted this in the comments at PressThink, to clarify what some readers may have missed:

When Bush says to journalists “you don’t represent the public,” it means a bit more than reporters are unrepresentative, or their views unlike the views of most Americans. I believe Bush is challenging the very notion that journalism is conducted in the public interest, that the public’s right to know depends on the press finding things out. That’s quite different from “journalists are liberal, Americans on the whole are moderate to conservative,” which is not the point the President is making— even though he probably agrees with that too. (See comments for more.)

Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) comments on this post: “The press, of course, is unrepresentative. It isn’t elected, nor — in its views, its background, and its personal characteristics — is it reflective of the public. (If the public thought like the press, no Republican would ever be elected President.) Nor does the public feel that it is represented by the press… But it’s certainly true that the notion of the professional press as a check on the government has no foundation. The Constitution envisions freedom of speech and of the press as checks — not the institution of the press as one. That’s a key difference, I think.” (See the comments of Ryan Pitts, a journalist, who replies to the “unrepresentative” charge at The Dead Parrot Society.)

Roger Simon, novelist and blogger, dissents: “I’m not as convinced… that Bush is treating journalists in an entirely different manner from previous administrations. The attack on the ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’ from the Nixon years seems much more strident than the quote from Bush that Jay uses in his title. Yes, Bush’s has an element of dismissiveness about it and, yes, the use of embeds during the war smacked of cooptation, but I remain unconvinced that these developments are much more than normal executive reponse to an increasingly powerful and expanding media (term picked deliberately). It’s an old game.”

Centerfield (the Centrist group blog) replies with Press Arrogance and the Bush Press Conference:

The relationship of the Press and the Presidency is supposed to be speaking truth to power. Their freedom and intellectual opposition are supposed to encourage that to happen. But the press has a pretty miserable record of speaking truth to power during the Bush Administration. The press has been worse with facts than the Administration, and has gone after shadows much more often than real problems.

Half-Bakered, a Memphis based blogger: “One place Rosen fails, I think, is that he casts doubt on the Bush administration’s belief in the Bush Thesis because the administration engages with it. Rosen doesn’t seem to see that the ‘press’ is unavoidable and must be engaged at least some times. That engagement isn’t a ‘failure,’ but a reality.”

From the Left—Headblast by David Cogswell—there’s this summary of the Thesis and what it means:

Bush has taken an extremely radical step in redefining the place of the press in American society. Bush said he does not accept that the press speaks for the people. He doesn’t recognize any obligation to answer questions of the press or deal with them in any way but however he feels like dealing with them. This is truly the most radical president to ever occupy the White House.

Reviewing blog reactions to this piece, The Smallest Minority writes: “the interpretations of Bush’s position vary, bipolarly.”

And one further thought of my own: After reading the many passionate comments here that welcome the Bush Thesis while articulating a deep disdain for the press, I wonder why so few of the President’s supporters seem concerned that a vital reality check may be lost to the administration, given what are seen as Big Journalism’s failures.

On April 17, Glenn Reynolds—a supporter of the war—wrote this about events in Iraq: “Is our government doing a good job? It’s hard to tell. And the tendency, knowing that the media are overplaying some negatives, is to apply Kentucky windage and assume that things in general are better than they say. This may be true, but it may also be true… that there’s not just good news, but bad news, going unreported.” Reynolds continues:

That’s especially unfortunate, because good reporting doesn’t just inform ordinary folks like us. It’s also a check on reports that flow up within the chain of command, making sure that real problems get noticed and not papered over. I’m afraid that the White House, understandably tired of the unrelenting negativity that has given us the Brutal Afghan Winter of 2002, the Invasion-Killing Sandstorm of 2003, and the Mass Popular Uprising of 2004, may have started tuning out negative reports. That would be a mistake…

On the matter of the news media, I think many Bush partisans—not all, but a lot—drink so deeply of their resentments that they fail to ask whether there will be any costs to Bush himself when the discrediting, dismissing, disdaining and decertifying of Big Journalism is complete.

Jeremy Bowers thinks about it: “As flawed as the press is, what other mechanism does the President have for communicating with us? If Bush turns his back on the press corps, what will he replace it with?”

“Big Media—especially network television and daily newspapers—are rapidly losing their power to shape public consensus and marginalize ideological extremes.” Where was this argument made? In a news story, the Washington Post, April 25

“I think the ‘The Fourth Estate’ is beginning to get the theme that they’re increasingly irrelevant unless they start taking their own carefully tended memes a little less seriously. We may actually end up with a halfway decent press, somewhere down the road.” Scott Talkington, Demosophia (April 28.)

Newspaper man turned blogger, Jon Donley of Dawnsinger, reacts to this post: ‘The Press’ doesn’t represent us.

Posted by Jay Rosen at April 25, 2004 1:28 AM   Print


This is your usual brilliance, Jay. I'm working on a similar piece called, "News as a sporting event." I think there's another assumption that exists in the newsrooms of today that didn't exist when I first got into the biz (prior Watergate). The default position of contemporary reporters is that the elected don't represent the public (either), that they're all selfish crooks that can't be trusted, and that it is an awardable public service to prove it. This places the press at enmity with the elected before a thought is gathered or a word spoken. It's one-upsmanship gone to seed, and the public IS tired of it. Good piece.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at April 25, 2004 9:58 AM | Permalink

As a first step out of this trap, journalists need to ask themselves: how did we become so predictable? Is it possisble to go back, and pull the wire that made this so? The game of Gotcha does exist. Auletta, a liberal journalist, can recognize it as easily as Karl Rove. Knock him off stride. Get him off the talking points

It's more than Gotcha that has lost journalists their legitimacy in the eyes of many Americans. You touched on it earlier, but were too ginger in so doing.

It is very clear to me, a Baby Boomer, that the press for several decades has seen itself as the only TRUE holder of virtue and truth. Since before Watergate, an increasingly arrogant press with strong liberal bias has annointed itself in a self-authorized role of a) uncovering (the strongly presumed to exist) inadequacies and errors of government and b) promoting social policies that all right-thinking (i.e. liberal) people agree are obviously correct.

I say this, mind you, as a life-long Democrat in her 50s. But one who is fed up with the fecklessness of the Democratic party, disgusted with the corruption and bias that has come to pervade the major media, and angry that important national and international issues cannot be seriously debated in this country due, in part, to that bias and corruption.

Journalists have destroyed their own credibility and potential contribution to public affairs. The public by and large recognizes the smell of dry rot that wafts up from newspapers, drifts out from the TV news and fills the car along with NPR during rush hour.

THAT is why Bush's approval ratings went up after the last press conference. Bush "won" because the press had long ago not only defined the interaction as a contest, they also did all they could to rig the result. And the public has decided that dog won't hunt anymore.

Posted by: rkb at April 25, 2004 1:05 PM | Permalink

The reporters represent a soap opera audience. Everything ties into some eternal drama that relates to the lives of the addicts (powerful man goes bad, ``How like my own life!''). It's a small audience, but the biggest reliable one they can get. Reporters who are good at feeding it, survive. It more or less takes over all the terrain, and waves of revulsion are the result. Rejection of that arrangement is popular, and there you are.

It's a Princess Di orgy without the princess.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at April 25, 2004 1:09 PM | Permalink

They don't speak for me. Neither did they when Clinton was in the White House. I would love to see a journalist report fact. They seldom do. When it happens, the facts are merely prepartory to the opinion.

Did Watergate and the celebrity it brought to people like Woodward turn every reporter into a wannabe?

Posted by: Mike Reed at April 25, 2004 1:16 PM | Permalink

You've produced a cogent look at the mood of the administration and the public, I think, Jay. Speaking personally, I would only add that I think the "Bush Thesis" is more strongly grounded in an existing public perception of the media.

I don't think this is only politics--the "moderate to conservative" public versus the "liberal" media. I think it is in large part a function of common sense. The 9-11 commission testimony in particular seemed to beg the question: are we holding this administration to a realistic standard? The media seems to demand omniscience and omnipotence from elected officials, and this overbearing demand grates on the common sense of any individual that's ever dealt with a bureacracy, a committee decision process or an office hierarchy.

I only began to really articulate this view myself after the "Texas Guard" scandal over Bush's missing paperwork. During the height of the unending media analysis of what documents were released and what documents weren't, I stumbled across a copy of my university transcript from a dozen years ago. I asked myself, "Despite these listed courses and these grades, could I prove I attended all these lectures? Could I prove I wrote the required essays and did all the required research?"

That's a daunting prospect. I'm sure many professors during my undergraduate years wouldn't remember me. I'm quite sure many essays I wrote have disappeared into the circular file long ago. I have perhaps kept a few I thought were particularly good or had continuing value in my studies... But even after only a dozen years, I would find it hard to account for my attendance at and performance in each class. I barely remember some of them.

Over time, I think it has dawned on much of the public that the media are indeed playing a "gotcha" game. Casual statements made in a general way meet with a demand to be roundly defended for logical consistency. Very informal and human impressions, inherently inexact and unstructured, are taken as the expected basis of policy--if the elected official doesn't follow their "throwaway statement" whole-heartedly, they're accused of "backing down" or "bowing to public pressure."

We do expect more from our elected officials. We expect a higher sense of awareness of national and international events and we expect an air of sobriety and professionalism. I believe, however, the public is mature enough to avoid expecting a saint or a prophet. We understand bureacracy, we understand that mistakes occur in a rapid-fire work-flow, we understand that people occasionally say some things casually they don't seriously intend to translate into policy.

If only the media held this realistic perception, and credit the public with at least this much wisdom, the "gotcha" game might become the exception rather than the rule.


Posted by: Mandrake Ethos at April 25, 2004 1:23 PM | Permalink

Other significant facts that you left out are the decision to offer direct feeds from Iraq to local stations, thereby allowing local stations to work around the national media, and the Administration's practice of actively reaching out to smaller, local reporters and stations while simulatenously stiffing the majors.

Posted by: Thom at April 25, 2004 1:31 PM | Permalink

But perhaps its weakness is in speaking a language Americans recognize as theirs. Bush is challenging the press: you don't speak to the nation, or for it, or with it.

Very interesting. I think many of Bush's critics — of which I am one — underestimate what Bob Woodward calls his "emotional intelligence," or his ability to understand what's on the mind of "Joe Public."

Critics wanted to hear Bush admit in the press conference that the Iraq project is not working and, more importantly, his plan for fixing the problems (I did not understand, however, why reporters persisted in trying to get him to personally admit "mistakes" in an election year — by framing it this way, the press appears as a vicious persecutor, not as a seeker of truth).

But Bush understands intuitively — which polls have since borne out — that most Americans don't want to hear about a plan or about Bush's mistakes; they want to be assured of their leader's resolve. That's because most Americans, according to the new PIPA poll, believe that Iraq is the cornerstone in the "War on Terror" (a term the press has wholeheartedly adopted) and therefore there's really no question about the staying the course.

To me, the fundamental issue is why they believe such things. Is it because they're not sophisticated enough to distinguish between Saddam and Osama? Or is it because the press uncritically passed along the adminisitration's case for invading Iraq, which was conflated with the al Qaeda threat?

I believe it's the latter. The press dug the hole in which it now finds itself. By lending credibility to the invasion, it's in no position to question the premises now. The public is not demanding answers because it doesn't see the questions. Bush is therefore correct in saying that the press is not representing the public, because the public doesn't believe Bush has done anything wrong.

Posted by: Grant D. at April 25, 2004 1:32 PM | Permalink

Here's my question:

If the press is the Fourth Estate, where is the check on the press?

Posted by: Patterico at April 25, 2004 1:33 PM | Permalink

Thank you for an insightful column! That's exactly it: the press and networks don't represent the people. They're just another special interest group, and not deserving of any more trust than any other such group--perhaps less, because of the stranglehold they've held on communication until recently.

Posted by: James at April 25, 2004 1:39 PM | Permalink

Grant D., the arrogance of this is breathtaking: "To me, the fundamental issue is why they believe such things. Is it because they're not sophisticated enough to distinguish between Saddam and Osama? Or is it because the press uncritically passed along the adminisitration's case for invading Iraq, which was conflated with the al Qaeda threat?

I believe it's the latter. The press dug the hole in which it now finds itself. By lending credibility to the invasion, it's in no position to question the premises now. The public is not demanding answers because it doesn't see the questions. Bush is therefore correct in saying that the press is not representing the public, because the public doesn't believe Bush has done anything wrong." No matter how you sift it, you think Americans are either unsophisticated dolts or are empty-headed dolts who can be told what to think.

The third alternative is that most Americans know how to use the resources at their disposal -- the internet -- to discover the truth the press have no interest in. People do see the questions; when they hear the answers, they realize that the ones from the press are biased and politically correct hedges that are dangerous to America's health. Therefore, what's the point in asking the press for the answers? Thus, Bush is right; the press no longer have the muscle of an earlier age, and he doesn't have to answer their questions.

This is the age of bloggers fact checking the press and forcing changes and corrections. If President Bush wishes to talk to Americans, he surely doesn't need the unreliable and untrustworthy press to do that.

Posted by: Helen at April 25, 2004 2:04 PM | Permalink

Well said, Helen.

Grant, your words are an example of the reason that the Democrats are in the process of being turned out of power. You won't admit to the possibility that someone might honestly disagree with you. No, it someone sees things differently than you, then they are either stupid ("not sophisticated enough to distinguish between Saddam and Osama") or mislead ("swallowed the adminisitration's case for invading Iraq, which was conflated with the al Qaeda threat").

Of course, it is neither. But you are, in fact, the stupid one here. Here's the real truth:
The American public sees that al Qaeda and Saddam are/were just two manifestation of the same threat. You are so sophisticated and nuanced that you only see the individual trees that happen to be burning at this moment. The people see that the forest is on fire, and have no interest in the state of whether any particular tree is on fire or not.

Posted by: ray at April 25, 2004 2:29 PM | Permalink

For a virtual caricature of the liberal mindset, scroll up to the comments by Grant D., which evidence a shocking inability to understand the War on Terror and Iraq's role in it, and no appreciation whatever of the public's ability, by contrast, to comprehend these things quite accurately, thank you very much. Then again, I'm assuming it was not intended as satire, but who knows.

Posted by: Byron at April 25, 2004 2:54 PM | Permalink

Here's David Gregory on Imus explaining his choice of questions at the Press Conference (``Any Presendent should be challenged'')

Posted by: Ron Hardin at April 25, 2004 2:55 PM | Permalink

You've essentially taken a simple idea and analyzed the reprecussions and foundations of that idea. That the press does not represent America is simple, and I think, obvious. Your contribution has been to set forth a very compelling discussion as to how the President sees this idea. Like millions of others, I sure hope the Bush doctrine you present (ignore the press)actually represents Bush policy.

I would like to add one important point. You neglected to mention the influence of the Internet on the decline of the Press, even as you cited one of the Internet's heroes, Glenn Reynolds. Talk radio did a lot to chip away at the power of the establishment radio, to be sure, by demonstrating its biases and by reporting the news that the mainstream press "missed". But people can only listen to the radio in the car, more or less, and for only a short time during the day. If Talk Radion poked holes in the walls, the Internet has knocked it down.

The only question in my mind is, to waht extent did the Press ever refelct public opinion in the first place? I don't think people'a mindsets have changed dramtically in the past 40 years or so. People today think pretty much the same way people did a few decades ago. The difference is that nowadays people have a means to share those views with others. In the pest, one could have thought his own views were unusual, hudging by what the press reported, and he would have kept those views to himself. Today however, people have learned not to beleive what they read in the papers.

With this understanding, I think a serious rewriting of history is in order. Did the public really think ill of Joe McCarthy, as the press has reported for decasdes? Or is Ann Coulter on to something when she writes that his reputation was created by the liberal media, and not from the public? How enamored were Americans of the Civil Rights Acts and the Feminist movements? As time goes on, I think our history books will prove to be in for a major rehaul.

Posted by: David at April 25, 2004 3:03 PM | Permalink

That is a very interesting analysis. Those of us who support Bush would like to believe he will be successful.

Many of us see the mainstream press as being strongly biased and also surprisingly ignorant. We see this even more in areas where we have personal knowledge, which supports our observation.

I write as a Vietnam Veteran who also served in the Reserves, who joined the Navy 2 days after John Kerry, and whose best friend was killed doing the same thing as Bush (National Guard fighter pilot, treated by the Democrats and the press as the easy way out, implying cowardice).

The "gotcha" game around Bush's guard service was not only biased but also amazingly ignorant about the military. The ignorance was obvious in the failure to even try to understand the actual workings of the National Guard (especially the Air Guard for pilots). The bias was evident in the focus on Bush without corresponding focus on Kerry, who has some very major activities and some widely publicized and very significant lies to explain. The media's credibility with veterans and current military personnel was not helped by that performance.

Only now is the press looking at Kerry's "gotchas". But David Halbfinger's April 24 piece is carefully sanitized. It is written as if the Kerry's dirty laundry is being thoroughly aired, but in reality, the most damaging parts are white-washed or hidden.

This is an old propaganda technique - show something that harms your position to establish your credibility, but mislead about or hide the most important issues. In particular:

1) The infamous "Winter Soldier" investigation is cleansed by the implication that other "investigations" that were not authentic, but the "Detroit investigation (actually the Winter Soldier investigation) took care to avoid imposters, In reality, the Detroit investigation that was the most famous and the most thoroughly riddled with imposters, credential exaggerators and false claims. The words "Winter. Soldier" do not appear in Halbfinger's piece at all, Jane Fonda's major involvement in the investigation is not mentioned, and subsequent thorough debunking of the investigation by Burkette and Whitley (Stolen Valor) and by military investigators is never mentioned.

2) The depth, breadth, tremendous dishonesty and general theme of Kerry's 1971 Senate Testimony are air-brushed away. The speech is analyzed here from a veteran's viewpoint, with a link to the full text at C-SPAN. There are only two small references to this long speech which was the turning point in Mr. Kerry's career and which had the most impact on the nation.

3) The mainstream press has not noticed the attempt by the Kerry campaign to cover-up the fact that he was a sworn Naval Officer in the Regular Reserves from 1970-1972, when he met with the enemy representatives in Paris, performed almost all of his VVAW activities, and gave his perjurious Senate testimony. Details on this cover-up (which included actions forced by the release of his military records) are here and here. The Boston Globe published a story that Kerry received an honorable discharge in 1970 (which would have left him a civilian). In fact he was not discharged until 1978.

It is possible that the White House let the National Guard "gotcha game" continue so the press would expose their own bias and ignorance. Certainly having former Guardsmen and Reservists and their families hear their service denigrated (by implication) by the press, and specifically by Terry McCauliffe and other Democrats was an easy win for the White House. Anyone with military service or knowledge about it, watching the jackal herd in some of the White House press conferences, saw nothing but vicious, biased and ignorant people screaming for a "gotcha" that veterans doubted was there at all.

I have long been a casual student of propaganda, having listened to Radio Moscow and Radio Havana since the early sixties. It was with some astonishment that I discovered in the '80s that CBS News had started to act as better propagandists against Reagan and his ideology than Radio Moscow. Things have only gotten worse since then.

Those who reject the "liberal media bias" accusation should ask themselves why there is such a large audience for conservative talk radio, and such quick success for Fox News, while liberal talk radio fails except in a couple of "blue area" cities, and most other TV news outlets and newspapers are losing viewers and subscribers.

The answer is not that the population outside of the blue counties are fools, dupes and uninformed. Instead, it is market saturation for leftward-slanted information by mainstream news and entertainment outlets.

Rush Limbaugh's success started because he was supplying information that resolved the cognitive dissonance of many. Ordinary citizens could not reconcile their own knowledge and experience with the inexplicably contradictory information in the mainstream media - especially TV news.

That Limbaugh is a master of his medium is of course important to his success, but it was the untapped market for alternative information that created the demand. The numerous other popular conservative talk show hosts of lesser talent buttresses this explanation.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at April 25, 2004 3:36 PM | Permalink

This feels like piling on, but the issue is so central I'm going to do it anyway.

Grant D., you're an ass. But more importantly, you're a good example of the kind of pompous, superficial ass whose dominance in the press and in the Democatic party will get Bush re-elected.

I'm not particularly happy about a lot of the Bush administration social policies. They cut against many things I believe are important for us as a democracy.

But you know - he's right about the war on terror IMO.

Now, you can dismiss that as my ignorance. Obviously I am misled, and obviously this is the result of the Nanny Press failing in its job of telling me how to think correctly. [sarcasm intended]

It never occurs to you that I and others who basically support Bush's diagnosis of the threats facing our country, and western civilization, might be thoughtful analysts who have well-founded reasons for that conclusion. Of *course* I made a naive mistake in coming to that conclusion. I should have realized that my decades of experience, some of it doing business in the Middle East and Asia, and years of both cultural and policy study were an inadequate base for such important decisions.

Clearly, where I went wrong was in not taking a journalism degree instead, preferably from the appropriate folk at Columbia Univ. or their ilk.


Posted by: rkb at April 25, 2004 3:41 PM | Permalink

Bush was brilliant in that press conference because he accomplished exactly what he wanted to accomplish.

He demonstrated that:

1. He has the determination and courage to see the fight against terrorism to the end.

2. He and Americans are on one side of the fence and the media and terrorists are on the other side.

Posted by: Jake at April 25, 2004 3:56 PM | Permalink

Grant D. - "To me, the fundamental issue is why they believe such things. Is it because they're not sophisticated enough to distinguish between Saddam and Osama? Or is it because the press uncritically passed along the adminisitration's case for invading Iraq, which was conflated with the al Qaeda threat?"

Perhaps it is that some Americans do not share your context and are therefore able to orient themselves differently than you. For example, do Americans equate the war on terrorism with a war on al Qaeda in the same way that you do? Is one a subset of the other? Do Americans color their context with Iraq's terrorism and support of Palestinian terrorists? Do Americans understand, they same way you do, that Saddam's Iraq was isolated from, or minimally involved with, al Qaeda activities? Do they deconflict al Qaeda, Ansar Islam, and Saddam pre-war, with the resources and dedication of Zarqawi and Islamic extremist fighting in Iraq this past year? Have many Americans been oriented, or conditioned, over the last decade with reports of complicity between Iraq and bin Laden in "Sudan's aspirin factory", first WTC bombing, 1998 indictment of bin Laden including an Iraq/al Qaeda arrangement, bin Laden's 1999 disappearance with Iraq as a possible destination, ...?

I have four complaints about "the press" today:

1. They are not honest with their consumers, and perhaps themselves, about the process of "observe, orient, decide, act".

2. They are not honest with their consumers, or perhaps just unaware, that their medium consists of a channel, passive filters and active filters.

3. They are not the "first cut at history" but the first draft of the next paragraph added to a continuous story with a timeline.

4. They jealously defend a tyrannical hierarchy of information sources while denying their own corporate special interests.

Is it possible that Bush can successfully challenge the press myth of a 4th estate because they have lost their own credibility with the public? Has that credibility been lost over time because the public feels they are not well served through gotcha journalism? Has that credibility been lost over time as journalistic scandals and biases are revealed? Has that credibility been lost over time as "the press" denies they are biased and downplays their scandals?

What I think is more relevant and important today is "the press" role of "useful fools" during a guerilla based war. Are their consumers confident they are not being propagandized by one side or the other?

Posted by: Tim at April 25, 2004 4:07 PM | Permalink

To use Jay's terminology, big media has been knocked off balance by, among other things, the Internet. The Internet isn't limited by the economy of the printed and broadcast worlds - with both newspapers and television, there is a finite amount of time/space in which to present facts, analysis and editorial views.

By their nature, it's a one-to-one relationship (writer/editor-to-reader in the print world) or a one-to-many (reporter/newsreader to a mass but fragmenting audience in the broadcast).

The Internet is, of course, many-to-many, with relatively few mediating factors like startup costs, circulation, advertising, etc.

And I believe big media necessarily must engage in the kind of yes-no/for-against/winner-loser types of analysis. They simply don't have time, space, or money to do much beyond that. Having known a lot of journalists and worked in the field, I can say with some authority that many of its works have the same limitations that other professions have. Most journalists, for example, don't have anything beyond rudimentary math, science, business, or critical-thinking skills. This serves to limit the discourse even further.

So we get these discussions limted to "Either Americans are stupid or Bush hypnotized us". There's rarely any sense that maybe the assumptions are incorrect, or that things might change in the future, or that maybe they collectively overlooked something (e.g., the Oil-for-Graft program at the UN). Average citizens and business workers are treated with suspicion; other journalists, foreigners, and bureaucrats are given every benefit of the doubt. It's a weird mix of cynicism and naivete.

Here's a meme that gets repeated frequently: Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism. I see this reported in the press a lot. What I think has happened is that at some point, the press made a decision: Al Qaeda=terrorism. Never mind that terrorism isn't limited to Al Qaeda. Never mind that Saddam had proven links to Palestinian terrorists.

Never mind that just because no hard and fast links have been established between Saddam and Al Qaeda - a (by design) splintered, cell-based network - doesn't preclude them from being found. Never mind that there are infinite numbers of ways that someone with a lot of money can influence and support groups of a like mind (see also: George Soros, Richard Mellon Scaife). Et cetera.

No - the media, which never misses a chance to blast Republicans (or Americans, for that matter) for their black-and-white view of the world, can't seem to get beyond an apparently dogmatic view of the incredibly fluid and shadowy world of Middle East intrigue. The statement is, flatly: We attacked Iraq even though Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. Now, I look at that and wonder: Who's being reductive here? Who's seeing the world in black-and-white? Who is ruling out any possibility of connections or nuance here?

Hint: It's not George Bush.

For me, it's not a matter of bias as it is a matter of shallowness. The press claims for itself a gigantic role in the public life of this country. They show increasingly little as a justification for that role. Since they aren't elected, and aren't even appointed (except by themselves), the only way that messages can be delivered to the media is via ratings and circulation numbers.

But even then, in its collective narcissism, it judges that the problem isn't in the media, but with instead stupid, unthinking, unreflective, venal Americans.

Posted by: Steve in Houston at April 25, 2004 4:55 PM | Permalink

Hello, all. Some clarifications:

When Bush says to journalists "you don't represent the public," it means a bit more than reporters are unrepresentative, or their views unlike the views of most Americans. I believe Bush is challenging the very notion that journalism is conducted in the public interest, that the public's right to know depends on the press finding things out. That's quite different from "journalists are liberal, Americans on the whole are moderate to conservative," which is not the point the President is making-- even though he probably agrees with that too.

Second: my essay tries to summarize and capture what Bush and company are thinking. But I have noticed in the Blogosphere that readers often assume I share the reasoning I am only trying to paraphrase. I think the Bush Thesis is important, a serious argument, and it ought to be taken seriously. That does not mean I agree with it.

Thom: Check the link to the Boston Globe and you will find that I did not leave out the direct feed to local stations. And if you click here you will find a post on "the Administration's practice of actively reaching out to smaller, local reporters and stations while simulatenously stiffing the majors."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 25, 2004 4:55 PM | Permalink

I wrote a comment pointing out that that the
dynamics of the press conference weren't so much
about a strategy to permanently marginalize as
about Bush wanting to make it clear that the press
has been doing a bad job on Iraq.

Posted by: Jon Kay at April 25, 2004 5:04 PM | Permalink

Great analysis of our President's dead-on perception of the role of "lamestream" media today, glad I read this. And the thread here has been excellent as well, some very good points. I'm not going to pile onto Grant since that's been covered here. But his comments reallly do illustrate the prevailing attitude among those who, for whatever reason, simply do not get it. I'd bet if you asked Grant and his friends if they think the US is actually at war, they'd either hedge about it, or flat-out deny that we are. And that, to me, is the main reason behind why someone like Grant can make statements like that. It's not truly real to them for some reason, almost as if the videos of the planes smashing into the WTC were computer graphics-generated "clips" from some hollywood special effects house!

Posted by: Alan at April 25, 2004 5:24 PM | Permalink

When Bush says to journalists "you don't represent the public," it means a bit more than reporters are unrepresentative, or their views unlike the views of most Americans. I believe Bush is challenging the very notion that journalism is conducted in the public interest, that the public's right to know depends on the press finding things out.

Jay, I agree. That is the challenge Bush has made. And that challenge resonates deeply for me.

I consider myself an thoughtful citizen and voter. I take questions about public policy seriously and try to bring both an open mind and my own life experience (plus a few graduate degrees) to bear when deciding what policies to support or advocate for, and who will get my vote.

However, increasingly since the 1970s, journalists and the wider "press" community - most explicitly to include faculty in journalism schools - have arrogated to themselves the role of speaking for me.

I object to that arrogation on principle. And when as sometimes happens the press community's attitudes do not reflect my own - as has happened often with regard to the war on terror and especially to the question of Iraq - I am deeply angry at the arrogance the press shows.

Moreover, when the press speaks about subjects in which I have some professional expertise (business, cross-cultural and religious issues, some aspects of the military) I often find an appalling lack of basic knowledge, an indifference to relevant facts and - yes - a pervasive worldview that mitigates against an objective view of the situation.

Is it any surprise, then, that the press has little credibility with many adults in this country? It's bad enough that they have the arrogance to assume they speak for me, or that they have a central advocacy role in public policy making.

It's even worse when they do so based on ignorance, laziness and/or a worldview which goes unquestioned and uninformed.

Posted by: rkb at April 25, 2004 5:26 PM | Permalink

The embedded reporters were the antidote to the "Sunday Morning" quarterbacks in the TV studios. While they spoke of endless problems, troop shortages, miscalculations and a burgeoning quagmire, the embedded reporters showed an army advancing hundreds of miles in just a couple of weeks.

At that point, American TV viewers saw just how biased the media "elite" is. Yhey had been passionate advocates against the war and now they were doing everything in their power to make their opposition appear correct.

No surprise then that news viewership dropped off and stayed off. The journalism wing of the entertainment industry had been outflanked. The nightly newscast was their Maginot Line and live battlefield coverage was the mobility that obsoleted it.

Posted by: Paul at April 25, 2004 5:29 PM | Permalink

War reporting began in the American Civil War, and the first thing that military commanders both in the field and in the capitals realized was that the press was in effect a source of intelligence for each side against the other. Lee had a staff member regularly troll for Union newspapers; first McClellan, then Stanton (Sec'y of War), and later on Halleck, Union "General in Chief" before Grant, began to clamp down on reporting.

My favorite as always because he was by far the greatest intellect among the general officers on both sides, Wm. Tecumseh Sherman said roundly that reporters were in effect spies and if found in the wrong place at the wrong time should be shot at spies.

What it came down to for Sherman was that newspapers were sources for the enemy, which they are. Secondly, they were, perhaps paradoxically, ignorant sources, i.e., they understood nothing of military matters, and therefore had no idea of how to understand the events they were witnesses. Remember how macho Rumsfeld was with smart-alack reporters at the beginning of the Afghanistan war, trying to educate a bunch of non-starters who didn't want to be educated? ("How may babies did you kill today, Mr. Rumsfeld?" Why does Bush think reporters are assholes? Give me a break.) He for a while in effect had his own show, with half the middle-aged women in the U. S. swooning over him and his "Oh, Dear me's, did that happen?" etc.

The toll taken by the gender revolution which has trashed male martial virtue has led to a defacto massive hole in the journalist profession's knowledge of military history and of military matters in general. They simply had no idea in the the whole wide world how to understand the opening moves in either Afghanistan or Iraq, moves that will be studied with amazement in war colleges round the world.

I wouldn't shoot 'em as Sherman would: I'd put them on the oldfashioned donkey facing the wrong way, tar, feather them and ride them out of town. Bush put stake in American journalism's heart with the statements you cite in your article. I suspect that you've tried to make the statements as gentle as possible in order to try to conceal that fact. What he's said in effect--the results of the election will confirm or not--is that he doesn't need the liberal media to make his case to the voters, because the media has already in effect done that for him by being a bunch of contemptible posturers whenever they write negative articles about him. If I were those people, I'd quit while I was ahead and go try farming in Idaho.

Posted by: Michael McCanles at April 25, 2004 5:31 PM | Permalink

One other quick thing- Steve from Houston points out something about the disconnect between Saddam & Al-Q in his comments. I've always wondered about this and why the media never looked at it this way:
If Saddam was willing to pay $25k to a Palestinian self-detonator, how much would he have paid someone to take down a major US skyscraper, sports stadium or downtown center? Why does it seem so inconceivable that, just because we don't have "smoking gun" documents making that kind of a link in the past, that Saddam would not have paid money to Al-Q or anybody in the Jihad biz? By what logic would he NOT have done that?

Posted by: Alan at April 25, 2004 5:31 PM | Permalink

Sorry, clicked Post rather than Preview.

To finish my thought re: public interest and the public's right to know:

The press, in my opinion, has come perilously close to losing basic credibility as a source of information. The press has identified its own actions and opinions with the public interest, with a demonstrable failure IMO to bring either disinterested analysis or knowledgeable insight into many of its products.

As a result, "the press" has forfeited respect as a suitable channel for the public's right to know.

I am very concerned about what will replace the major media in performing the important role of uncovering and disseminating information about our government -- a critical function in a healthy democracy. To a fair degree, the availability of source documents and data regarding government actions make it possible for citizens and commentators to draw their own conclusions, without the mediation of the professional press community. Perhaps journalism as a profession will reform itself and will provide "value added" analysis and collating of facts.

We'll see.

Posted by: rkb at April 25, 2004 5:38 PM | Permalink

"why did the Bush team feel comfortable placing hundreds of "special pleaders" with the tanks and troops invading Iraq?"

Precisely because the Bush team DOES have some faith in reporters who can describe events in context. Embedding some reporters for a significant period of continuous time with active military units was hoped to produce some stories with facts embedded in them.

Stories written by members of a private club who briefly leave the cloistered premises to snap a photo or interview an individual will still be imprinted with the groupthink of that club, which also imprints almost all of mainstream editorial comment. Barely any journalists have actively served in the military, and few would have any understanding of operations at the unit level without the embedment process. Hence that process was a public service of the highest order by the Government - which is obviously aware that the public is not going to get the whole story from the media as currently biased, but would get more of it with embeds than without.

Bias by selective omissions at the editorial level, it goes without saying, has remained alive and kicking.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at April 25, 2004 5:41 PM | Permalink

When Clinton began in office, I was often irritated by the media. Of course, it was liberal (and I was - or at least a good deal less conservative than I am today). The focus of discussions on show after show was on polls, on appearance. The network news does not appear to consider a person's expertise as important - political reporters cover Clinton's health plan, Bush's statements on Iraq, privatization of social security. They may ask an expert, but the political reporter gives context, chooses an expert (generally that agrees with their political reporting), and edits their remarks. When Don Gagny (sp? The npr reporter) asked if Bush didn't feel he had failed as a communicator, the next day on npr was spent talking about his "moment in the sun," the tie he was wearing and whether his mother had seen him. Nothing was said about the stupidity of that question. I have yet, for instance, to see any major outlet discuss points Bush has brought up that they don't want to discuss. They constantly confuse Niger with Africa, assuming the mention of Africa must mean Niger. I haven't heard any of them discuss the challenge Bush issued to the UN to do something about slavery. This is true of Fox as well. It is true that Fox doesn't deliver a steady stream of insults to Republicans in fly-over country, but they also don't often delve as deeply as they should. My main sources are Fox and NPR through the accidents of car-pooling and commuting. We are left with one source that assumes we are all interested in every detail of the latest celebrity trial and the other that doesn't even acknowledge that listeners might have another set of values than the ones they push. Of course, Fox is more honest. Britt Hume with some grace and Hannity & O'Reilly with a good deal less grace are at least willing to acknowledge that some people look at the world from a different angle than they. They are just sure they are right. That may irritate listeners who are less sure (and even ones like me that occasionally wince, thinking they are right but hate to impress the messenger), but it is a good deal more honest.

No, the media doesn't represent us. And the questions at that last press conference made a George Bush who was occasionally bumbling the hero. Given the choice between psychobabble cynicism and not always articulate dedication, we are likely to choose the latter--unless we consider narcisstic cynicism a virtue.

Posted by: Ginny at April 25, 2004 5:45 PM | Permalink

The big problem with the press is that there is, to such a great extent The Press these days, an editorial and corporate monolith that speaks, if not with a single voice, then certainly a uniform one.

Here in Los Angeles we are down to two daily English-language newspapers, the Times and the Daily News. Editorially, they are largely indistinguishable on all but the most local issues.

In how many cities is this the case? How many cities support a press that is truly diverse in politcial and editorial thought? Most major cities are reduced to one or two major dailies and that's it.

Matters are complicated now by the new rulings permitting newspaper owners to also own television and radio stations. Again, here in LA, for example, Tribune, the company that owns KTLA now also owns the LA Times, and the editorial slant of station and paper are merging seamlessly and shamelessly, resulting in some markedly slanted "news coverage " on KTLA.

It is becoming less and possible for people of wide range of opinion and political preference to find "mainstream: journalism that represents them and reflects -- or even recognizes-- their own experiences. This is not a whinge of the Republican right, but of Americans from a broad spectrum of views and The Press as shaped cannot address this problem.

Posted by: Richard McEnroe at April 25, 2004 5:48 PM | Permalink

It is interesting that Mr. Rosen felt compelled to come back and post this:

"I believe Bush is challenging the very notion that journalism is conducted in the public interest, that the public's right to know depends on the press finding things out. That's quite different from "journalists are liberal, Americans on the whole are moderate to conservative," which is not the point the President is making-- even though he probably agrees with that too."

So Mr. Rosen is trying to say that Bush probably hates a free press in general? I don't think there is evidence of that kind of attitude. So why would Mr. Rosen say this? Does he want to protect himself from the "mafia" of his fellow journalists?

Why would Mr. Rosen defend himself and his colleagues so weakly and then go away? Come back. We know that Bush isn't against a free press in general. Just the current Columbia School class. So let us discuss that sir...with you directly and not just via comments to your original post.

Is there something going on within the media that would make you a black sheep if you just came right out and admitted that there is an attitude problem in too many reporters these days (and since the Tet Offensive)?

Now a big question I have is this: if corporations own the media...why can't there be a top-down policy of firing the biased leftists outright? Why are people "buying" the liberal media so much still? Why is there money in talking treason? Why did the media just fire Peter Arnett?

Posted by: Jennifer Peterson at April 25, 2004 6:52 PM | Permalink

To further clarify in light of Rosen's "clarification" that we are all commenting "on target" to his original post...the accusation that President Bush might be saying that a free press shouldn't play a role in uncovering instantly rendered false by the idea that the President might feel that there are plenty of things good reporters can do in this war in terms of uncovering information. They could be working hard to investigate what says, for instance. They could say "The Israeli website,, announced today that Talibani will be the first president of Iraq - we sent a team to uncover this rumor"...or "The Israeli website,, rumored to be an arm of Mossad "disinformation", announced today that the Iranian government helped launch the attacks on the Basra oil rigs yesterday from Iranian soil! - We have a team of reporters on this. - Update at 11!"

Now I would admit that the President probably PREFERS that journalists in this war just waste their time on meaningless leftist drivel about whether Iraq needed to be invaded in the first place...then to try to report on what is actually going on in the war on terror. If you've ever read the book "Bodyguard of Lies"...the trick in war is to keep the media off guard and off topic. You want eyes to be looking in one direction while you do something major in another direction.

Imagine if, before the Normandy invasion, the media was carping about why we were so "arrogant" as to try to stop Europe from being Nazi and democratize everybody when they obviously all wanted to be Nazi...and furthermore shouldn't be required to follow our way of life by force.

Maybe fewer German soldiers, having believed that Americans didn't have the stomach to invade Europe, would have been on guard on the bluffs over Omaha Beach that day.

But then Jay Rosen would have to admit that the media is really just filling a function right now of *supporting* the war effort by pretending that Woodward-style investigation of presidential "blunders" is where our Arab enemies should be looking...that, correctly surmising that undercutting the President's credibility in the world at a time of war couldn't possibly be a seriously patriotic thing to do, the corporate media bigwigs have set their incompetent nabobs out on "wild goose chases" that will make the media look like it is "free" and "critical" but in effect render the media harmless in terms of pointing out to the enemy what might be dangerous to that enemy.

Another point: We blog posters are more dangerous to national security than the regular media. We can actually come up with concepts about American plans and, for instance, the true meaning of Negroponte's new ambassadorship...and the enemy can see what is going on.

Let us face it: the current nonsense we see in newspapers and television might be motivational to the enemy...but it doesn't tell them what is going to happen to them...and they will be caught mostly off guard when they get what they deserve (Iranian revolution, Iraqi Phoenix Program, etc).

Posted by: Jennifer Peterson at April 25, 2004 7:14 PM | Permalink

Let me flesh this out a bit more...let us surmise that the White House is in daily contact with the owners of big media including Ted Turner. Everybody has agreed to an agenda of Bush until 2008 and maybe Hillary after that.

Now let us suppose that the main order of the day is as such: "Keep all eyes off of Iran right now" meaning that we have black ops underway in Iran and we want the world to ignore this. Orders from the top down in the news organizations will be for the "cub reporters" to carp on the decision to go into Iraq more than a year ago...effectively driving home the idea across the world that America couldn't possibly be actively overthrowing more regimes as we speak...the Americans are too busy wringing their hands and "apologizing" to everybody about Iraq.

Thus, without even knowing it, the media hacks are the poodles (the bitches) of their owners...dutifully "apologizing" to our enemies in the fictional world of entertainment news while the enemies get shafted in real life.

And the world will see a liberated Iran and wonder how that all happened "behind their backs."

When the media was constantly attacking Reagan...did they pinpoint the actual black ops that put the Soviet Union out of business? No. They were mainly complicit in scaring the Soviets about "Star Wars." Our media carped so much about how "Star Wars" would start a new arms race that the Soviets actually bought that line, started a new arms race and quickly went bankrupt.

In other words, Republican politicians (possibly with the help of the media's corporate owners) perform jujitsu on their own media and, by extension, on the American enemies who start to rely on and believe the American media.

[With jujitsu, you let the enemy throw itself to the floor by its own power.]

Posted by: Jennifer Peterson at April 25, 2004 7:27 PM | Permalink

Al Jazeera, for instance, is being allowed to pursue a certain line of anti-American reasoning at the moment...because an Iranian Revolution will show the Arab people how bankrupt the line of reasoning really is. Al Jazeera is going to have its "Tet Moment" soon when their version of Walter Cronkite finally says that "democracy cannot be stopped - who were we kidding".

Posted by: Jennifer Peterson at April 25, 2004 7:32 PM | Permalink

Jennifer writes: So Mr. Rosen is trying to say that Bush probably hates a free press in general? I don't think there is evidence of that kind of attitude. So why would Mr. Rosen say this? Does he want to protect himself from the "mafia" of his fellow journalists?

I think there's a lot of contempt for a free press in the Bush Administration. Whether Bush himself "hates a free press in general" I cannot say. But I was writing about his ideas, not emotions like hate. I said those ideas should be taken seriously.

And his big idea, developed as well by his advisors--what I called the Bush thesis--proposes that the national press is not a part of the system of checks and balances in government, does not represent the public, and is little more than a special pleader. These are new notions for an occupant of the White House, and they go well beyond the normal frustration presidents have shown toward the press.

The group in question--members of the national press--are not my colleagues, Jennifer, although I respect many of them and know a few. I have never been a working reporter. I'm a press critic and scholar of journalism (with a PhD), and I have often stood for ideas that are harshly rejected by elite journalism. (Check into the public journalism debate from the 1990s if you wish to know more.)

As for admitting the press has an "attitude problem," just browse the archives at PressThink for all the problems I see in journalism today.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 25, 2004 7:45 PM | Permalink

Someone said in these postings that 'If the press is the fourth estate, then who watches over the press?'

An obvious answer is 'We do'Decreased viewership and lost revenue speak that message clearer than any complaining. If you don't like what you see, change the channel and get the news from a blogger.

Secondly, I would like to Second the comments of Glenn Reynolds. There's a reason why is so sucessful: it's run by a pretty smart guy....

But back to his comment: the Press itself is NOT a check on government, it is the Power of the Press: the right to free speech, publication, etc., that is the check on power. That power is derived from the first amendment (and for those of you who studied history, a court case involving a newspaper and the colonial government in pre-revolution America). It isn't the body of editors, chief's, CEO's, Reporters, journalists, and commentators (and in some light, the gobs of cash they have) that give the press the right to free speech and the right to know: it's the constitution and the rights afforded to you by the constitution (and in the view of some, by God). When people ABUSE rights, however, they are lost by some way or another. In this case, the discrediting of the old media by the President and long before the people (and bloggers). There is no stopping this: by nature of the law and the democratic society we live in it occurs. Someone in the press forgot this a long time ago, and they blew it but didn't know it. Now the truth has come out, and they've been hit pretty hard.

Posted by: Charles Hammond Jr. at April 25, 2004 8:22 PM | Permalink

...ditto what rkb said. I'm not one of the lumpen public the press is preaching to. I have a master's in film theory and know when I'm being manipulated, whether it's by the govt or the corporate press.

And of course the press does not represent me or care one fig about my interests; the press represents the interests of the corporations that employ them to deliver up audiences to advertisers. Why else would ABC News choose Jo Wilding to interview on what is happening in Fallujah, to repeat her Al Jazeera propaganda and describe her as a mere "aid worker"? Why is Aaron McGruder the cover story on the LA Times lifestyle magazine today? As for the questions at the Bush press conference, they were just mean spirited versions of "if you could be a tree, which one would you be"?

These days I read blogs/articles from around the world every morning with my coffee. The press still checks and balances, but on a much less grand scale than the majors imagine.

Posted by: Patricia at April 25, 2004 8:57 PM | Permalink

Dr. Rosen,

I'd like to take a shot at this thesis and clarification.

I do think the Bush administration believes in the public's right to know, but is skeptical of the exclusive extra-constitutional role of the press to serve as mediator for informing and shaping public opinion.

I do think the Bush thesis maintains that there are, and should be more, direct and more populist channels available to provide information to the public.

"The press", or at least those that would be represented in the White House conference, does have a channel to the public. It is the channel that is valuable to the administration, and it was the channel that was important in embedding reporters. The restrictions on reporters were specifically structured to ensure information flow over the channel of "ground truth" bypassing as much as possible the opinion makers, experts, anchors and other assorted talking heads. In the process, many "experts" were shown to be as informed (and wrong) as Joe Q. Public watching the battlefield scenes at home.

I tend to agree with Bush that when "the press" has matured to a point where the passive and active filters in use have interfered with the value of the channel.

The value to the public and to the newsmaker is the channel. When "the press" values their filters (gotcha journalism, shock and awe descripting, editorial opinion) over the service of providing a channel between the public and their government, they no longer are valuable as a 4th estate.

The fascinating power of blogs, from my perspective, is the power of linking. Online press services are slow to link to the official sites, briefings, press releases, etc., they are criticizing or referencing.

So, the filters of 30 second spots on half hour news shows prevent coverage of good news stories from Iraq.

The filters of limited space, sensationalism, character of readership, etc., dictates coverage of the abortion rights march but not the right to life march.

All administrations have tried to find channels around the filters of "the press". If the Bush administration finds they can get their message out through talk radio, internet email and web, FoxNews, and selected broadsheets, then their thesis is that "the press" in the form of ABC/NBC/CBS/NPR/NYT/WP/... does not represent the 4th establishment. If they can cooperate with authors and communicate through books for larger and more complex issues, they will. The soundbites and quote clips from these books are invariably out of context and refutable from elsewhere in the same source - because the issue is large and complex.

He is challenging the format. His thesis is the press is less useful to him and to the public. Less trusted by him and the public. There is less reason to cooperate to reach the public.

And he's right.

Posted by: Tim at April 25, 2004 9:09 PM | Permalink

Jay Rosen wrote: "When Bush says to journalists 'you don't represent the public,' it means a bit more than reporters are unrepresentative, or their views unlike the views of most Americans. I believe Bush is challenging the very notion that journalism is conducted in the public interest, that the public's right to know depends on the press finding things out."

Rosen's analysis is dead on. For, Bush is both right to challenge the concept of journalism as being in the public interest, and that the public's right to know is not dependent on "the press finding things out." The press have demonstrated a remarkable disinclination to research and present the facts as they are. Instead, media outlets have opted for biased, ill-informed, leftist opinion masquerading as fact. Journalism of such a type cannot be in the public's interest for, because of agenda, it disregards what the public has a right to know in favor of what journalists think is sufficient for the public to know in order to influence their thought and actions. A public guided by such journalism would remain supremely unaware of the threat that Muslims within and without pose to the U.S., and would dissuade us concerning the rightness of the war on terror.

Moreover, in this age of the internet, the public's right to know is no longer dependent upon the press. Every man who has a computer can do research and discover for himself. The press were important in an earlier age when information was not to be had from a tap of the keyboard. To the extent that journalists keep us abreast of new developments, they have a limited importance; nevertheless, the variety of the sources of information mutes the power of the press because it makes us aware of the deficiencies and biases in reporting. I keep being told by the press that President Bush is not very intelligent, that he has "emotional intelligence", that he is a dummy. Yet, I keep watching the president play his opponents, including the press, in a high stakes game of poker of which they refuse to recognize he is master.

That President Bush articulates what Rosen calls the "Bush thesis" means that he, like the public he is better attuned to than is the press, is ahead of the curve. When has he ever not been?

Posted by: Helen at April 25, 2004 9:50 PM | Permalink

Some of you guys are becoming a bit entrenched as well in your blog ways of thinking of the overall American public. While I wouldn't say that Americans overall are stupid, I would say that most Americans (so far) fail to delve deeper than television news/newspapers/radio for their news. Blogging is still a relatively new way of getting ahold of the truth, and those of you who somehow believe that blogging is mainstream are sorely overestimating its impact upon the average person in the US. Revolutionary, but it's still alternative media...maybe in a few more years though. We'll see.

Papers shouldn't sell based on what people want to hear...that's the quickest path to irresponsible journalism...and in some ways, it has already manifested itself in the dismaying increase of sensationalist "journalism" the last decade. Now, if you want to be connected to the people, it's more about persuading them or at least giving them a reasonable argument that won't be identified as bullshit instantly.

Unfortunately, the old model of journalism, where
big stations/papers would be willing to take a hit in advertising to get the story right has largely failed on nearly all sides of the spectrum. When I pick up articles on local events I've been to, often, they mix up quotes/facts or even contradict themselves within the article. Journalism is a tough job, but the pressure of getting the story first has destroyed the fact checking process.

Posted by: S. at April 25, 2004 10:39 PM | Permalink

It's much worse than that.

"The only question in my mind is, to waht extent did the Press ever refelct public opinion in the first place? I don't think people'a mindsets have changed dramtically in the past 40 years or so. People today think pretty much the same way people did a few decades ago. The difference is that nowadays people have a means to share those views with others. In the pest, one could have thought his own views were unusual, hudging by what the press reported, and he would have kept those views to himself. Today however, people have learned not to beleive what they read in the papers."

In the past, there were multiple papers, each with its own bias. Consolidation has reduced that in almost all markets to a single outlet, and in the few markets where there is more than one outlet the fact that consolidation has proceeded elsewhere leaves the "reporter" staff homogeneous anyway. So, in effect, where we used to get differing opinions from different papers, now we have to go to the Internet or talk radio to find any alternative viewpoint at all.

And --

I, personally, have been directly involved in three incidents considered "newsworthy," and indirectly involved in or aware of many more. In every case, the story as presented by the media bore only the slightest resemblance, if any, to the actual facts as I knew or experienced them. In talking to others, I discover that my experience is typical -- even in so minor an incident as a car wreck (If it bleeds it leads) the chance that the media will get the names, the course and result of the incident, or even such things as time of day and even place, is so near zero as to be inconsiderable.

Consider INDC Journal, for instance. The guy makes a hobby of going down to protests and watching -- and taking pictures -- as the media representatives, who grossly outnumber the protesters, coach the lefties in how to mass so that the camera angle overstates their number by a thousand percent or so. That matches my experience: thirty people show up with lefty signs, and it leads on the six o'clock news, with the same people running past the camera like the Indians in low-budget Fifties westerns. Two thousand show up to promote gun ownership and/or oppose gun control: "not newsworthy."

In America today, if you know you're going to be written up or presented on TV, what you hope and pray for is that the reporter is stone ignorant. That's the default; "journalists" have decided that that is a profession, and that any time or effort spent on learning anything other than the mechanics of journalism is at best wasted, at worst counterproductive. The few that do have any knowledge outside that limited domain are absolutely hostile; if the reporter knows anything about the subject, and your opinion does not match that of a New-York-dwelling liberal, you will be savaged -- which is why the ignoramus is the one you'd like to see with the mike in hand.

And it has become pellucid that the media hate George W. Bush, and that if Bush strolled down the Mall, walked across the water of the Potomac to Arlington Cemetary, and raised one of the dead, the lede of the NYT would be a snarl of blame for picking the wrong resurrection, and the secondary story (above the fold) would be about his failing to support bridge repair and maintenance.

All this adds together to mean that, at present, the best course for the media might well be a period of fawning complaisance. As it stands, if the NYT or CBS report some horrid outrage on Bush's part, we out here in flyover country automatically assume that he's done something timely and well and our opinion of the guy goes up. "Journalists" have so embedded themselves in the consciousness that we all more or less assume that they're lying based on an agenda, that their agenda is predictable, and that at least some of the facts can be elicited by simply assuming the reverse of whatever is printed or presented. Bush gets bad news; it gets smeared all over; which means he's done something right. Easy.


Posted by: Ric Locke at April 25, 2004 10:40 PM | Permalink

Jesus, this really descended rather quickly into "the media is biased because it doesn't parrot right-wing talking points."

This blog triumphalism is so detached from reality.

I think that television media is doomed, but aside from political journalism, I think print is quite healthy.

Posted by: asdf at April 25, 2004 10:52 PM | Permalink

Oh, and Jay, it seems that Mr. Okrent accepts Mr. Bush's view of a press diminished.

Posted by: asdf at April 25, 2004 11:31 PM | Permalink

Excellent article.

I'd add another possible explanation for the embedded reporters. They military may have been taking a long-term view. The reporters of today are going to be tomorrow's editors and anchors. Their experiences in Iraq getting to know our honorable, admirable troops has to color their worldview when they are in positions of power.

Posted by: John Davies at April 25, 2004 11:32 PM | Permalink

Your four reasons as to why Bush has chosen to say these things out loud---to disdain the press yet permit full admission to events (embeds), is lacking one more item on the list. Reason # 5 is, he has nothing to hide, he has no hidden agenda, he has in his heart only a most sincere desire to protect America according to the Constitutional requirement that he do so, and to do that he is acting on the best intel the world has to offer. He sees, as we do, that the press is not interested in rational discussion of the issues nor in the accurate presentation of the facts.

It is this very sincerity, his love of America and his burden as President, that makes him seem inarticulate to the press, and perhaps to you, too. He acts like a bumpkin because that's the way WE (the American people) act, when it comes to the things dearest to our hearts. That's why we relate to GW.

Just a thought.

Nora Hamilton
Grand Junction Colorado USA

Posted by: nitro nora at April 25, 2004 11:33 PM | Permalink

After reading the many passionate comments here that welcome the Bush Thesis while articulating a deep disdain for the press, I wonder why so few of the President's supporters seem concerned that a vital reality check may be lost to the administration, given what are seen as Big Journalism's failures.

On April 17, Glenn Reynolds--a supporter of the war--wrote this about events in Iraq: "Is our government doing a good job? It's hard to tell. And the tendency, knowing that the media are overplaying some negatives, is to apply Kentucky windage and assume that things in general are better than they say. This may be true, but it may also be true... that there's not just good news, but bad news, going unreported." Reynolds continues:

That's especially unfortunate, because good reporting doesn't just inform ordinary folks like us. It's also a check on reports that flow up within the chain of command, making sure that real problems get noticed and not papered over. I'm afraid that the White House, understandably tired of the unrelenting negativity that has given us the Brutal Afghan Winter of 2002, the Invasion-Killing Sandstorm of 2003, and the Mass Popular Uprising of 2004, may have started tuning out negative reports. That would be a mistake...

On the matter of the news media, I think many Bush partisans--not all, but a lot--drink so deeply of their resentments that they fail to ask whether there will be any costs to Bush himself when the discrediting, dismissing, disdaining and decertifying of Big Journalism is complete.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 25, 2004 11:45 PM | Permalink

On the matter of the news media, I think many Bush partisans--not all, but a lot--drink so deeply of their resentments that they fail to ask whether there will be any costs to Bush himself when the discrediting, dismissing, disdaining and decertifying of Big Journalism is complete. -- Jay Rosen

Well, I'm a Bush partisan (and sorta-neighbor) and my hostility to the press predates G. W. Bush by quite a few years. It began in the Sixties with an airplane crash, in which a highly-respected journal managed to get the type of airplane, the reasons for the crash, the location of the crash, the name of the pilot, the impact of weather conditions, and the time of day completely wrong -- then refused to print corrections or retractions. It has continued over the years as I observed (as I said earlier) that in not one of my interactions with the Press has anybody, ever, gotten even most of it right, or given the impression that they gave a damn.

Big thing: media consolidation has much reduced the number of available viewpoints. Where did media consolidation come from? -- loss of market share; people weren't buying papers. Now consider that, according to polls, three out of every five Americans consider themselves religious. The Media cannot report a religious event without getting snarky, clearly considering any religious belief to be evidence of insanity -- dangerous or not, depending on instance. If you start out by calling sixty percent of your potential audience dangerous idiots, is there any chance that you might lose customers?

I don't know just what Bush's notions about the Press are; I can only make suppositions based on the notions of his (and my) neighbors and acquaintances. The people should be informed, so they can make correct decisions including selecting elected leaders. The Press/Media are not doing that. The comment made above about filters is spot on. If the Process is important but the data it processes is not, information is not being conveyed.

And if information is not being conveyed, of what use is the Press? If "journalists" consider it insulting that they should be asked to understand the bases of the "news" they transmit, what trust can we possibly give them? If an American citizen fifty-six years of age can look back on his entire life and say with confidence, "The Press never got it right," what good is the Press except as a transmitter of celebrity publicity stunts?

Not just Bush, but everybody, loses when information is not transmitted properly. His only sin, so far as I can see, is acting in his own self-interest in the face of facts on the ground.


Posted by: Ric Locke at April 26, 2004 12:35 AM | Permalink

There have already been unmeasureable costs to all of us, including the Bush administration, imposed by advocacy journalists who selectively omit parts of stories to direct our opinions parallel with theirs.

The "the discrediting, dismissing, disdaining and decertifying of Big Journalism" is lovely hyperbole, artistically overstated. But there are serious flaws built into Big Journalism by the biases of its purveyors of 'news and information', as NPR so innocently names the product.

Those flaws can be fixed. The breaking of the purveyor monopoly by talk radio and the blogs is the very beginning of recognition of the problem by a significantly wide audience. The editors and talking heads who used and abused the monopoly during the Vietnam era to reverse national policy without regard to the consequences (re-education camps, boat people, Cambodian slaughter) still hold power in Big Journalism - but now face competition and worse, shrinking audiences.

The fixing will be launched when there appears a phenomenon that Donald Rumsfeld recently observed a lack of: criticism or contradiction by one Big Journalism channel of the stories of another. The honor among thieves so well described by Renata Adler in 'Reckless Disregard' - parroting of the breaker of the story by subsequent reporting - must be broken. In fact the first faint signals are now heard in the form of the hysterical criticism of Fox News by the big boys. Stay tuned.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at April 26, 2004 12:48 AM | Permalink

J. Rosen wrote: "I wonder why so few of the President's supporters seem concerned that a vital reality check may be lost to the administration, given what are seen as Big Journalism's failures." How can the press be a "vital reality check" if they refuse to function in a fair and balanced manner and if they have lost touch with the public?

Because the press function like Chicken Little, they wind up not being taken seriously at all, and only information that can be verified from other sources has value. As we have seen with blogging, once an issue arises and is picked up, it moves rapidly through the blogosphere until it the noise of it reaches the corridors of power. Eventually, even the resistant press jumps in. The end result of it all is that the vox populi is heard and serves as the check to the worst impulses of government.

I maintain, therefore, that the power of the press and the power of the politician are derived from the same source, the people. The press have only an unelected and conferred power, which is derived from the reader/viewership. Somehow, the press lost sight of the true nature of their power and assumed that they were powerful in their own right.

Therefore, when the press fail to play their proper role, the people will be less likely to use them as intermediary and will devise other methods of issuing a reality check to government. For the time being, talk radio, alternative internet news sites, and the newly emergent blogosphere are the media for that check to the administration. Are they adequate? Yes. Would the press be better? That's debatable because the press are not noted for critical thinking.

Posted by: Helen at April 26, 2004 1:22 AM | Permalink

Jennifer Peterson

Presents a thesis that depends on the theory that press ownership controls the press agenda. I don't believe that for a second. The owners are not that uniformly patriotic, and they do not have the power in any case. Nobody would trust a black op to the media!

The "independence" that the press arrogated to itself when it declared itself a "profession" has been used to separate ownership from editorial policy. Of course there are owner interventions (Ted Turner made CNN, especially Headline News, into a propaganda machine for his own rather incoherent world view), but ultimately it seems to be the journalist class that writes the narrative and controls the agenda, not the owner who is just a businessman.

Some leftists claim the press is conservative simply because it is owned by capitalists. That hypothesis is so silly as to not deserve refutation.

In general, the press doesn't behave like it has a monolithic ownership, but rather like it has a self-referential world view that is become more and more disconnected from the world outside of journalism.

It is clear to this Vietnam Veteran in Arizona that the New York Times and the Washington press corps are thoroughly biased against Bush and also persistently ignorant. This was most evident with the White House press corps' pathetic frenzy over the charges related to Bush's National Guard service. I'd like to think that the Bush administration withheld records on purpose in order to mousetrap the media and the Democratic party, but in any case it certainly had that effect.

The arrogance, bias and ignorance of the best of the media were in full display to anyone watching the White House briefings during that episode, and the Press and Democrat's true disdain for the military was shown by their attacks on Bush during that period, which leaked over into attacks on just about anyone who served in the military other than John Kerry.

Regarding the central thesis here, I think it needs a bit of modification. Bush didn't hold the press conference because his thesis broke down; rather his administration knows that it must occasionally face the press even knowing that they are not representing the public.

Just because the press is a special pleader does not mean it cannot be used as a conduit. Just because it's influence is waning doesn't mean it can be ignored.

The Bush Thesis seems correct. Bush has seen through the curtain. The press not only do not represent the people, they were never supposed to - at least not in the sense they view it since Watergate.

The job of the press is to make money for its owners. The special freedom for the press is to allow diversity of viewpoint and to prevent the government from controlling it. There is nothing in the First Amendment that sets the press up as inquisitor and judge.

The press is doing its job when it reports facts in the proper context. When it does "news analysis" (a term most conservatives consider to be equivalent to "editorial"), it is not engaging in its most important role. It is replacing the public's judgement with its own, which is rightly felt by the public to be arrogance. When those views consistently conflict with the experience and world view of the public, ratings go down, and that is exactly what has been happening for a long time.

This is what Bush is seeing: a press which seeks only facts which fit with its biases (or limited area of interest), a game of gotcha, and members of the press pushing their own private political views on the public in the guise of their Fourth Estate role. Even worse, editorializing has reached deep into reporting, especially at the New York Times and the major TV networks.

Many of us translate today's "Fourth Estate" as "Fifth Column."

If we did not have such a monolithic press (which even worse is congruent in values with the entertainment media), this would not be a problem. Reporters would dig out facts, editorialists would editorialize, and the people would pick those which seemed most appropriate and useful over time.

But we do have a monolithic press, and that press simply disagrees with and often mocks the opinions and beliefs of a very large part of the public, and of this administration.

Also, the press does not represent the public in the sense of asking the questions the larger public would want answered, or holding a world view that is representative of any more than the press' little world. When Bush scolded the reporter for believing he was a representative of the people, he was right. The reporter represented himself and the world view of his clique, and nobody else.

I think Bush understands that media power is highly concentrated - not just by corporate consolidation but more by the group-think of the mainstream. If he wants to get his message out, he has to deal with these people somehow. Bush supporters would like to see more presidential speeches, but the reporters still need to be fed.

As I have stated before and others have mentioned, the relative success of conservative talk radio vs. liberal talk radio is strongly suggestive that mainstream media outlets - press and entertainment - are satisfying the demand for liberal ideas but not that for conservatives.

Blogs today are starting to become more important. But they are not a major source of news - too many people plop down in front of the major network evening news, listen to half an hour of editorials (there is hardly any straight reporting in that time slot there dasys), and feel qualified to opine or vote.

Blogs and other emerging phenomena may eventually make big changes, but it hasn't happened yet. So far, bloggers can influence the few who read blogs, some in the government and some in the media (except the arrogance of so many who feel that blogs aren't professional enough or some such nonsense).

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at April 26, 2004 2:13 AM | Permalink

Rosen: I believe Bush is challenging the very notion that journalism is conducted in the public interest, that the public's right to know depends on the press finding things out.

Wrong. Straight shooter George Bush was simply contending that the 89% liberal national press corps does not represent the simple majority of Americans, or the vast majority of his own supporters. Leave it to a liberal professor at NYU (my own alma mater, so I know whereof I speak) to conjure up a cynical plot by Bush to deny the public's "right to know."

The public sees an honest man running a scandal free administration who, like them, has had it up to here with Gotcha games during wartime. I do not give a flying f*** what Don Hewitt has on his mind this week, or Peter Jennings either. All of those bozos can stick their opinions where the sun don't shine.

Posted by: Tom Becks at April 26, 2004 2:42 AM | Permalink

Tim wrote: The fascinating power of blogs, from my perspective, is the power of linking.

IMO that's part of the interesting phenomenon of blogs but not the whole story.

I'm a mid-life PhD'er ... have taught as a full time adjunct for the last 3 years at a quite well-known undergraduate program after semi-retiring from my original career & am now finally doing the doctoral degree.

My main area of research is an area of formal decision theory called multiple objective decision analysis, i.e. how to make the best decisions in very complex situations when there are competing goals and when information is limited or uncertain.

When I look at blogs, I see large, dynamically created and updated value models, i.e. the framework of deciding both how much different aspects of a situation matter to the blogger and also what the facts are (or probably are). Out of that come decisions: what sources of information to trust, what is going on out in the world and whose leadership to trust.

Links are a big part of this process, but not the only part. Comments streams play an interesting role, as does the blogger's choice of format and his/her intent: news filter, personal musings, more serious policy issues, etc.

This speaks to Jay's question about the importance of the press (whatever form that takes, i.e. from the top of this blog, the Press may not = the major media) in guiding government.

Certainly, governments need feedback, including feedback about public attitudes and ethical norms. But feedback has to be relevant, timely and clear to be effective.

When the mainstream media seem mired in unexamined biases while advancing an unself-questioned role of shaping policy directly, it's ability to channel useful feedback has been compromised.

When we find that CNN regularly paid Saddam for the bragging point of being able to broadcast from Baghdad, we come to distrust what CNN has to say about things in Iraq. And so do government officials.

When the press reports on events in Iraq and close friends of mine, with varying political points of view, report very different facts on the ground, the press no long has credibility with me or with others who know those facts.

The problem, of course, are the facts to which I or the government or you all DON'T have reasonably direct access.

A deeper issue, which is easy to give a gross account of but harder to deal with in a more serious way, is the impact of 20th century intellectual nihlism on all this. Literary critical theory is only one dimension of an intellectual dead-end that pervades our universities and many of the professionals they train.

Witness the Blairs and the USA Today and other pending scandals: when the Press believes, deep in their hearts, that "truth" is merely a personal discourse, when all competing claims are "equally privileged", then the Press is hard put to serve as an honest broker of either facts or analysis.

I think it's fair to say that the Bush Thesis (if there be such) rejects the reductio ad absurdum of Derrida-as-applied-by-many-faculty-members and even more so the overt assumptions of, say, Foucault or Fanon. So too do most Americans outside of the Academy and some of its graduates.

Posted by: rkb at April 26, 2004 6:32 AM | Permalink

This morning there was a great example of pressthink on NPR's Morning Edition. The story was presumably about the overwhelming support for the Iraq war among returning veterans. The real thrust of the story though was interviews with anti-war organizations and university professors explaining the "psycho-social" reasons that troops would support the war. The unmistakable assumption was that since no right-thinking person could possibly support the war, we need to look into what is so deluding these soldiers. It was beyond outrageous, but as good an example as I can think of to illustrate the points made above.

Posted by: Smaack at April 26, 2004 10:02 AM | Permalink

Charles Hammond Jr.,

Instapundit's take on the "Fourth Estate" was an update to his post. He posted that update after I asked my question.

Prof. Reynolds's answer is related to the point I was trying to make: the press really isn't the "Fourth Estate." When Prof. Rosen describes Bush as "[r]emov[ing] the press from the system of checks and balances" -- Bush is really doing no such thing, because the press is not a part of that system. There is no governmental check on the press. As has been observed here, we the people are the only check on the press.

Posted by: Patterico at April 26, 2004 10:07 AM | Permalink

Well, what sort of person says "Hey, I think I'll go into journalism!" to begin with? It's the self-selecting sample creating the bias.
And, as Tocqueville pointed out so long ago, American politicians are a shabby lot because there are so many faster ways to get rich and influential in this country that almost no one of real talent and ambition would dream of going into politics.
Besides the linking, blogs rule BECAUSE THEY'RE AMATEURISH! It's refreshing to read people opining for love, not money. "Discourse" is better when it's uncensored, unedited, and open to real and instant debate.
I scan the Boston Globe op-ed page every day at work and think "Wow, more Bush-haters frothing with rage, that's kinda lame. Maybe I should write a letter to the editor expressing my (very different) views? Eh...why bother?" I get more interesting feedback posting in comment sections online.

Posted by: McClain at April 26, 2004 10:27 AM | Permalink

But I'm a Democrat, worked on Clinton's campaigns, so my support of Bush does not determine my disregard for the press. It started decades before, when I was interviewed and not only the writer get the quote wrong, he added an entire paragraph to my original one sentence!

I am voting for Bush because he gets it. I've read scholarly and news sources all written before 9/11 and they all say that terrorism is a shadowy network -- and I'm not living in a culture of fear here (note the alarming leftist signifiers). The burden of proof is on the press and the Dems to prove it doesn't work that way and they have not met that challenge.

Posted by: Patricia at April 26, 2004 10:51 AM | Permalink

Thomas Carlyle noted that the "requisite thing is that [the press] have a tongue which others will listen to". The press is either not providing information worth listening to or is drowned out in perceived bias and Gotcha'. Either way, Americans are tuning the press out and/or using it as a source of entertainment. Why should the President take the White House press corps seriously?

Posted by: Matthew E. Muller at April 26, 2004 12:50 PM | Permalink


You ask if there is some mid-term harm from the loss of the press as a vital reality check for the Administration

No, there isn’t.

The press is not providing useful information today. It’s almost all theater, and the very small amount of useful information provided by Big Journalism is easily lost amid the vast oceans of propaganda, sensationalism, and self-aggrandizing pap. What reality check can David Gregory provide for anyone in the Bush Administration, other than that there are rude and impertinent morons among our educated elites (which I suspect Karl Rove knows already)? What reality check did Tokyo Rose provide to Allied soldiers in WWII? What reality check is there in the typical reporting from Baghdad, which appears to be distorting events very, very badly? “Reality check” implies reality enters the equation somewhere, and at this point, the press seem to be the ones in need of a reality check, which the Administration is giving them with the “Bush Thesis.” Far from losing any important source of information, the Bush Thesis acknowledges that the information coming from the press is unreliable and only distracts their attention from more reliable information.

What reality check did Baghdad Bob (al-Sahaf) provide to anyone? When he claimed there weren’t any American troops at the airport, should General Tommy Franks have called his staff together for an emergency meeting to decide if they could really trust the field commanders who were telling them we controlled the airport?

It might be a bit of an exaggeration to compare the typical Washington Press Corps reporter with Mohammed al-Sahaf, but not that much of one. As several posters have already mentioned, the discrepancies in coverage to Bush’s and Kerry’s service thirty years ago are rife with slanted viewpoints, selective omission of critical facts, and gross distortions of what facts are included. The only valid conclusions that can be drawn from the typical NYTimes political story is that the typical NYTimes political reporter doesn’t much like Republicans. You can’t conclude much about what the typical voters thinks though, and that’s what I gather Jay was suggesting Bush might be missing by ignoring the press.

Posted by: The Other John Hawkins at April 26, 2004 4:12 PM | Permalink

Now that I've read several of Rosen's comments, I am more in agreement with his overall point. My main concern was an "if Bush is doing this it must be right," rather Panglossian view of the Administration's actions that seems to come from conservatives lately. And I think Rosen is right - one needs to consider what the Administration is doing to the notion of a free, inquisitive press.

I think "hostile" is the only way to describe the approach of the Administration to media, big small and in between. Even the media it claims to like - talk radio, some internet blogs, conservative columnists - are treated with a quality of expediency. It's as if to say "now you are useful, but should you turn out not to be, no scraps for you either."

What the Administration seems to want is unquestioning, favorable reportage of every action, every decision, every turn of events. It does not seem to want anything unexpected ever to be reported, certainly nothing it hasn't seen and approved of first. And, that, it seems to me, is the antithesis of the notion of a free press.

To be sure, the press has been on a downhill spiral of its own, one that seems to have everything to do with "big media" and the - well, however one wants to put it - quality of the news to become entertainment product parsed out as other entertaiunment product is. Yes, it's partly the triumph of television. Partly it is the injection of opinion and partisanship into reportage.

However, at this point, I think the question Rosen raises is not for the press to answer. If Mr Bush, believes, as he says, that the press does not represent the public, than the onus, it would be appear, is on him to find someone or something that does and talk to it; and more to the point, provide it with the information the public wants and needs to know. That he doesn't seems to make the lie to his argument real - what the press really represents is the desire to know and access as much information as possible. And I, for one, am convinced that Mr. Bush has absolutely no belief that anyone, press or public, is entitled to make such a request.

Posted by: Wesley at April 26, 2004 4:39 PM | Permalink


What the Administration seems to want is unquestioning, favorable reportage of every action, every decision, every turn of events.

Got any links, etc., to back up that statement?

Wesley again:

And I, for one, am convinced that Mr. Bush has absolutely no belief that anyone, press or public, is entitled to make such a request.

Why? Jay Rosen didn't imply any such idea in his excellent and well-reasoned essay. Where are you getting it?

Posted by: Mary in LA at April 26, 2004 6:34 PM | Permalink

Well, Jay, you certainly seem to have touched a nerve, but I'm guessing it's not the one you hoped or expected. It seems to me that you tried your own little 'gotcha' on GWB, only to have it backfire as the hoi polloi stand up and say 'damned straight!' on his behalf.

You may think Bush is pushing an effort for "discrediting, dismissing, disdaining and decertifying" the press, but he's merely naming the hole that Big Media have dug for themselves. Reality check? Give me a break! It's turned into a danse macabre in which gotcha points and air time trump any consideration of information value, or even the least thought of the impact on a shooting war. I'll take one Jason Van Steenwyk or Zayed who knows whereof he speaks over any ten posturing Don Gonyea clones.

You're in a hole. Stop digging.

Posted by: Tim Oren at April 26, 2004 6:37 PM | Permalink

Tim: I try not to guess whose nerves I am going to get on. I wanted to write about what I saw happening. Readers come to the party with their own views.

About the reality check: You seem to have missed the point Glenn Reynolds was making and I was bringing to your attention. He agrees with you, Tim, that "gotcha points and air time trump any consideration of information value, or even the least thought of the impact on a shooting war."

What he's also asking is: can such poor coverage be afforded by the Bush Administration, which, like all Administrations (or even more than most) may tend to believe its own rhetoric, disbelieve even its loyal doubters, explain away bad news, assert its dominance over reality so as to jettison parts of a messy reality that don't fit a much "cleaner" belief system.

Reynolds--a very live critic of Big Media--is concerned about something you and others have yet to address: news that is such a poor signaling system may leave the White House with only its own intelligence, its own "reporting." This is not a good situation for the Bush team trying to win the peace in a tense and opaque situation, Glenn argues. Really, how much imagination does it require to see the dangers there?

To say in reply, "What? Reality Check! What a joke! The media is no reality check. Their performance is pitiful..." is no reply at all. You're not actually reading what Glenn is saying if you believe that answers anything. His point is: "yeah, we're not getting a clear picture at all, and that concerns me."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 26, 2004 7:15 PM | Permalink

And I have agreed above, Jay, with that concern.

But I honestly don't have a good solution. Count me among those who believe the intellectual dry rot has advanced so far among the majority of the journalists associated with Big Media that it is virtually irremediable.

Which leaves us with what??? I seriously doubt that a superficial set of reforms or initiatives will solve the problem within the press. When multiple acclaimed journalists feel free to make up facts, stories and quotes it's a good bet they are only the few who've been found out so far.

I'd say that was an overly cynical take on things, were I not intimately familiar with the intellectual history of the 20th century humanities as taught in many of our wellknown universities. We truly do have a fair number of people who simply cannot distinguish what they believe, what they'd like to believe happened and what by any objective analysis actually did happen.

Given that, the administration is doing the only thing it CAN do - limit access and try to control the story insofar as it can. This isn't new to the Bush crew - remember Hillary and her health care group??? Even earlier, remember Clinton controlling the media message and access, and how angry many in the profession were at that?

In what ways, specifically, do you see Bush's administration acting differently?

And, how much of that difference is arguably appropriate in a time of war and serious security threats here at home?

Posted by: rkb at April 26, 2004 7:28 PM | Permalink

See this, RKB on what the Bush crew is doing differently, and what's dangerous in it. One example is all. The case has many parts.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 26, 2004 7:40 PM | Permalink


If there is a Bush thesis and it is as you describe, then I agree with Wesley that if Bush does believe in the public's right to know:

If Mr Bush, believes, as he says, that the press does not represent the public, than the onus, it would be appear, is on him to find someone or something that does and talk to it; and more to the point, provide it with the information the public wants and needs to know. That he doesn't seems to make the lie to his argument real - what the press really represents is the desire to know and access as much information as possible.

However, I disagree that the lie has been laid bare. I believe you are seeing attempts by the Bush administration to find alternate channels to the public and to compete in traditional and alternative marketplaces with their critics.

There may be historical analogies to the reaction of broadsheets to the advent of radio, and again followed by television. Each was belittled and critiqued by it's elder press media, and each new media was experimented and exploited by dissatisfied administrations.

I wonder if the press, especially the established Washington and New York corporate power wielders, do not exercise their own blacklists, lock outs, discrediting agendas, storylines, and (as ABC's The Note noted) biases. This "we're the victims" of a(n) __(supply descriptor)__ Bush administration rings hollow from a press corps that has developed the control and manipulation of information into an art over 2 generations.

I am also less than impressed with the dismissal of criticisms that belie a conservative view as Bush Kool-Aid drinkers. These criticisms have existed longer than mere Bush loyalty would explain. In addition, the public consistantly polls that there is a liberal bias in the press, even when they believe that Bush is being treated fairly.

From your Ashcroft post: ... while other journalists are allowed in to do their watchdog duty.

Is there a built in hostility to "watchdog duty"? Who are they being a watchdog for? If they are my watchdog with the snarling teeth facing government, then should I be concerned that the watchdog's hostility is negatively affecting the functioning of government? That their judgment of my interests may jeopardize national security? Does my lack of trust in an arrogant, continuously barking, indiscriminately biting watchdog create a neccessary condition for the Bush administration to challenge the press more forcefully than previous administrations dared?

Or is the press it's own watchdog, serving some undefined unelected/unappointed extra-constitutional role -- not executive, not legislative, not judicial, but snarky -- as the "4th estate" and occasional "5th column".

If it is the role of the press to report what Ashcroft/DoJ is saying that they are doing, does it matter if some are rewarded and others excluded if they provide that service without the editorial/snarkiness? Does the editorial/snarkiness inform us about whether what the DoJ says jives with what is being observed? Should the press be neutral on the Patriot Act? Patriot Act II?

If the public consensus is such that Bush can execute his thesis, and the public as owners of the watchdog applaud, then does that balance Wesley's accusation where the Bush administration has put a ball in the press's court as well?

Posted by: Tim at April 26, 2004 10:07 PM | Permalink

Really enjoyed the original article and almost all of the comments. I've been wondering why Bush has not made more of an attempt to get his message out and this would be an interesting possible explanation.

I do think that it is a little naive to think that the current administration does not follow the news or that Mr. Bush is not made aware of significant items from the national press. They are certainly aware of Victor Davis Hanson, just for example.

My impression, and I certainly can't prove it, is that the national press, always liberal in my lifetime, has made less of a an effort to be impartial of late. I think that the rise of talk radio, Fox and the internet have given the national press license to go more with their "inner Marx". Why pander to the middle if that point of view is covered adequately elsewhere?

Posted by: reason incarnate at April 26, 2004 10:19 PM | Permalink

I believe rkb has already given the essence of my reply: What would you have the Bushies do? Where, in the profession you observe, would you find an honest broker, a legitimate interlocuter who would not turn an attempt at such a conversation into spin? And what chance would that conversation have of creating any positive change?

What probability would you honestly assign to the chance of changing a meaningful fraction of political and foreign affairs journalism back from normative prescription (blatant or hidden) to objective description? On an initiative from an administration held in high contempt by most of the profession? On a time scale likely to be meaningful to its term? Or even on a time scale relevant to the war? If there is no reasonable scenario, no interlocuter, then you are simply raising the issue in a way in which any - hypothetical - honest attempt at engagement from the administration results in a loss. And that is the essence of 'gotcha.'

I think we agree that the process is broken, and there are negative consequences for the institution of the press, and perhaps for representative government. But I assume from your pointer to Ashcroft that you assign blame differently than I do.

Believe it or not, I am not a strong Bush supporter - it's more by default. But I have developed a deep contempt for Big Media over the last few years.

I suspect that I'm like many techie / business types in having long had an attitude of rather benign, sometimes amused, deprecation for the press that covers our fields. Much of the reporting shows a lack of understanding of what issues are important, and as for the 'analysis,' usually the less said the better. When even Forbes is down to the level of people journalism, you know things are bad. But, I've had to accept that concepts like layered software architectures or startup capital structures are just hard, and for reporters hoping to move onto another beat in a few years, maybe not worth the investment. And the market will settle out the hype in the long run.

I see no reason to be so forgiving in the realms of government, war, and foreign affairs. What the combination of the war and blogs has made finally and blatantly apparent to these naive eyes is that the level of ignorance and arrogance is not lessened in these more accessible domains, it is heightened. When I can see day by day the dissonance between descriptions of those in the action, and those reporting and editing, what am I to think? When time after time the prognostications of the press fail to come true, and yet it plows forward with no self-consciousness of its crediblity, what am I to think? When I find that major news organizations knowingly harbor liars, and accept favors from dictators to spin their coverage, what am I to think? When those who study the profession focus on the White House, and overlook the pervasiveness of the problem, what am I to think?

There is no excuse for this. War and death and the fate of civilizations matter a lot more than our startups and techie toys out here in the Valley. It has gone far beyond incompetence, it is systematic. I am not close enough to the situation to say how it has become so, where the intentionality or emergence resides. Is it a self-replicating meme of cultural cynicism propagating through J-schools? Big Media execs pursuing profits by turning war and death into a sick Truman Show? You tell me, but it's bad broken, and it matters a lot in wartime.

And it can be done right, even with small resources. I learned more about the actual state of affairs from a photo of a Marine squad watching themselves on video replay than from an entire news conference Q&A and the following 'analysis'. What's CNN's excuse? The Times'? NPR's? Jarvis is onto something with 'hyperlocal', but looking at the actual state of affairs, I'd say the little guys are quite capable of outscoring the big journo pundits on a global scale.

What do I want the administration to do? Well, I hope they've got someone reading blogs. I'd feel better if I knew that GWB spent an hour reading a summary of Iraqi and Arab blogs - on both sides of things - than if he spent an hour with Larry King. Because that's real information, which can be used to check his regular sources of intelligence. As any information theorist can tell you, an output which is constant no matter the input is not information, and that is exactly what the Big Media establishment has become.

Posted by: Tim Oren at April 26, 2004 10:32 PM | Permalink

First, thanks for all the time you've devoted to this, Professor Rosen.

I still ask, why is it dangerous that Bush believes that the press doesn't represent the public? The slippery slope worry is not enough. I don't see the danger in Ashcroft not talking to print journalists. A reporter can still read the Patriot Act him or herself, talk to any aide or legislator working on its demise or affirmation, attend congressional hearings, talk to other DOJ people...yes, it would be easier to talk to him and get a quick story, but does it serve the public interest to do so?

Posted by: Patricia at April 26, 2004 11:11 PM | Permalink

Wesley has some surprising logic: "If Bush believes that the press doesn't represent the public, then the onus is on him to find someone who does." It is not Bush's job to simply satisfy the public's desire for information. His job at the moment is to fight a war and get re-elected. He owes no obligation to find friendly outlets, but he may do so if he desires - at which point the unfriendly press will have a hissy fit and blame him for only appearing before friendly audiences. Does anyone seroiusly doubt this reaction?

He makes up a strawman conservative argument ("if Bush is doing this it must be right") and than describes it as Panglossian. Obviously, like many, he isn't paying attention to conservatives. Conservatives want to know what's going on, but we know better than to expect the information for the mainstream press, because it is remarkably inaccurate, be it bias, ignorance or laziness - it's really all three. We find alternatives that are more accurate, or at least where we can hear alternative information and sort it out.

He describes the Administration's approach as hostile. How shocking that an Administration would be hostile to a pack of rabid dogs that attack everything the Administration does. Obviously the Administration is supposed to be friendly to these creatures.

"What the Administration seems to want is unquestioning, favorable reportage...." Amazing! An administration that wants favorable coverage. This is a historic first! Why certainly we didn't see these traits in the Clinton Administration, with its paid "bimbo eruption" suppressors, did we? Could it be that Wesley is shocked because for the first time in a decade there is a President whom the press is actively viciously antagonistic towards, and who, unlike his father, doesn't turn the other cheek and instead bares the other cheeks to this group.

The press clearly does not want as much information as possible. If they did, they wouldn't have done such a pathetic job of covering the Bush is a Deserter/Bush is AWOL story, which has raised its disreputable head again today. If they really cared about information, they would have contacted people who understood how the Guard actually worked, they would have returned calls of a number of veterans who tried to inform them (whom I had no trouble finding, by the way). If they were really interested in information, they would have reported a whole host of stories differently. I doubt the press appreciates this, but the military veterans who watched them go for the National Guard gotcha hold them in nothing but contempt. Every veteran I have discussed this with has the same opinion, which for the sake of decorum I won't put literally.

The evidence is that the press doesn't want access to all the information, but rather the press wants access to all the "gotcha" information, and nothing more. The evidence is also that the press has a favorite candidate (or perhaps a preferred loser), as the kid gloves treatment of Kerry has shown. We hear a gigantic fuss about what is obviously a rather minor issue of whether he threw his own ribbons or not. What is that all about? We see a weekend New York Times piece that seems to expose a lot of Kerry weaknesses, but actually misleads seriously about the most critical ones: the Winter Soldier investigation (not names, and given a credence via a remarkable twisting of the facts), and Kerry's Senate testimony, which is available for anybody to read at CSPAN, but which the Times just brushed over. By far the most significant anti-war action that Kerry undertook was his 1971 Senate testimony and the subsequent television appearances (while a Naval Officer, a fact well hidden by his campaign and the Boston Globe until his records were released, but still not properly reported). Is it any wonder that the public, which today can check the press via internet primary sources (or in this case, a CSPAN broadcast or a transcript on their site), is losing more confidence in the press? Is it any wonder that George Bush, who does know the truth, doesn't consider the press representative of anything but itself?

As to the point of whether the Administration can be afforded by the Bush Administration, that depends on what other sources of feedback they have, the quality of the management (for example, Rumsfeld's leaked questions show that he seeks internal dissenting viewpoints), and whether the press can provide any meaningful feedback. I do not believe the mainstream press provides any useful information to the administration, because of its "gotcha" mentality and, frankly, its own ignorance of facts. The Bush Administration, through its contacts with real, non-elite individuals, may very well have a much better source of feedback from where it needs to come from: the people, not form those who arrogate that role to themselves and then fail to perform.

The development of a self-referential monolithic media elite is indeed a danger for our nation. It was a danger for Clinton, whose bad habits were given a pass by the press until it blew up into a gigantic scandal. It was a danger for Clinton because the press didn't tell him that many Americans are very serious about firearms rights, since the press themselves don't understand or identify with the issue - they were too busy uncritically printing propaganda from the anti-gun special interests, and blaming firearms for the bad behavior of various psychopaths. That failure cost the Democratic party many seats and was a major factor in the Gingrich Revolution. The press let down Gingrich, by being so biased that he couldn't recognize his own hubris, because he had no reason to believe them. It is costing Bush, not only by not accurately reflecting public sentiments (which, fortunately, Bush appears to recognize), but also in making his job much harder by taking a blatantly partisan stance against him personally, his ideas and his policies. And they are doing this in a year that has both a Presidential election and a widespread, very dangerous and very subtle war in process.

I notice, Jay, that you bring up a criticism of Ashcroft for avoiding print media while talking about the Patriot Act. As someone who has read the entire act, I found the actual document to be radically different from what was reported. Why should Ashcroft talk to people who are so into the "gotcha" game that they seem to flunk reading comprehension. It is not possible, in today's media environment, to have a rational national debate about the Act, whether we need it, what parts should perhaps be changed, or anything else.

Instead we are treated to stories of hysterical librarians destroying records (which have long been available to police anyway) because of the evil Ashcroft. Personally, I think Ashcroft does not do a good job of explaining the Act, because he does not understand the viewpoints of the moderates he most needs to convince. But criticizing him for choosing to avoid the seriously defective members of the press is absurd. The press was obviously not interested in actually exploring the real and important questions raised by the Act, but instead were again playing partisan gotcha, repeatedly reporting analyses which cherry picked tiny parts, fail to provide adequate context (such as what the current law already allows or why such a provision might be important in preventing terrorism), and then trying to scare Americans to death. To see this behavior as something wrong with the administration is to look into a mirror and imagine you are viewing a stranger. It is delusional. The Patriot Act (poorly named, clearly) has been demogogued to death, and most of that was done or uncritically carried by a press which should have known better.

I agree with Tim about the implications of "watchdog duty." What arrogance! Who watches the watchdog? What happens after generations of watchdog inbreeding? The answer would appear to be the creation of blind and deaf pit bulls. The press is suffering from the normal result of inbreeding - loss of information diversity (in animals, loss of DNA variations, in the press, loss and intolerance of many ideas).

I found the Jounalism Code of Ethics and "fisked" it. This code of ethics sounds so nice, and I'm sure it and other splendid sentiments give great comfort and a feeling of professionalism to journalists, but I found it to be a document made into a joke by the actual behavior of the mainstream press.

Owners of the mainstream press should wake up. Their profits are going to go away. The only reason they have them now is consolidation has reduced competition. Major network TV is losing viewership while Fox is growing. That should offer a clue. The information is there, but the press isn't interested.

The members of the press should also realize that we, the people, think they are arrogant, elitist, and often wrong. We have new ways of gathering information, whether it is talk radio (with its built in, but at least acknowledged biases) or internet access directly to newsmakers, or the few conservative outlets - FOX News, Washington Times, and various conservative magazines. At this point, even the National Enquirer is starting to look good. I can ignore the UFO babies and two headed cows if I have to!

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at April 26, 2004 11:23 PM | Permalink

Jay, I've got to say that I think you're just too long-winded about this. Krugman sums it up thusly today, "It's also a matter of principle, based on the administration's deep belief that it has the right to act as it pleases, and that the public has no right to know what it's doing."

Posted by: JD at April 26, 2004 11:26 PM | Permalink

Wesley writes: "If Mr Bush, believes, as he says, that the press does not represent the public, than the onus, it would be appear, is on him to find someone or something that does and talk to it; and more to the point, provide it with the information the public wants and needs to know."

He said something important there. The burden is on Bush, the innovator. The next step in the Thesis--I doubt it will happen, but who knows?--would be to spell out in public detail, (explain to the country) the alternative media system Bush's White House will use to communicate with, given the "brokenness" and "rot" in the old media, now dethroned in the eyes of so many writers here.

It would be a historic moment in the campaign if he came out and said it. After all, Kerry has already signed on to the old press system, pledging to hold monthly press conferences. My question to supporters of the Bush Thesis: why not have Scott McLellan just announce it? No more press conferences, no more briefings. John Kerry can go play gotcha with the press, they're his people anyway. President Bush thinks there's another way to do this. Check our website for details as they emerge.

From what many of you have told me here, it would be an enormously popular move. Who trusts the press anyway? Tim says we're "seeing attempts by the Bush administration to find alternate channels to the public and to compete in traditional and alternative marketplaces with their critics." Alright, so it's already underway. Anyone have an opinion on the wisdom of cutting the chord: no more briefings, no more press conferences? I don't know, but instinct tells me some would be for such a move.

And what would happen if he did it?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 26, 2004 11:46 PM | Permalink

Hey you Journalists, Bloggers, and Press People:

Bush, Rove and Co. have defined you. You lost all credibility when you allowed Bush to become the unelected Resident of the People's White House. Further, you are literally HATED for not questioning fully the run up to the war on Iraq.

I search high and low on several different sources including television, radio, newspapers and internet for my information. I trust little that I read or hear, and am forced to come up with my own conclusions, which is, frankly, my duty as an informed American citizen.

Stop whining and bitching that Bush doesn't think your're relevant.

Take the fucking ball and run with it. Go after th TRUTH for ONCE.

Posted by: elaine at April 27, 2004 12:01 AM | Permalink

My apoligies for not editing first. I hope the meaning still comes through. Dinner call was happening, so there are some obvious whoops' in my prior posting.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at April 27, 2004 12:03 AM | Permalink

> Reynolds--a very live critic of Big Media--is concerned about something you and others have yet to address: news that is such a poor signaling system may leave the White House with only its own intelligence, its own "reporting."

That's a bad thing.

> To say in reply, "What? Reality Check! What a joke! The media is no reality check. Their performance is pitiful..." is no reply at all. You're not actually reading what Glenn is saying if you believe that answers anything.

Actually, it does. The facts that the president needs such a signaling system and that the press could be one does not imply that the press is one or that the anyone should act as if it is.

Note that the press is not the only possible signaling mechanism and the president has to function even when there isn't a working signaling mechanism.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at April 27, 2004 12:27 AM | Permalink

Both Tims (Oren and plain Tim): Your questions make me think. Thanks for bringing them to PressThink. I should make clear--but you can also read it throughout this weblog--that I think the press has done a lot to undermine its own authority, weaken the institution, trivialize politics and render important things opaque, rather than clear, when reporting.

I also recognize, as almost everyone does, the distorting but also the emptying out of news by the ratings chase, the glitz factor, the entertainment machine, the bald hunger for eyeballs, readers and listeners, and the celebrity culture that was born into Big Time journalism to cheapen it. "The press," in my way of thinking, has largely been engulfed by another institution, The Media. Read this Introduction if you want to know more about the distinction.

Journalism expired in certain "news" organizations a long time ago. My list would begin with local television news, to me by far the most obvious case. If your list begins with the New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times, well, you have a much different list.

One reason I wrote about the Bush Thesis is that it correctly apprehends a weakened condition in national press and much of our metropolitian journalism. I do not think this is a good thing, to have a weakened press. Nor was it inevitable. So I write about the ideas that made it possible and are part of the problem. Thus the title: PressThink

I am not a Bush supporter-- at all. But I do think the Bush operation is interested in political innovation, and staffed with bold thinkers who at times have a radical, "why the hell not?" streak. It has in fact introduced new ideas to politics, especially in the rather calcified area of White House operations.

A simple example is leaking: Washington sages, including the press, all thought it was inevitable that adminstrations will leak. After all, they're all staffed by careerists. The Bush team said: that's bull. And they have made their point, which is about loyalty and discipline and service to a cause believed in.

You ask me what I would have the Bush team do. I don't pretend to know. But I will think about it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 27, 2004 12:33 AM | Permalink


I disagree with you and Wesley about President Bush having the responsibility to find a replacement for today's irrelevant press. As someone else said, he has other responsibilities. But perhaps he's still trying to solve that problem, but it's just too soon to see what the plan is. Remember, Bush tends to take a long-term view, even if he doesn't always articulate the whole plan clearly (actually, he usually does at least once, but so many - especially the press - miss the point maybe he doesn't think it's worth it to repeat himself).

Maybe the first step to finding another conduit for information to flow between the Administration and the public is to stop feeding the old, broken one. Or at least stop feeding the broken parts, like the Washington Press Corps. Like I said above, there's not much point in using a communication channel that garbles and distorts 90+% of what goes through it. This is a case where the status quo is worse than useless - continuing to use the establishment WPC is actually worse than sticking your fingers in your ears and saying "la-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you." At least if you've got your fingers in your ears you can't be intentionally mislead.

Anyway, while I sincerely appreciate the thoughtful piece you've written, and think that you've pegged a major change in journalism, you're going off the rails if you think Bush has to fix things for the press. He can probably get by just fine explaining himself to the American people with speeches, and can get feedback from them at the ballot box.

Posted by: The Other John Hawkins at April 27, 2004 12:36 AM | Permalink

Bush has a country to govern, a war to fight, and an election to win. He has no obligation at all to the press. He doesn't need to explain his thesis, if he has one. He can and should take whatever approach works.

If he feels he should cut the thread, fine. If he feels the best approach is to do it without announcing it, that's fine too.

George Bush doesn't owe either the press or its theorizers or critics anything at all. His responsiblity is to the country, not its self appointed "representatives".

Are we seeing a historic change by the White House, or just a recognition that Bush's father failed to recognize of a change that had already taken place. I would suggest the latter. The press has changed significantly in the last 30 years, and not for the better.

Because the press was against Republicans, it did not experience the consequences of this change while Clinton was president. Clinton may not have been liked, but from the viewpoint shown clearly by the press, he was the lesser of evils. The entire reporting of the Lewinski affair, for example, was seriously distorted. The clear message from the press was that it was about sex, that Republicans were hung up about sex, and that this was therefore not serious. The serious precedent of a sitting president lying under oath (regardless of the subject) was nicely buried under the "sex, sex, sex" outcry. Since this nicely matched the Clinton strategy, the press didn't have to face a new "thesis."

The Tet Offensive was a historic moment in which poor reporting (which was caused mostly by avoidable ignorance) lost a war for this country. It established the press as more powerful than the president. Arnaud de Borchgrave gives a damning account of that sorry episode.

The draft deferment system kept most reporters of the Vietnam era from any military experience, and its pretty obvious that members of the current press are even more ignorant of military issues than during Vietnam. Being a war correspondent is not the same as being a warrior - different viewpoints naturally arise.

Watergate inflated the media elite's self importance tremendously, and really got the "gotcha" game going. Who wouldn't want the prestige (and money) of a Woodward or Bernstein? How many people, now in mid career, chose journalism to play and win in some future Watergate "gotcha" game? From their behavior, I'd say almost all of them.

The lack of visible diversity in the world view of the American press has increased greatly. America would be much better off with a diverse system, where outlets competed on, among other things, their ideological position. In England, they don't have the same myth of the "objective press" - they seem to have a better understanding of human nature than here. In Mexico, one can find vast diversity of newspapers with many different viewpoints. It is sad that the United States, which invented press freedom, has so little press diversity.

There is a thesis which needs to be destroyed, which is the concept that members of the journalism "profession" can cast aside their personal prejudices and produce objective reporting. That my is not very old, but it has already been conclusively refuted.

If there is an important thesis to be discussed, it is that one. The members of the press are not, and are incapble of becoming Heinlein's "Fair Witnesses," because human beings are not constructed that way.

The message Bush seems to be giving, and with which I whole-heartedly agree, is that the press is less important than it used to be, that it is far less informed than it used to be, and that it is no longer a serious part of the national debate, but rather has turned into a sports announcer for the game of "gotcha."

Unfortunately, our monolithic press it is still a serious player in the power game, because it still has lots of influence. Many people do not seek alternate sources, because the easiest way to be "informed" is still to watch one of the big three broadcast TV evening news shows. The "Big Lie" technique, even when used unconsciously, works. So the press, acting as a fifth column against conservatives, still has to be dealt with.

All conservatives face a structural disadvantage of a press corps which is naturally opposed to the consevative agenda. Bush is still facing this challenge. Conservatives have long known that we were not on a level playing field. The press has long denied it, showing arrogance and, in my opinion, invincible ignorance and unconscious bias.

You ask what would happen if Bush made his theory public. He would be an idiot to do so, thus confirming the views of many in the press corps. It would restrict his freedom of maneuver. It would introduce a war on the press into the campaign, complicating everything. The press and the Democrats would have a field day spinning theories of Bush trying to destroy the First Amendment. Do you doubt this outcome?

I see no evidence that Bush sees the media as irrelevant and something to be ignored. I can see why he may not use the media as his own personal information source, but obviously his briefers and analysts follow it. Good executives pick good subordinates to handle details.

A serious president, unlike the narcissistic Clinton, does not live his days focused on the press's latest fad. That Bush views the press as not representing the people does not mean that he thinks they are not presenting information, however distorted, to an important number of people.

There is no doubt in my mind that the current national press is seriously broken. No doubt at all. There are sufficient alternative and credible sources of information to find many distortions in mainstream press. There are conservataives "in the closet" in the heart of the mainstream press who let some information out. The fact that they have to stay in the closet in itself is pretty damning of the press' lack of diversity of viewpoints and lack of tolerance of heresy.

The mainstream press needs to wake up, or they will be replaced by tabloids and Murdoch. The period of "objective journalism" has not been very long - the myth is relatively new - and the period is just about over.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at April 27, 2004 12:58 AM | Permalink

Geez...How come I'm the one who gets slammed for being long winded?

Thanks for these comments. This will be my last for the night. But do carry on...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 27, 2004 1:23 AM | Permalink

Grant D seems to be the only one on this list who reads or listens to anything other than RNC propaganda. The press does suck. Why? Because they are dupes of the REPUBLICANS.
Of course, from the perspective of fascists like Rush and Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, it is naive to continue to believe in the rule of law or to refuse to fantasize that our colonization of Iraq has the slightest relation to terror OR DEMOCRACY. So the press is pleading special interests because they don't hit all the RNC talking points in unison with enough fascist pizzazz.
What saddens me in reading your comments is your smug pride in being duped by the propaganda machine. Because you are duped, you actually believe you are looking down on those who actually come in contact with the real world. This Iraq fantasy is going to kick your ass. Don't forget to remember I told you so. You are not looking down, you are looking up.
You deserve the dictator you have in the White House. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Ben Franklin at April 27, 2004 2:36 AM | Permalink

Dear John Moore,
This idea that Murdoch and the tabloids might replace the mainstream if they don't get their act together is really funny. Where have you been the last two years? They have all Murdochized themselves long ago. There is already next to no difference. Do you read newspapers or watch television?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at April 27, 2004 3:00 AM | Permalink

Dear John Moore,
Your account of the press coverage of Clinton is psychotic. Scaife-Mellon's minions led by the press by the nose for eight years. You're past hope. Down is up. Up is down. Gravity is an anti-Republican conspiracy.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at April 27, 2004 3:03 AM | Permalink

The Press in a free Nation does have an important role to play. Modern Republicanism has been seriously bitten by the Press twice in modern memory (Watergate and Iran Contra). Media attention was focused on every possible Clinton scandal predating his first term inauguration, finally catching the ring on a sex scandal in the Oval Office which lead to a partisan-driven impeachment, heavy on the "misdemeanor" portion of the "high crimes" criterea. The danger of media-bias that tacitly favors the Republican Party, aside from a campaign to condition the media not to appear too liberal, resides in the media's increasingly Corporate nature with its concomitant fixation on the bottom line. The political philosophy of the Republican Party is very confluent with Corporate media philosophy, that can benefit from laissez-faire, de-regulatory policies espoused by Republicans (weak FCC oversight for example), combined with a willingness to embrace the shallow, shamelessly commercial aspect of media culture. The Press isn't going to be digging into a Watergate burglary if it is less expensive to simply sell you pop entertainment as "news", i.e. chasing celebrities around to report their latest foibles. The Republicanesque world view and philosophy itself stamps-out an investigatory Press culture that values aggressive and questioning reporting. As the song goes, the American People will gradually, and simply be choked " the shallow water.." of pulp-media, intended more to sell, than to inform.

Posted by: Ghost Dansing at April 27, 2004 4:39 AM | Permalink

Dear Jay,
As opposed to some of your long-winded wingnut commentators, I think you raise an important point. The Bush administration has a fairly consistent contempt for the press. It's important to ask, What are they thinking when they betray this attitude? You are also right to suggest that this surely wins them points with partisans who fantastically imagine the right-wing, pro-war press is "liberal". This is possible because RNC propaganda has clearly established an alternate universe where exploitation is social improvement and cartels are free market competition and colonial invasion is the American man's burden to free the darker skinned man. It reflects an ideological war that the RNC is winning, in other words.
My first assumption would be that this White House has had such complete control of the press corps where the press plays their bitch or gets shut out, that their run of success from 9/11 up until the last couple of months has led to a certain vanity.
But you and Auletta both rightly suggest there is often a sense that they hold the press in contempt on principle. Clearly Cheney's energy task force points in that direction. Bush's patronage of Woodward in return for the first vanity book, Bush at War, points in a similar direction.
I would suggest that you are on the right track, but there is an alternative frame that further clarifies the issue. Both Auletta and yourself raise this question of contempt for the press as something that defies our conventional understanding of the political process. You are no doubt correct to draw this conclusion.
However, it is my observation that since the introduction of polling during the Roosevelt administration, what used to pass for a political process has increasingly been displaced by seasonal marketing campaigns.
The present administration is simply the most extreme in fifty years of gradually displacing politics with public relations and marketing strategy. The fact-based Republican who worked on Bush's faith-based initiatives early in the administration, like the fact-based Republican Paul O'Neill, was shocked that this administratin simply doesn't care about policy. They care about polling and where the demographics break down. In other words, they don't recognize any reality aside from the marketing feedback they receive in their polling data.
From a marketing perspective, control of image is the first and last word. What company in their right mind would tolerate nosy questions before and after product introduction that went on about environmental defects and possible danger to children from a product? Marketing strategies are designed to obliterate such noise.
The Bush administration faithfully follows such models in trying to present the President in the most complementary, visually pro-Republican setting possible. Now that they have almost ENTIRELY replaced the political process with the marketing process, press conferences look like a quaint and quite mad tradition to be avoided at all costs.
Our job as citizens is to insist that no administration of any party should be allowed to completely replace politics with marketing. It is simply a rerun of RNC propaganda to pretend that the childish stooges in the media are running this show. They certainly control some platforms, but they've been taking administration orders without backtalk for some time now (this means you Judith Miller and Nedra Pickler), so the Bushies don't have much to complain about past reality biting them in the ass.
Most of the conservative objections above are complaints that shoot the press messenger for being so bold as to point out that Dubya lives in an alternate universe and that the Republican echo chamber has taught the faithful to follow him off the same imaginary cliff.
It is of historical interest how so many people could be led into taking RNC propaganda so seriously, but it does not really go to the heart of why so many people today willing desire to avoid reality and geography and history, etc. and insist on watching networks such as FOX. I can only assumed they watch because FOX indulges their ideological fantasy life. But why this particular alternate reality? That is the mystery for me. Why do they really believe that replacing corporate taxes with individual income taxes is in their own interest? Why do they think that shooting Iraqis is good for Iraqis? Why can't they imagine that the good of replacing one dictator does not make a new dictator in Iraq anymore attractive? Why is that so hard to follow? And for god's sakes, for you 57% out there: SADDAM HAD NO CONNECTION WITH 9/11. THE COLONIAL FIRESALE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH DEMOCRACY.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at April 27, 2004 6:31 AM | Permalink

Mr. Franklin, apparently somewhat to the left of Karl Marx himself, falls into the trap of believing the press is conservative because it doesn't reflect his fairly extreme views. But I think that anyone stating that the press is too conservative or too liberal has to make it clear: with respect to what?

For myself, I define the political center as a nebulous area somewhere between republicans and democrats and then examine whether the press adequately represents that viewpoint. But in their own polls, the national press consists of some 90% democrats. Now, you may be naive enough to believe that they play it down the center, but I don't.

I'm sure it's the fervent belief that the political center "should" be somewhere else that allows Mr. Franklin to make such ridiculous statements about press bias being conservative. These kinds of "relativist" errors are part and parcel with the left's inability to engage reality.

I'm also amused by the "SADDAM HAD NO CONNECTION WITH 9/11" shouting. And in the shallowest sense, he may be right. But the question really hinges on what you think the root causes are. And I'll tell you what they are: the problem in the Middle East is that you have a whole region based on bad ideas. They have no open markets, no rule of law, no separation of church and state, no emancipation of women, no freedom of the press, no use for the scientific method. And that list goes on.

In many ways, it's a leftist paradise with a thin veneer of fundamentalist islam. Ben, if you want to see where your ideas lead, look no further than Iraq.

So, why'd we do Iraq? The simple answer is: because we could. Who was going to raise a big stink over Saddam? Even the French could barely manage it, and they were on the payroll. We're going after root causes by trying to inoculate the heart of the middle east with a big dose of western ideas like democracy. Is it going to work? No one knows yet, but it is a serious attempt to deal with the real problem instead of just symptoms.

That Mr. Franklin doesn't understand the real stakes is obvious. But the jihadi's are not making the same mistake. Unlike our friend Ben, they have made Iraq the central thrust of their activities, since they know that if the experiment in democracy takes root in Iraq, their days are numbered.

Posted by: reason incarnate at April 27, 2004 8:01 AM | Permalink

reason incarnate,
FOX and CNN programming around RNC talking points is an empirical fact. Deal with it. The New York Times was the worst of all in the run up to war. They routinely calculated 500,000 protestors down to 30,000. This is relativism--on the part of the Rethuglican press.
Can you name one single act on the part of the US in Iraq that suggests the remotest whiff of an experiment in democracy? Hoarding contracts for US-connected companies an experiment in democracy? This kind of charitable act simultaneously excludes Iraqis from "their own" reconstruction. How altruistic of us.
Get Real.
Left of Karl Marx is the place to be when money is doing the talking. The longer this administration is in office the more relevant Marx becomes. This administration is one long snatch and grab. Follow the money and you will be close to the truth. Does believing the hype mean you can no longer count?
Talk about difficulty reaching reality. Sniping hundreds of unarmed women and children an experiment in democracy? Making a hero out of an unpopular right-wing crank (Sadr) an experiment in democracy?
This administration has actively opposed direct elections for over a year. They were feasible starting last fall and Bush stalled them into impossibility. Some experiment in democracy. Jay Garner just revealed in an interview that he was fired because he planned elections. We have kept troops in Iraq to prevent elections, if anything.
Unlike yourself, I realize that the stakes are very high--Bush's "strategy" is headed toward producing the very religious war that Usama bin Laden desires. Playing into his trap is not good strategy, regardless of your ideological sympathies.
YOU fail to engage with the root cause: knocking off Saddam is a good thing. Replacing him with catastrophe is as far from altruism or democracy as the rational mind can conceive. Especially during a firesale of national assets and reconstruction. When was the last time Iraqis were consulted on this?
The jihadis know a good target when they see one. Providing previously unavailable access to prime US targets for jihadis was yet another benefit Bush's moronic excuse for a "strategy" brings us. Bravo.
Will Iraq be free when all the Iraqis are dead? Will the middle east be free when all the arabs are dead? Where is your experiment in democracy happening exactly?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at April 27, 2004 10:36 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Jay, for the response and follow up.

Reason Incarnate (what a name) brings up "root causes" to explain a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida and 9/11. Funny, I though that whole "root causes" argument in explaining crime and criminal behavior was out of favor.

I think that example, and John Morre's a bout Bush and his Guard Service, illuminate a larger issue - people can't even agree on what constutitutes reporting anymore. From my admittedly limited vantage, dry reporatge has established a few things, such as: Saddam Hussein was not involved in 9/11, and the Bush's service in the Air National Guard remains somewhat murky with unanswered questions about his completion of service. I don't know what that tells us about the root causes of Islamist terror, or about how this nation deals with the aftermath of Vietnam; but I thought at least we could agree on what's been reported.

(and confidential to John Moore - I thought your long response was quite well written.)

As for Mary in LA's question - I think the press conference itself shows how controlling the Bush folks are about what's supposed to get out. Taking no follow-up questions, steering every answer back to a set of scripted responses - that strikes me as wanting unquestioning, verbatim reportage of his comments. Which is fine (up to a point), but why bother calling that a "press conference"?

Frankly, I don't get, in the face of Bush's thesis in particular, but even just generally, why Bush even does press conferences (even if they are historically expected). Mr. Bush is not especially articulate, he doesn't like extemporaneous questions and he doesn't see the press as having a legitimate role in asking him about his thinking on various issues. And all of that comes through in his demeanor and delivery. How does that help him? Really, I'm asking because I don't see it.

What concerns me about the Bush thesis is precisely the discussion that's happening on this thread - I think there's an interest in lively political debate that the web has helped reshape and redirect (I know I like a good lively argument, anyway), and I think people yearn for a lively press with interesting, accurate reporting. If Bush is right, not only do things look pretty bleak on the reporting front, but somehow he also gets a pass for trying to withold vital information that could help shape and inform the lively debate.

Complaining about "gotcha" isn't enough; you'd make more headway proving that gotcha is irrelevant by letting out relevant information, sticking to your positions, and taking the press to task and reportage is bad or inaccurate. And although I think he's onto something about the problem of Big Media, I don't think he's entitled to the pass. Certainly, our government shouldn't get a pass from questioning, investigation and examination of its actions. And I still believe we need a free press to do that.

Posted by: Wesley at April 27, 2004 10:48 AM | Permalink

The most telling aspect of Ben Franklin's comments here is his assumption that people believe what they do because of the press. The only question he has, then, is who dominates that message overtly or covertly.

Unfortunately, there is the nagging little matter of facts. They routinely calculated 500,000 protestors down to 30,000. Not the one I watched in person, they didn't. If anything, the size of the crowd I saw in NYC was visually exaggerated in TV and print photos.

I'm not a Republican. I've been registered as, and have voted as, a Democrat for 30 years. Along the way I've managed to look for facts where I can find them and draw my own conclusions.

The biggest difference between BF and me is not our politics - although those differ a lot - but rather our attitude towards the possibility of knowing and communicating objective truth, and the resulting role of the press.

Posted by: rkb at April 27, 2004 11:06 AM | Permalink

" They have no open markets, no rule of law, no separation of church and state, no emancipation of women, no freedom of the press, no use for the scientific method. And that list goes on.

In many ways, it's a leftist paradise with a thin veneer of fundamentalist islam."

"reason" incarnate, have you checked the texass republican party platform lately? have you checked the religious rights desired goals? the middle east is a george bush style republican paradise, just replace the islam with fundamentalist christianity. and keeping with the main subject of the thread, the middle eastern penchant for no free press or a press that is a branch of the ruling party fits in nicely with the george bush republican view of paradise as well.

Posted by: joe smith at April 27, 2004 11:11 AM | Permalink

We agree on the ability to distinguish facts. We were obviously at different rallies. I will be more precise: I was personally at two rallies, my wife was at two separate rallies. All four had the number of attendees under-represented in word and image in several different papers and news show on the order of 75%.
The one my wife attended was listed at 500,000 in two separate papers. The NYT chose to mention the number of 35,000 who took a separate parade route and spent half of the article in an interview with 35 pro-war, anti-protestors. USA Today was consistently more accurate than the New York Times. I detect a pretty strong pro-war bias in this coverage. It's hard to see it as other than willful given the persistent pro-war bias. I detect this bias because checking multiple sources, both mainstream and alternative, got me closer to the facts that were being distorted. Most egregiously by the Times in this case.
As for whether people believe what they do as a result of media coverage, I don't know. It seems 57% of the US public think Saddam was involved in 9/11. How do you account for this travesty?
Bush himself? A disinterested public? The media who didn't challenge him for two years? The media who barely carried his personal denial of a connection? The media that hasn't effectively communicated the message that his rhetoric and Cheney's still continues to send this message?
How do you account for this incredible distortion of the facts THAT IS NOT TO BE FOUND IN ANY OTHER NATION ON THIS EARTH (with the possible exception of Israel)?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at April 27, 2004 11:35 AM | Permalink

> I also recognize, as almost everyone does, the distorting but also the emptying out of news by the ratings chase, the glitz factor, the entertainment machine, the bald hunger for eyeballs, readers and listeners, and the celebrity culture that was born into Big Time journalism to cheapen it.

There's something wrong in that sentence. Entertainment and celebrity is not new. The "golden age" of newspapers was dominated by ratings wars, only they called it circulation.

I suspect that one of the few differences is "professionalism". I don't know if it's one of the crucial differences, but if you're going to argue for change, you have to accurately identify and study differences.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at April 27, 2004 11:55 AM | Permalink

Excellent piece. I think the apology asked of Bush by reporters at the press conference is the perfect embodiment of the entire issue. For Bush, he was not being asked by a news organization interested in being a conduit of information to the public but by a de-facto ally of the Kerry campaign interested in making Bush look bad: a view only reinforced by the post-conference reporting in which large segments of the press analyzed the conference from the perspective of its failure to "get" Bush. I think a signifiant portion of the public shares in that view. So they did not see Bush as failing to apologize to them but as Bush not backing down or giving an inch to his political opponents, those being his interlocutors, in other words, the press.

There is a delicate balance between press, government and public. Once the balance is broken, as you indicate, the damage potential for all parties is great: but is either the press or Bush willing to unilaterally attempt to restore it? In the case of journalists, it could never happen. The press is not an individual that can decide simply to change its ways. Only a culture shift over decades will effect a difference and I doubt Bush is willing to wait, if such a culture shift were even underway, which does not appear to be the case.

Posted by: Yksgib at April 27, 2004 11:58 AM | Permalink

Wow. Did you catch JD's 'catch' above from today's Paul Krugman column:

"It's also a matter of principle, based on the administration's deep belief that it has the right to act as it pleases, and that the public has no right to know what it's doing."

He didn't say 'the press'; he said 'the public'.

If Professor Krugman believes that (I assume that he does), it's a dandy data point for a new Anti-Bush Thesis.

Separate point: your Bush Thesis is a good concept, but you should look at it more comprehensively. Reporters' embedment is not evidence that the 'administration doesn't *always* hold to the Bush Thesis'. Rather, it's *part of* the Bush Thesis.

Roger Simon speaks of the administration's coopting the press. He's right.

Posted by: old maltese at April 27, 2004 12:03 PM | Permalink

Great article. Most of the comments, however, can only be read as symptoms of a bizarre yet prevelant media disease characterized by a delusive belief in the existence of a "liberal media elite" which is erroneously conflated with "leftism."

Good luck in treating your patients, Dr. Rosen. After several therapy sessions perhaps they will be able to engage your thesis, rather than box at shadows.

Posted by: actually at April 27, 2004 12:07 PM | Permalink

Here's one thing I think the Bush people, and many supporters of the Thesis, overlook. If the press plays gotcha with Bush, Bush has his own game of gotcha with the press.

When he was asked, "why appear with Cheyney?" and gave absolutely no rationale, pretending not to understand that "we're trying to give the Commission our cooperation" doesn't explain the unusual insistence on joint testimony, that, I believe, was Bush playing gotcha. It has the same fake qualiy, the same thin veneer you're supposed to see through, the same "polite" meanness.

How much difference is there between, "watch this, I'm gonna trap you, prez, into saying something that sounds bad either way," and "watch this, I am going to make my actual policy disappear behind my answer?" Unique to Bush the younger? NO. But neither is the game of gotcha unique to press relations in this Administration.

Gotcha is a pattern in the relationship, a "game" with many players. "Stiffed ya" is a game too, played from the podium at the press. Portraits of the Bush team as the innocent party, public servants who would like to engage in intelligent debate but cannot, due to bias, unchecked aggression, and Gotcha behavior in the press (therefore they are left with few alternatives) do not ring true to me.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 27, 2004 12:13 PM | Permalink

The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached.


Thank you for this site and your feedback.

I would outline my take on the genesis of the Bush Thesis thus:

1. Bush motivation

- post 9/11 "war president" government-think
- mid-term and presidential election year partisan-think

2. Realities on the ground:

- ideologically divided public/electorate
- segmented, niche media pandering to both the addicts and the "drop-in" "catch up" consumers
- stoic, "Old Media" protective of market share and brand character/loyalty

3. Public motivation

- culture war
- broadcast/interactive press/media channels
- distrust/disinterest/feeling of unempowerment

I think the Bush administration sees the dilution of the "Big Media" control over traditional and controlled channels to a large and ideologically diverse public. The government today is a voracious collector of information globally. The communication revolution has increased the number of channels between newsmakers, to their governed, and to other each other.

American pressthink by a few big players carries less weight today not only because they have diminished their own credibility but because they can be excluded in favor of other channels with little public outrage. But in a global forum made smaller with technology, British pressthink is less representative of the American public but easily available to them. We can debate how representative British pressthink is of the British public - and whether inaccurate but representative information is more dangerous in a republic than the "discrediting, dismissing, disdaining and decertifying of Big Journalism" inherent in the Bush thesis. We can expand this to include other Western pressthink cultures, Asian pressthink and finally Arab pressthink - which in many cases is Arab state and religious propaganda - and how representative it is.

The next press in America will most likely apply filters over new and old channels that best satisfy the economics of both newsmakers and information consumers.

I almost wonder if the Bush administration has not adopted a Microsoft or Wal-Mart ecomonics toward the press in it's thesis given it's increased stature controlling the executive and legislature during war-time. The Bush administration wants to directly make it's case and get it's political signals from the public. It will seek out the most direct, unfiltered and interactive channels to the press and apply pressure to the less direct, heavily filtered, broadcast channels.

If the public is similarly dissatisfied with less direct, heavily filtered, broadcast channels there is significant economic pressure brought to bear to develop alternatives.

It is not necessarily Bush's responsibility to create these alternative channels. I think there is sufficient economic (electoral) pressure to prevent the Bush administration from cloistering itself. I think the Bush administration wants to make their case to the public. I don't think the Bush administration feels it needs to be done by the President through the filters of the Washington press corps every time.

Posted by: Tim at April 27, 2004 12:36 PM | Permalink

... but somehow he also gets a pass for trying to withold vital information that could help shape and inform the lively debate.


I think the preponderance of gotcha journalism not only provides the pass for critical information to be withheld, it also provides the pass when withheld critical information is exposed.

Asking Bush to confess mistakes, defend against thinly veiled accusations of failing as a communicator and not providing an apology obscures any further analysis of policy statements and prevents probing informative questions from being asked. Repetitively asking these gotcha questions digs the hole deeper.

Jay is correct that there is a gotcha/stiffed ya exchange, and IMO creates banal noise that is not informative, discredits the press, and strengthens the Bush thesis.

When it is exposed later that critical information that SHOULD NOT have been withheld (for example medicare cost estimates), it carries less weight because the public blames a dysfunctional press as well as a partisan administration.

But you have to be careful not to include critical information that was exposed and not weighted properly in your eyes, or discarded by the public, as withheld information. Examples would be Shinseki's number of troops required, Lindsay's and others' pre-war cost/occupation/reconstruction estimates, etc., that the Bush administration criticized in an attempt to discredit.

I often find there is a dissatisfaction among Bush and war cynics that a pass has been given for being wrong and that the press didn't emphasize or expose something (almost desperately) that would have prevented this administration from attacking Iraq.

I'm fascinated that even today, the lively debate about the Clinton administration consists of the Lewinsky gotcha. There are serious lively debates we can have today, and are pertinent today, about Clinton's national security and foreign policy, budgetary policy, campaign financing, energy policy, etc., and comparisons to the Bush administration.

You can't have those debates because it devolves to what everyone was most informed about - the Lewinsky gotcha/impeachment.

Posted by: Tim at April 27, 2004 1:22 PM | Permalink

First things first- have to comment on the quality of thought, the lack of screeching hyperbole, and the civility on this thread.... with a couple of obvious exceptions. In the main, a very impressive, thought provoking bunch of posts- well done all.

So I think we're pretty much agreed- Journalism can't get the facts right, and these wrong facts are hashed together not to get at something approximating the truth but rather what a somewhat biased editor feels should be the truth. Add in outright fabrication (Blair, etc.), lies by misdirection, and lies by omission. Uh, where's the mystery here about why journalism is dying?

I think Bush is playing this press business marvelously, though he's not the first to play the game. Others have worked the system- Reagan in the face of adversarial bias, Clinton in the face of positive bias (though when the press turned, he sure was stumped). The difference is, Bush ver 2.0 is the first to call them out on their bias and state the obvious- the press is far from even close to representing the "voice" of the people.

I think that single statement scared a lot of folks in the journo world..... everyone til now had been willing to live the polite fiction that the press was the truth seeking watchdog for the public. In this arrangement, the politicos more or less got their message disseminated, and the press could continue peddling their subpar product with relative ease.

Bush casually pointing out that the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes had to terrify a lot of people in journalism interested in maintaining the status quo. I see it as a warning shot by ole Mumbles the Misunderestimated, aimed at letting them know he wasn't their father's President Bush to push around and punk. Perhaps I should be fitted for a tinfoil beanie right about now, but it seems to me that the press has amazingly and quite suddenly discovered that John Kerry has been less than forthright about both his war record and the disposition of his medals from same. Coincidence- hell, I dunno. Food for thought- yeah, think so.

Another main theme running through this thread is how journalism has devolved mainly into gotcha games, and the concept of reasoned and contextual reporting is a lost art. This is true, and I would cite the current deafening silence in the mainstream media regarding the UN oil-for-money scam, which makes Enron look like Friday night poker money. This is an extremely important story, especially in light of the European opposition to Bush implementing the Clinton Administration's 1998 policy of regime change in Iraq, not to mention this scam's effect on UN legitimacy to be a governing force in Iraq- which is apparently a large piece of one presidential candidate's planned foreign policy.

But this is a taxing and less than straightforward story, which people smarter than me have determined is too complex for corn fed dopes in flyover country to understand..... so it's gotcha games for the lot of us, I suppose.

Another view is one advanced by a couple of posters- the journalists themselves are too stupid to follow the twists and turns, having been schooled in the gotcha school of reportage and little else. Either way, the public is served poorly, if at all.

Another concern voiced by a few here is what will happen if we don't have our fourth estate to disseminate information, or if one is to be cynical what will happen when we don't have the media to tell us how to think?

Well, gee I dunno- I've absorbed more viewpoints and well thought out arguments tripping through this discussion thread in the last 45 minutes than I have in the last 5 months watching bad broadcast news and reading newspapers (Chicago Trib and SunTimes, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Financial Times). Think there might be something to this blogging platform? To those that would dismiss blogging as limited in audience- true enough, but at the time of the last presidential election, there were far fewer blogs than now, and who besides Drudge got ANY attention? Contrast that with now, where blogs are increasingly used as references for mainstream media pieces, and mainstream media types are attempting with varying degrees of competence to join the blog nation (O'Reilly's blog- yeesh). And the final signifier that blogs are becoming a player in the news business- the increased sniping about blogs by traditional journalistic outlets- if blogs were so inconsequential, why bother speaking about them?

The bottom line is this- there are hundreds of millions of Americans with a need to get information about what is going on the world. Traditional Journalism had a monopoly on this market for decades. Due to this monopoly, they became complacent and now provide a shitty product that less and less people deem acceptable. As such, there is an unsatisfied demand for better product. This demand will be filled as there are piles of money to be made filling it. The blogs have begun the process, and I'd bet they or an offshoot of them will finish it as well.

Mr. Rosen, congrats on running a nice site- though it must be ironic to you that by blogging about your scholastic study of journalism, you are hastening its demise.... whoa, heavy stuff, dude.

Posted by: Idler at April 27, 2004 1:33 PM | Permalink

It was said often enough in different ways, but the point is: Why should there be a "gotcha" fight between the media and the President? Bush really nailed the media, and "the folks' are with him. These conferences should be a congenial debate on the issues.
DVQ, Valley Center, Calif.

Posted by: Derek Quackenbush at April 27, 2004 1:48 PM | Permalink

On the matter of the news media, I think many Bush partisans--not all, but a lot--drink so deeply of their resentments that they fail to ask whether there will be any costs to Bush himself when the discrediting, dismissing, disdaining and decertifying of Big Journalism is complete.

Not so. There are costs to ANYTHING. If you only did things that didn't ahve negative costs, you'd never do anything.

"The Press" is currently the enemy of any America I would value. Would it be nice if that wasn't so? Of course. But neither I, nor President Bush, can force the press to do a good job. We can, however, work against them, he in his big ways, me in my little ones.

I hope that the blogsphere will take over the good aspects of the press. But, whether or not it does, destroying that enemy is worth whatever costs come from it.

Posted by: Greg D at April 27, 2004 4:33 PM | Permalink

The embedded reporters were not intended to influence the American public or media. Their true audience was the "Arab Street."

The White House knew that Al Jazeera and the state-owned media in totalitarian Arab countries would likely potray the American armies as crusaders bent on rape, pillage, plunder, and murder. Arab audiences would be treated to one interview with the Information Minister after another. They'd be subjected to one manufactured story of carpet-bombing and atrocities after another.

The embedded reporters were the antidote. They were designed to show the Arab world that the stories they were hearing on Al Jazeera were lies. The "atrocities" were made up. Moreover, our soliders were comporting themselves with discipline and restraint. I suspect that in the back of their minds, most Arabs knew that, say, the Egyptian army wouldn't behave as well.

It seems to me that the embedded reporters worked, at least during the invasion. The Arab Street was quiet because they saw that (a) we weren't committing atrocities, and (b) the Iraqis surrendered without much of a fight. The stories they'd been told about the deliberate targeting of mosques, the use of nuclear weapons, and the rape of decent Muslim women simply weren't true. The Americans had pictures; Al Jazeera had nothing, thoguh their cameras were on the ground too. Even to a cynical and angry Arab audience, the truth eventually sunk in.

Unfortunately, now that the embedded reproters are no longer with us, Al Jazeera and the other totalitarian media organs appear to have returned to their usual loathsome practices. I don't know that resurrecting the embeded media is the answer to this problem, but it is something to think about.

Posted by: Joe Schmoe at April 27, 2004 4:55 PM | Permalink

Precisely, Joe. Something to think about, which is why I wrote:

"We cannot afford to have Al Jazerra or other Arab television dominating the video and live coverage of the war." If that's true, then the press is a critical factor in the success of the American war effort, and the "special pleader" thesis looks ridiculous.

The Bush Thesis and some of its enthusiasts may be overlooking how important the American news media--even with all their flaws--are to making the case for certain American virtues. Making that case, which the government cannot do alone, is critical to the success of the Bush doctrine internationally. Influencing the so-called "Arab street" is part of this.

One of the strengths the United States is a free and independent(from government) press with global reach and the resources to put reporters, photographers and cameras where they need to be.

Another is a well trained military under civilian control that does not rape and pillage or sow destruction arbitarily-- unlike some armies we know about.

And another, of course, is ongoing criticism of the government, oversight of its activities, public debate about its actions, outside scrutiny, transparency-- and reason-giving as normal practice.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 27, 2004 6:51 PM | Permalink

Influencing the so-called "Arab street" is part of this.

I'm sorry, Joe and Jay, but unless you are familiar with American nongovernmental press being distributed within state controlled media markets and mosques in the Muslim world in Arabic, Farsi, Pashtu, and a host of other languages, I find your concern about American press influencing the "Arab street" lacking.

When Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf was speaking English, he was not addressing the "Arab street". And when he did, it was not what he was saying in English.

But since we're here, BIG plug for Spirit of America.

Posted by: Tim at April 27, 2004 7:56 PM | Permalink

Regarding the Arab press, a couple of comments... from a pro-Bush guy...

I haven't seen evidence that the Administration understands how crucial it is to manipulate Arab opinion. The ultimate success of this war depends on defusing the ideological time bomb in Muslim, and especially Arab and Persian lands. That is a very hard thing to do, but allowing the continuous broadcast of enemy propaganda is pretty seriously stupid. We have the technological means to shut down both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya and to jam or better, replace the signals of the Iranian stations. We should be doing more.

If the administration had this view, Al Jazeera would either be off the air or reporting our side of things. This is a war, and Al Jazeera has sided with the enemy.

If it can be done right, the US should be using whatever covert skills are left at the CIA to subvert Al Jazeera and Al Arabia - by any means, whether it is whispering in the ear of their rulers, bribery (Saddam owned some of those guys), blackmail (such as the old KGB sparrow trick), threats, kidnapping of family members, or outright assassinations. Bush's doctrine says you are one of us or one of them. In that monochrome world, Al Jazeera and Al Arabia are "one of them."

I suspect such suggestions are anathema to journalists, because I am arguing that the government should use whatever means necessary to control the press. But the press I am talking about is not our press, it is the enemy's press. Furthermore, we know from things like KGB files and the Venona transcripts that the KGB did similar things here, and Saddam apparently got to Scott Ritter with the greatly under-covered Oil for Bribes program.

Furthermore, we need propaganda outlets with the skills and spirit of the old Radio Free Europe. They consistently gave our side of the story, but they did in a way that they were trusted, and they were effective. They were the only trusted news source in esatern Europe. Voice of America, on the other hand, behaves too much like the voice of the State Department and would lose any information war it got into.

We should also treat other press outfits as potential enemies - for example BBC, French TV, etc. Not that they should be treated as harshly as Al Jazeera, but we should exercise the same kind of control that the Palestinians Exercise over media reporting from Gaza or the West Bank. Reporting from that conflict is naturally biased because you can't get your photo-op on the west bank if you have been too critical of Palestine. That is press manipulation, something, to their shame, that CNN knows all to much about.

I think about all that can be said about Bush vs. the Press has been said, although I would disagree with the characterization of the National Guard issue as murky. To this Vietnam Veteran, there's nothing murky about it, other than the fact that National Guard service for non-active pilots tended to be casual.

For example, I served as an aircrew member in a unit (AT-6 I think) without them ever seeing my records, because they had vanished. The net result is that I was never paid. I recently requested all of my own service records, and there isn't a shred of evidence that I served in that unit. Nothing. Nada.

(confidential to Wesley... thanks! I'm not a word-smith - I'm a bit-smith).

(confidential to Ben Franklin: not according to medical experts... oh, and as Bart says, bite me)

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at April 28, 2004 12:13 AM | Permalink

This is a tough blog to monitor. Jay's pieces, while well written and thorough, seem to take a long time to get to his point. I wasn't quite sure until near the end what Harris Meyer's point was about Ken Auletta's comments. I've always thought that this win-lose view of the press' function was offensive.

The only win should be a greater understanding of the issues and arguments by the public. When Bush made his statement about the reporter assuming that the press representing the public, he wasn't saying that the press has no legitimate role in our system, he was saying that the press as it functions today has ceased to fill its legitimate role by casting itself as permanent adversary. At the outset of this nation, the press was highly partisan but quite diverse. The public was able to get the flavor of the debate by reading a couple of newspapers. Today, with the development of journalism as a college major, reporters seem to be aligned like the particles in a magnet. They come out of J-School believing, as Jay apparently does, that their diplomas constitute some kind of anointing as the Fourth Estate, and that the First Amendment gives them a Constitutional sanction as a kind of super-judiciary, unfettered by the kinds of rules that the three designated branches of government have to labor under. The problem with that is, of course, that reporters and editors weren't elected or appointed. They would be outraged if anybody tried to license them as a condition of their arrogation of special status, or require them to run for election.

Maybe it's the uniformity of journalism training that makes them seem so regimented and uniform in their attitudes. Maybe it's the requirements of broadcasting and its desire for drama that have assured that they would all repeat the same "question" about whether Bush owed America an apology. It sounded to me as if they had agreed on a game plan in advance.

On the other "team," there were other people trained in their own version of the game, political advisors and strategists, who by now have gotten very good at predicting the press's game plan and countering it with their own.
Jay laid it out beautifully. It's become as formalized as Kabuki.

I think that the public feels when it's in the middle of a magnetic field trying to turn them into alignment with it, and they resist it, especially when the facts they've been given support more than one interpretation. Americans try to be fair, especially when they're looking for the facts.

I remember John Kennedy's press conferences and the way he was able to charm the press corps. He seemed to have them eating out of his hand. I remember Nixon's "You won't have Nixon to kick around" speech, as well as the exchange when he asked Dan Rather if he were running for some office, and Rather's answer, "No, Mr. President, are you?" I thought they both looked like jerks.

I never saw Bush as dismissive or cynical when he came into office. He has always impressed me as a man trying to live up to the ideals of his faith, to show respect and fairness to his opponents, but I think the special hostility shown him in his first term by reporters who seem as bitter as Florida Democrats over his election has toughened his attitude somewhat.

Instead of trying to turn this into an attempt to overthrow the Constitution, Jay should consider how the press has treated Bush and how he himself would react to such a steady barrage of flak. This isn't a case of anybody trying to deny press freedom after all. It's just a reaction to a lot of hostility and condescending snideness. Bush is not the dummy that reporters seem to think he is. That's why they "lost." They were treating it like a game and thinking they would cruise to victory by asking inane questions like "Where's your apology?" I think that when most of the great unwashed out here heard Richard Clarke's apology, they recognized it as a phony play for sympathy. I couldn't believe how journalists seemed to fall for it. That failure to see what the rest of the country did was why they asked such stupid questions and why Bush didn't so much "win" as they lost.

Posted by: AST at April 28, 2004 12:41 AM | Permalink

P.S. The other tough think about keeping up with this blog is reading all the extended comments like mine. Sorry about that.

Posted by: AST at April 28, 2004 12:43 AM | Permalink

Bush Thesis in action:

"To get a sense of the stark contrast between the good that coalition forces are doing in Iraq and the tactics that the enemy has used consistently, if one thinks back, they used hospitals, they used mosques, they used schools as weapons locations and fortresses to fight from throughout the time of the invasion. The photo of terrorists using a mosque in Najaf as a base for attacks against our forces is an example of what we're finding. There have been additional attacks taken from mosques in Fallujah, and I believe there have been embedded reporters who have been able to -- as well as combat camera -- able to make some of that available to the American people.

"There are two ways, I suppose, one could inform readers of the Geneva Convention stipulation against using places of worship to conduct military attacks. One might be to headline saying that Terrorists Attack Coalition Forces From Mosques. That would be one way to present the information.

"Another might be to say: Mosques Targeted in Fallujah. That was the Los Angeles Times headline this morning."

HT: Glenn

Posted by: Tim at April 28, 2004 9:33 AM | Permalink

"I wonder why so few of the President's supporters seem concerned that a vital reality check may be lost to the administration, given what are seen as Big Journalism's failures."

This sentence almost made me cry. Don't you see? The president and/or his adminstration have nothing to do with the loss of a 'vital reality check.' Big Media pissed away its ability to be a reality check - smugly, gloatingly, cheerfully and knowingly.

Give us 'who, what, where, when and why.' Give us the facts. If your mother says she loves you, check it out. Keep your opinions to yourself. NO information is better than bad information.

Please stop giving us smarmy lectures and press releases sent out be special interest groups as 'news,' especially without even presenting corresponding releases from opposing special interests.

Bush only said what everyone else already knows - the press is worse than useless. The problem is not that media shouldn't be a reality check - the problem is that it isn't.

Posted by: Persnickety at April 28, 2004 6:25 PM | Permalink

Too many words spent on the wrong subject!

Big media got hit over the head by a "2 by 4" to get their attention. Then, in this thread, attention got focused on the "2 by 4" rather than the lessons media needed to learn.

I'll not tie up the thread here. A blog entry expands on the thought at Refocusing the media lens, if you want a different point of view.

Take the hint. Resolve to do better. Get back to business. And earn respect anew.

Posted by: sbw at April 28, 2004 10:47 PM | Permalink

As a public service, and with my usual objectivity and lightheartedness, I've reduced the tens of thousands of words on this subject to a mere twelve hundred in Rosen's Bush Thesis Redux.

Warning: The author is a publisher -- and no one will ever confuse a publisher with a journalist -- so some representations may vary...

Posted by: sbw at April 29, 2004 9:35 AM | Permalink

I would like to apologize for making this blog longer, however I do feel that the press overall has lost no power but influence over the general public as it refers to politics. Some very important thoughts and issues have been discussed above and on I'd like to hit on again is "So how did he do?" and a canned opposition response. In these I mean the useless commentary after a major speech, debate or even press conference make me physically ill.

I ain't no Einstein but I'm no dummy either, I think I can listen to the information and even read between the lines a little. I personally loose a lot of respect for the journalist that tries to spoon-feed me what I should think. Just my 2 bits.

Posted by: Paul at April 30, 2004 4:43 AM | Permalink

The problem with the media today is too many "journalists" and not enough "writers". If I want to learn something about the arts or sciences, I'll review an article in a magazine or journal written by a professional in the field who happens to have the skill to write about the topic in an informed, objective manner. Too many journalists write about topics they know nothing about (macroeconomics and basic sciences are the most common stumbling blocks). I don't remember any of my college buddies in J-school taking anything more rigorous than a highschool level physical science course and forget business, they hated business.

Journalism's problem is that it became a profession nurtured by leaders believing they could change the world. Well Bill Gates and the internet have changed the world and journalism as it developed over the last century will suffer the same as fate as the buggy-whip manufacturers. (Henry Ford was the last century's Bill Gates)

The more the mainstream media repeats the line of political parties and special interest groups, the more America realizes that nobody is really investigating stories as they should be investigated.

When I want the news I'll use Drudge or the WSJ. In the car I listen to NPR Morning edition, Rush and pm's either NPR ATC or Hannity (Whichever happens to be less annoying)

I think journalists should be careful not to dismiss users of Drudge or other "rightwing" websites like Rush Limbaugh. They are after all posting stories by respected journalists. WSJ deserves more respect than it gets. It's articles are timely and the stories often wind up on the network news two days later and in my hometown paper one week later. The articles I read on the network websites are, more often than not, biased against (or ignorant of) the conservative viewpoint. The new media like Fox, Drudge and, yes, Rush are providing an alternative. This is simply a service that is in demand and if the current news media is smart, it will tap into this market by hiring journalists that are not obvious leftists.

Posted by: Richard Panek at April 30, 2004 4:55 PM | Permalink

Dear Persnickety and Panek,
In my experience this whining about a dirth of facts in journalism as represented by your specific complaints actually represents a REFUSAL OF FACTS that don't fit into the increasingly narrow and intolerant Bushist agenda. Nixon was a raving leftist compared to you guys. When your ilk can stop whining "bias" when the world doesn't go your way, the world outside your pathetic echochamber will start to take you a little more seriously. A worldview that requires its own fictional reality is not destined to do well in the long run.
Complaining about Democratic Party influence in the media these days (Who I have no use for because ultimately they favor the same corporate interests) is like complaining that the horse you just shot is still bleeding. This horse, just like Clinton, is dead! Find a live horse to beat for once!

Posted by: Ben Franklin at May 1, 2004 1:51 AM | Permalink

Dear All,
What do we think of the Sinclair decision? This is clearly raising the ideological schism to a new level of hostility and tactics right in line with Rove and Delay-style Mayberry Machiavellianism. Are we just left with Rethuglicans vs. Dealocrats once again? Does anyone have anything more useful to add?
It strikes me that by limiting public mourning for dead US troops, the last four administrations have effectively privatized the national military. To the degree that there is any reasoning involved at all beyond making the loss of troops more politically convenient for the executive branch, the official line is that soldiers who died for their country can only be mourned as family members, not as patriots. Is that coherent or even intelligible? Did we ever debate that as a nation?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at May 1, 2004 2:01 AM | Permalink

Ben Franklin

It is my understanding the Koppel did not read the names of the dead from Afghanistan. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that the effort was an anti-war propaganda exercise, with Koppel using our dead as his ammunition.

After all, we have dead in both conflicts, but one conflict is accepted by the left and the elite media opinion formers so frequently mentioned in this thread, and the other isn't. What a coincidence that the only dead mentioned are in the disapproved war.

As to the Sinclair decision, it's their choice as a money making institution.

I watched the first episode of Nightline and was a faithful watcher for quite a while. No longer. I stopped watching after I realized it had morphed from balanced and informative reporting on international affairs, available nowhere else, to a propaganda outlet for the PC. Its normal fare was to discuss some old issue of interest to the left for the umpteenth time (how many discussions on Race in America, or some feminist favorite topic do we need?). It became boring, like the left in general. I switched to Jay Leno.

Ben Franklin, I have something more useful to add than your highly partisan, tunnel vision comments: I think I may have misquoted Bart Simpson, whose judgement I trust more than that of the mainstream media. He may have meant "byte me."

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at May 1, 2004 7:41 PM | Permalink

John Moore,
I carefully criticized the Clinton and both Bush administrations for their policy of privatizing the death of soldiers who died for the nation. I couldn't care less about the political parties.
What does the privatization of national military fatalities say about our country? BOTH PARTIES have privatized those who die for the nation! The democrats have momentarily reversed course to score some points, but that does not alter the question that still remains to be answered: What do we think about that as Americans (apart from temporary advantage for one party or another)?
Do you actually have ANYTHING to say beyond towing your party line? Do you even have a clear sense in mind when you accuse me of being "highly partisan" beyond habitual reflex? What does "highly partisan" mean here? There are a lot of political and historical questions that escape a simple Republican/Democrat dichotomy.
I'm getting the impression you can't even process information that strays beyond Bushthink.
What does privatizing the deaths of those who die for the nation say about us? And what does Bart Simpson teach us about this question?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at May 2, 2004 12:26 PM | Permalink


Maybe you can help me out with something. No one in the media or in the public at large complained or showed any interest when my friend was killed in Panama in an Army motorpool accident in the early 80s? Why was that?

No one wanted to take pictures and display her flag draped coffin when it returned to the US. Why?

No one read her name solemnly on a national television show after her death.

The same lack of interest and discussion when another friend died in a helicopter training accident with its crew and passengers.

I don't remember the same concern of the country when Green ramp, filled with paratroopers waiting to load aircraft for training jumps, burned after aircraft collided on the runway.

Why do politicians (Rep. Rangel), wives of Presidents (Hillary Clinton), and even some journalists, claim that no lives were lost in Haiti, when I lost a friend killed on a roadblock in Gonaives and others committed suicide? Why weren't there demands for the televised displays of their flag draped coffins?

Are these not the death of soldiers who died for the nation? The training deaths, the accidents, the suicides, the less filled, less dramatic return of largely empty aircraft with a single flag draped coffin?

Why was it that these soldiers who died for their country were only be mourned as family members, and not as patriots by their country?

I don't want hypocritical and dishonest attention when I die, whether in combat or not. These a-holes could care less about me unless my coffin can be dispayed next to a dozen others during a controversial point in a war.

It's a political statement using me post-mortem, and I do not want to be included.

Do we also advocate opening up the morgues and mortuaries to press photographers to take pictures of anonymous body bags filled with corpses from traffic accidents? Drug overdoses? Can we fill the paper with the coffins of other causes of death?

Can we show the unnamed/anonymous corpses from abortion every year?

Or is it only our servicemembers that get this special treatment so we can use their images as fodder in a debate about this war and this President?

Posted by: Tim at May 2, 2004 1:44 PM | Permalink

It appears to me that we agree on the issue of privatizing the death of troops--why was it that your friends could not be mourned as patriots, but only as private citizens? As you suggest, and as I previously pointed out, this accusation applies to both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. I personally think it is wrong in both cases. Your friends should have been mourned as soldiers who died serving the nation. If military funeral rites were regularly conducted, the Nightline program would not have made sense and probably would not have been conceived.
The same goes for the those in Kosovo and Somalia. The soldiers who died in Afghanistan and Iraq should also be mourned as soldiers of the nation as well as family members. They certainly didn't go off to fight a war in their capacity as family members, did they? I would expand the argument to ask why we hid the sacrifice of those who became casualties during the Clinton administration and now under the Bush administration. These serious injuries are also sacrifices on behalf of the nation. They should not be hidden away by government fiat.
We agree that our military's dead should not become political footballs. They should not be in Bush campaign commercials and they should not have to be on Nightline. If the government would stop the bipartisan secrecy policy of the last twelve years, regular military funerals would remove this as a question of public policy.
I would personally favor public concern for and mourning of those who died as collateral damage in Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
I would personally favor showing pictures of aborted fetuses as part of an action that pointed to the murderous effects of abstinence only policies and campaigns against contraception. I would include the millions of dead in Africa due to HIV in part as a result of US policy opposition to condoms and contraception in principle. I think it is a crime against humanity and should be treated as such.
You raise an interesting issue with other causes of death. I would say, insofar as they are not dying due to government action, they are private deaths, as family members and appropriately mourned as such. However, there are systematic ways in which political payoffs to corporations interfere with easily accomplished safety improvements. Insofar as it was connected with action to change government policy that led to private traffic deaths, I actually think that is a reasonable suggestion.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at May 2, 2004 2:35 PM | Permalink

Ben Franklin
Perpare yourself for a little ad hominem commentary (that's Latin for "to the person"), because you didn't raise any issues to be discussed, which leave your efforts as a suitable subject.

What do we think of the Sinclair decision? This is clearly raising the ideological schism to a new level of hostility and tactics right in line with Rove and Delay-style Mayberry Machiavellianism.

What ideological schism? Could it be that Sinclair felt as I do, that Koppel's selective reading was the use of the dead for political and commercial reasons (duh - sweeps week)? Is it necessary to invoke Machiavelli to explain this? You see it as some sort of White-house political move - and in fact you say that it clearly involves hostility, tactics, and a Mayberry Machiavellianism.

What the hell is Mayberry Machiavellianism? I have a hunch but I'd like you to explain it.

Frankly, you fail the smell test. A hint: your attempts to invent sophisticated sounding rhetoric would benefit from a quick visit to a dictionary. You sound darn tootin' silly mixing that faux high fallutin' rhetoric with a word so out of context that it is obvious you don't know its meaning.

You aren't asking a question. You aren't trying to raise an interesting issue. You are trying to score points off of a controversy, points which you consistently seek by attacking the administration. Or maybe you just want attention. From this distance I can't tell if your motivations are pathological or merely political.

It is superficially clever of you to attack the Clinton administration also - it looks so balanced - until one realizes that the Bush administration is up for re-election and Clinton never will be.

Are we just left with Rethuglicans vs. Dealocrats once again? Does anyone have anything more useful to add?

Are you just trying to be clever, or do you have anything more useful to say.

I added something useful: an analysis of why Ted Koppel's behavior was partisan, and why that is objectionable, to put it mildly.

You rejected it completely.

Other than that, I think your question about Sinclair's decision is rather silly, since it is mixed with an already decided conclusion.

Tim added something useful also, in the same vein. You responded with bizarre ramble. It's clear where the useful thinking is at this point in the thread.

It strikes me that by limiting public mourning for dead US troops, the last four administrations have effectively privatized the national military.

Now this is really absurd. Privatized the military? Who did the government sell it to? Where can I buy stock?

There is no restriction on mourning the dead, either, except those that may be wished by the families, who obviously should have the last say.

The statistics and names are available, so why don't you get them and do whatever mourning you want?

To the degree that there is any reasoning involved at all beyond making the loss of troops more politically convenient for the executive branch, the official line is that soldiers who died for their country can only be mourned as family members, not as patriots. Is that coherent or even intelligible? Did we ever debate that as a nation?

First, you deduce a reason for the military's behavior - a reason that perhaps some service in the military would show you is incorrect.

Military and ex-military people have great respect for our dead. We have little respect for those who would propagandize using pictures of the coffins, or in Ted Koppel's stunt, reading off the names of a cleverly selected subset of the dead. And frankly, we have little respect for the members of the press, with some exceptions. We have good reasons for these attitudes.

You ask: is that coherent or even intelligible?

Are you asking about your response to Ted? If so, the answer is no and just barely.

No matter how somebody dies, it has long been American tradition to let the family decide how to mourn, whether public or private. You are free to attend some of the funerals. At others, you might be disinvited. The dead do not belong to the country - their mourning belongs to their loved ones.

You say:If military funeral rites were regularly conducted, the Nightline program would not have made sense and probably would not have been conceived.

This betrays astonishing ignorance. Military funeral rites are regularly conducted for evey fallen soldier. They just aren't conducted for your benefit.

You seem to believe that the dead are collectively owned by the country. They are not. They finished their sacrifice when they died. Their families are now suffering, and their dead belong to them.

The military has rituals for its dead. There was one in Afghanistan for Pat Tillman. This allowed his comrades to pay their respects.

If the family desires, another military ritual will be held at his burial, as is available to any soldier or veteran. You may or may not be welcome, because it is family who decides. The military will honor their wishes. The press probably won't.

Tim raised a point that this sorry Koppel episode also brought to my attention. Although I am a Vietnam Veteran, my war dead were all lost in military operations outside of Vietnam, on training missions. They are just as dead, and I grieve just as much.

The soldiers who died in Afghanistan and Iraq should also be mourned as soldiers of the nation as well as family members

Then mourn them. Nobody is stopping you. Ted Koppel chose to only mention those in Iraq, which is what turned his publicity stunt into a partisan publicity stunt.

These serious injuries are also sacrifices on behalf of the nation. They should not be hidden away by government fiat.

Nobody is hiding them away. That's just more of your politicizing. But if you are serously concerned about them, I'll be waiting for your report on what you did for them. There are a number of suggestion here of how you can help our wounded.

Finally, Ben Franklin, I note that your rambling response to Tim manages to once again attack the administration. I guess you just can't help yourself.

As Bart Simpson says: "Don't have a cow, man."

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at May 3, 2004 3:25 AM | Permalink

John Moore,
You do yourself a disservice. Your attack wasn't really ad-hominem--it actually contained some substance. I'm positively impressed.
I stand corrected so I will rephrase: The last four admininistrations have banished media coverage of casualties and military funerals at the national level, effectively banning the experience for anyone who doesn't live in the neighborhood. It is the national mourning of national sacrifice that has been banned. National mourning has been privatized. It used to happen on the national media. They are banned from broadcasting it now. Thus, the experience of mourning for our troops as a nation has been banned by the last four administrations.
You don't seem to be able to imagine that criticism of Republicans might be compatible with criticism of Democrats. It's not such a hard idea. This administration is a basket case on any area you care to examine, domestic or foreign. It is a triumph of the will that you can have a positive take on this catastrophe.
That does not preclude me from simultaneously holding that the Clinton administration's policies, while less immediately fascist at home, were still barbaric--both domestically and abroad they promoted the very neo-liberalism ideologically coherent Republicans used to support. Despite Republican and Democratic protestations to the contrary, structural adjustment policies are not the altruistic step up to improved standards of living, they are the open gate to pillage and plunder. Clinton enabled this to go on domestically in the guise of welfare reform and abroad through his treasury department policies. I therefore openly condemn the barbarity of the central guiding policies of both Clinton administrations. The Republicans had to run him out of town for personal reasons because he had stolen their issues. He was a Republicrat. Rejecting Clinton's policies is a rejection of Republican neo-liberalism. That's quite an acrobatic feat.
See? Bad-mouthing Republicans doesn't necessarily mean support for Democrats. It's a big, big world. Try looking at it sometime with your blinders off.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at May 3, 2004 4:03 AM | Permalink

John Moore,
Your own response is itself evidence of an ideological schism that Rove has successfully exacerbated. The fact that Sinclair felt as you do show a deep ideological divide over the way patriotism has been politicized. Republicans and Democrats both think supporting the nation is incompatible with the policies of the other party. That is the definition of an ideological schism. It doesn't imply that Sinclair is acting in bad faith. It implies that they represent an increasing polarization of the political spectrum that Rove has built his career on further polarizing. Whether you or I agree with Sinclair or not is not even connected to whether it can be characterized as furthering a an ideological divide. It obviously is. Rove would tell you so himself. Using a dictionary is not an act of shame. I'm happy to do so many times a day.
It is something of a disservice to Machiavelli to compare him to Karl Rove. The Mayberry Machiavelli reference means that Rove is a ruthless, scrupulous, seeker of power who will do or say anything and ruin anyone by any means necessary, if it will put his party in power. He and Bush's approval of his actions are a primary reason why Bush Republicanism doesn't even look like Republican politics anymore. They're big spenders of government money, they're building nations in the manner they condemned in Clinton, they've stacked up a staggering debt (although this is a Republican tradition that goes back to Reagan), but most fundamentally they've established time and again they simply don't have any moral or policy compass. Bush and Rove mistake pig-headedness for principle.
Rove is a Mayberry Machiavellian most importantly because he has no interest in policy, in what is good for the nation. He only has interest in what is good for the party. Ultimately, because of his lack of interest in policy, he can't even know what is in the interest of his party. He is destroying it to keep in power. If I had any identification with the Republican party I would be doing everything in my power to get monsters like Rove out of office as soon as possible to limit the damage they are doing to my party.
If you want to build a new party on the grounds of crusades and religious fundamentalism, it should be renamed as the Neo-Confederate Party it wants to become. It is rapidly running out of recognizable ties to traditional, coherent Republican values.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at May 3, 2004 4:20 AM | Permalink


I'd like to reinforce the point you made about "admininistrations have banished media coverage of casualties and military funerals at the national level, effectively banning the experience for anyone who doesn't live in the neighborhood."

In fact, the national media can cover the military funerals of any soldier with the permission of the family. What they are not being allowed to do is cover the transportation and reception at the government mortuary. It may be nit picking, but the government does not ban coverage of the funeral services associated with burial or cremation.

Every day, every week, the national media could have shown excerpts of the funerals of our veterans that have died in active service or have previously served. More than 1,000 WWII veterans pass away every day. There is no national mourning, or interest.

In fact, we are talking about a culture that picnics on Memorial Day. No visits to the cemetary. No visits to the VA hospital. No interest really at all in remembering the military dead, much less a familiarity with someone that served.

I would find the cause of lifting the ban on press voyeurism at the government mortuary more persuasive if the public demonstrated any interest to mourn, privately or personally, much less nationally, our servicemen and women.

So, why Dover? Why not Arlington or any of the other national cemetaries?

My opinion is the national press really isn't interested in Dover to honor or mourn our military dead. They are only interested when there are enough caskets together, and with enough frequency, to make a statement.

The press has little interest in running obituaries, yet the "In Memorium" lists at the end of newscasts pop up when there is a "war" of sufficient significance to generate enough tolerance among the viewers to risk them not switching channels for the brief minute of silence to show their names.

Hundreds of active duty personnel died last year with little notice because they weren't within the borders of Iraq.

I'm glad that you are honest enough to state the dead should be used to make a statement about government policy - even if the cause/effect relationship is feeble, since it is the seriousness of the cause that counts.

Again, I don't want my government to acquiesce to your demand to have authority over the display of my remains. I prefer that to be left to my surviving relatives.

Posted by: Tim at May 3, 2004 11:36 AM | Permalink

Dear Tim,
I think you are probably right about this point. There is a political agenda in the executive branch ban and there is an ideological agenda in wanting to show the bodies.
I vaguely recall seeing coverage of funerals at Arlington fairly regularly when I was young during the Vietnam War. I don't remember seeing any for over twenty years now. Why is that? Is it a function of government policy? Do the families not give their permission? Do the networks just not care?
As regards the effect of watching such funerals, I think that it really comes down to whether we as a country support what we are fighting for. If we all agree that we are fighting for a just cause, national coverage of fallen soldiers only stiffens our resolve to carry on. When half of us are convinced that the neo-cons have had a psychotic break from reality, culture, and history, it is hard to forgive a single casualty.
I'm personally more frightened by our government than the terrorists and if they keep going in the same direction, i.e. suspending the rule of law, I will eventually be forced to take up arms in the name of defending the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The right-wingers who think their opposition is afraid of armed combat have seriously misjudged their opposition.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at May 3, 2004 1:49 PM | Permalink


I see you've wandered over to my blog to continue attacking the administration.

I do not believe for one second that you have any purpose in this discussion other than harming the current Administration in an election year, and inflating your ego. I don't think you have posted a single comment that didn't contain an attack on the administration.

Anyone who thinks that your interest is in a meaningful discussion can read your own words here and make up their own minds.

Finally, I should comment that this particular technique - slipping attacks on the Administration into apparently honest comments - has turned up on our blog before. We had a long thread involving many Vietnam Veterans. People would turn up and try this same trick - ask a question and include critiques of the administration. Time after time, just like you, they would do this until I banned them or used other measures against them.

Your technique is so similar that it leads one to wonder: where do you guys learn this cheap trick? Does the DU provide hints on it?

I am quite aware of the issues today. When you were little, I was serving my country, during a hiatus in my college years. I served in active duty, in Vietnam and in the active reserves and inactive reserves. I watched the press collectively lie about the Vietnam War, starting with Tet '68 - see here for a senior journalist's condemnation of that. I saw how the left operated, going to a couple of anti-war demonstrations, and knowing some SDS leaders among others.

You may believe what you say or you may not. Leftists range from deluded to cynical, and I don't know which you are. Of course you will deny all of this, but your words speak for themselves.

Put another way, I've been studying leftist techniques since before you were born. I went through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin and saw it from the east side. When the Warsaw Pact died, I was there. I listened to Radio Moscow and Radio Havana from 1959.

I also have plenty of independent sources in Washington and elsewhere, so I don't have to rely on just the press to form my opinions.

Finally, as Bart Simpson says: "Mud is not one of the 4 food groups."

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at May 3, 2004 3:22 PM | Permalink


I'm in agreement with you about there being both a political and ideological agenda. In light of that, I am much more comfortable with the decision made by the private relatives. If they want to make a statement with their lost love one, I'd prefer they, and not the government or ideologues, have the authority to do it.

Tillman's Public Memorial

Tillman honored for leading rescue in ambush

Abizaid said he asked the lieutenant about Tillman.

"He said, 'Pat Tillman was a great Ranger and a great soldier. And what more can I say about him?'"

Tillman, 27, walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million contract offer from the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army in 2002.

A public memorial service was scheduled for Monday in California. The afternoon service will be held in Tillman's hometown of San Jose, Calif., at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden.


Concerning Arlington:

Pentagon Limits Funeral Coverage

Metzler said exceptions will be made only if a family expressly authorizes that microphones be allowed graveside or that a reporter be allowed to join mourners. "If the family gives direct permission, then of course we will honor their instructions," Metzler said.

During the funerals at Arlington of soldiers killed in Iraq, some families have allowed microphones to be placed under chairs, and in a few cases, widows of soldiers have worn microphones during funerals. Print reporters have generally been allowed to discreetly edge close enough to hear the eulogy.

News coverage of any funeral at Arlington is allowed only with the family's permission.

The Washington Post has covered every burial at Arlington for service members killed in Iraq, when families permit.

Posted by: Tim at May 3, 2004 3:27 PM | Permalink

I said the Clinton administration was barbaric. That's hardly a pro-democratic position. It's hard for me to accept that a person as intelligent and articulate as yourself can be taken in by the disinformation, but I believe you are sincere. Thank you for allowing the possibility that I am as well.
I am disgusted and frightened by the Bush administration. I was disgusted by the Clinton administration. You still seem to be incapable of conceiving the possibility that a person might oppose Bush because he is wrong about the world we live in. It doesn't require a party-inspired conspiracy to see that. Perhaps you are confused by the resonance between people trying to tell you a truth you refuse to listen to.
I also have sources in the administration so I don't have to rely exclusively on the press either. They are terrified by the reckless idiocy of this administration and its abuse of those who try to bring attention to inconvenient facts that don't fit into the neo-con dogma. That doesn't make them Democrats. That makes them rational patriots. If Bush would take advice, they would be helping him do the right thing. He and his people won't listen. That's on Bush. What is the DU?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at May 3, 2004 3:53 PM | Permalink


As Bart Simpson wrote: "I will not torment the emotionally frail."

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at May 3, 2004 10:59 PM | Permalink

Bush Thesis in reverse:

The president was particularly disturbed at having had to learn from news reports this week about the scope of misconduct documented in an Army investigative report completed in March, according to the official, who refused to be named so he could speak more candidly.

Posted by: Tim at May 6, 2004 1:18 PM | Permalink

>As Bart Simpson wrote: "I will not torment the emotionally frail."


Posted by: Keny at May 16, 2004 3:44 AM | Permalink

The media exist to sell advertising.

All the rest is temporising.

Posted by: M. Simon at May 18, 2004 10:59 PM | Permalink

Several people have complained in this thread that reporters are ignorant about the subjects they report on: business, the military, religion, etc. As a reporter, I take that criticism seriously. I write about mortgages and real estate, and I worry about getting the facts wrong while covering a pair of complex industries. Like all good reporters, I have humility.

I don't see that humility from most of the press critics here, who like to make sweeping generalizations about how all reporters -- me included -- are liars, and all we want to do is advance a liberal agenda.

I can't help but conclude that many of the press critics here don't understand the reporting business. They make generalizations and hurl accusations, yet if you asked them to describe a typical reporter's typical day -- how the reporter gets assignments, figures out who to interview, writes or produces the story, and how the reporter deals with his or her boss -- they wouldn't be able to do it accurately.

The critics complain that we reporters don't know what we're talking about. The same goes for the critics, only more so.

Posted by: Holden at May 26, 2004 4:24 PM | Permalink

From the Intro