June 23, 2004
There's Signal in That Noise: The White House, the Reality Principle and the Press
Not engaging with opponents' arguments, not permitting discordant voices a hearing, not giving facts on the ground their proper weight, not admitting mistakes-- all are of a piece with not letting the "liberal media" cloud your thinking. This is the Bush way. And disengaging from the press has been a striking innovation of this White House. It's time to connect these dots.
One of the many journalists who will be interviewing Bill Clinton this week should ask him these questions:
- Is it true that you read the national newspapers and magazines religiously when you were President, and paid close attention to what journalists were saying, even when you knew more about the issue yourself?
- How about television? Did you make a point of watching the news? Did you get summaries of the Sunday morning talk shows, and did you read them?
- In your book you talk about your frustrations with the press over its scandal coverage. But aside from those episodes, and regardless of whether you agreed with the coverage, did you find that news accounts could be a reality check for you, that the press brought things to your attention that might have been missed? Or was it so unreliable, so clearly biased, that your sense of reality would be stronger without it?
That is, don’t ask him if he liked the press; ask him how he used it. And in particular whether he ever used it to figure out what his staff and instincts weren’t telling him.
As background for the interview, I would recommend the current (June 28) issue of the New Republic, in which a variety of writers re-consider their support, and the magazine’s support, for the Iraq War. They’re not willing to say they were wrong to favor military action, but in attempting to account for their own errors in judgment, one after the other conveys a certain astonishment in discovering the Bush Administration’s habit of refusing to alter either policy or belief when realities on the ground turned out to be different than expected.
In the clash between wish and fact, wish won. When the White House was confronted with evidence contrary to doctrine, it tended to downgrade the evidence. Case-confirming evidence was treated differently. This leads to failures of intelligence, in all senses. The New Republic writers, being rationalists, hadn’t calculated on that. Repeal of the reality principle by an executive branch trying to succeed in Iraq was to them an extremely unlikely turn of events, given the kind of professionals involved— in fact, it was unthinkable in a war. (See Kenneth Pollack’s reflections on this in TNR.)
Now they’re thinking it. Peter Beinart, editor of the magazine, said “the striking thing about the pro-war camp in Washington was how little it engaged with foreign governments’ arguments, let alone experiences, and how much it focused on their motives.” That’s one kind of disengagement from reality because it contends that wrong arguments are all wrong, wrong in everything they point out. There isn’t any signal in that noise, so it is proper to ignore it.
The second group that could not be trusted was American liberals. Since the press was permeated by left-wing bias, reporting that undermined the case for war was naturally suspect. As Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon writes in his book, Misunderestimated, “Bush thinks that immersing himself in voluminous, mostly liberal-leaning news coverage might cloud his thinking.”
And so we know that press animus is involved, as is the standing charge of media bias. Liberals cannot be trusted; they want you to fail. The press is liberal, it is biased, therefore it cannot be trusted. No signal in that noise. The New Republic’s critics knew that many in the White House felt that way. They had no doubt read the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta on “Fortress Bush.”
What these writers did not know, for they could not imagine it happening quite this way, is that the White House would trust its own beliefs more than the unfolding facts to which even a successful policy would have to be adjusted. “The Bushies, Mr. Beinart said, have a ‘toxic relationship to anyone who might have information that sort of doesn’t support the party line.’” (That’s from Tom Scocca’s column in this week’s New York Observer.)
Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria is a supporter of the war. He believes that a democracy in the heart of the Middle East could yet be transformative. This is not a foe of the project who is writing in the New Republic:
The biggest mistake I made on Iraq was to believe that the Bush administration would want to get Iraq right more than it wanted to prove its own prejudices right. I knew the administration went into Iraq with some crackpot ideas, but I also believed that, above all else, it would want success on the ground. I reasoned that it would drop its pet theories once it was clear they were not working. I still don’t understand why the Bush team proved so self-defeatingly stubborn.
Zakaria had assumed that the reality principle would constrain the Bush team. It’s a mystery to him why it didn’t. Crackpot ideas are supposed to fall of their own weight once the toys are put away and the real action starts. Literary editor Leon Wieseltier said of the war planners and policy makers: “they operated unempirically, in a universe of definitions and congratulations.” Unempirically puts it well. Zakaria agrees:
The administration’s strategists used Iraq as a laboratory to prove various deeply held prejudices: for example, that the Clinton administration’s nation-building was fat and slow, that the United Nations was irrelevant, that the United States faced no problem of legitimacy in Iraq, that Ahmed Chalabi would become a Mesopotamian Charles de Gaulle. In almost every case, facts on the ground quickly disconfirmed these theories.
Wieseltier again: “Strategic thinking must have an empirical foundation.” Zakaria: “Foreign policy is not theology.” They find themselves giving these elementary reminders because they are trying to cope with something inexplicable about the Bush regime. But let’s connect some dots and maybe it will seem less so.
Not engaging with opponents’ arguments, not permitting discordant voices among supporters a hearing, not giving facts on the ground their proper weight in decisions, not admitting mistakes when events turned out to be different than expected— these are quite possibly of a piece with not letting the press “cloud your thinking,” which is the President’s way, and disconnecting from it, intellectually and practically, which is the current White House’s political innovation. (For which it does not get enough credit. I wrote about it in April as the Bush thesis on the press.)
It’s one thing to mistrust the press because you believe it’s biased. It’s another thing to detach yourself from it—pychologically, intellectually, as a governing philosophy, a matter of pride, and as daily practice in the White House. What NBC’s David Gregory said to Auletta back in January takes on a little more meaning in this connection: “My biggest frustration is that this White House has chosen an approach with the White House press corps, generally speaking, to engage us as little as possible.”
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post says that officials have “talking points that they e-mail to friends and everyone says exactly the same thing. You go through the effort of getting Karl Rove on the phone and he’ll say exactly the same thing as Scott McClellan,” the White House press secretary.
McCLellan has a slightly different take on his role, according to “Fortress Bush.” Previous secretaries under Clinton and Bush-the-elder knew they worked for the President, but also felt they represented the press. That tension was part of the job of being a honest broker between the President and reporters. But here’s a different view of the job:
Unlike Fitzwater or McCurry, who believed that a press secretary had to represent two masters, McClellan says, “I work for the President of the United States. I serve as an advocate for his thinking and his agenda.” Instead of specifically saying that he represents the press as well, he says, “I’m here serving the American people, too.”
Whereas the press corps is serving the American liberal. Who wants to be an internal advocate for that? McClellan told Auletta that he sometimes does advocate for more engagement with journalists “when I think it’s appropriate. But unless they’re with the President twenty-four hours a day they’re not going to be happy.” And so when they’re unhappy and complaining of disengagement there is again no signal in that noise.
Then there’s this from Mark Halperin, ABC News political director, who also edits and co-writes The Note. The 2000 campaign and the years since have provided us with a lesson, he said: “It is that a President surrounded by advisers who understand that the public perceives the media as a special interest rather than as guardians of the public interest can manipulate us forever and set the press schedule, access, and agenda that he wants.” Just so.
In the course of finding laughable the idea that the press has been too soft on Bush, Ari Fleischer, the President’s former press secretary, said: “The White House press corps sees its role as taking the opposite side of whomever they cover.” (Granted, a different theory than “liberal bias,” but then Fleischer is gone now.) This is why it would be wise to question Clinton on his own daily habits for informing himself: getting outside the bubble, keeping himself wired to what’s happening. It would be helpful to know whether the press—which he thought was trying to destroy him at times—ever served as that reality check, or helped sharpen his thinking, or told him what his aides didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t.
Here’s Bush in an interview with Brit Hume of Fox: “The best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.” Hmmm. Someone ought to ask Clinton about that method of staying in touch. Better yet, ask the military command how they do it. Chief of Staff Andrew Card on the President’s routines: “He may skim the front page of the papers. Laura reads the papers and she alerts him.”
Meanwhile, and at right angles to my discussion so far: Todd Gitlin published an essay in the American Prospect this week with some provocative observations about failures at the New York Times. These came not only from Gitlin himself (who is a friend and colleague of mine) but from confidential sources at the paper and one very big named source, Max Frankel, the former executive editor, editorial page editor and Washington bureau chief of the New York Times.
“It’s getting there, isn’t it?” This was the best thing Frankel could say about the recent editors’ note explaining lapses in the Times reporting on weapons of mass destruction. (See PressThink on the note and the transparency era descending on the Times.) The theme of Gitlin’s piece: the Washington Post is surpassing its rival in the coverage of politics, including the politics of the Iraq war. The Times is faltering. An unnamed investigative reporter at the paper says: “Match the Times against The Washington Post. They’re getting their clock cleaned. It’s obvious to everyone except the top editors of The New York Times.” The editors note, wrote Gitlin, goes to something deeper:
The everyday slackness and gullibility, the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand blah-blah and other unreflective stenography that passes for “coverage” of the most powerful government in the history of the world. Omission includes the failure to connect dots. Position means dumping the tough stuff in the back pages. Leave aside the case of the missing weapons of mass destruction and the Times has still not covered itself with glory.
Unfortunately, neither executive editor Bill Keller, nor managing editor Jill Abramson, nor Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman returned Gitlin’s calls. I’m not surprised. It’s one thing to shrug off anonymous staffers crying, “There’s no editorial leadership.” After all, they could be malcontents. (And editors are busy people.) It is much harder to answer Max Frankel’s criticisms, especially within Times-style decorum.
Frankel is of the view that when you correct your reporting, you do it with reporting, not with an editor’s note or a Daniel Okrent column. Here’s the meat of what he had to say:
“I thought Okrent’s take on the whole situation was fine,” Frankel went on. “I couldn’t have asked for a better expression. But ideally, the people who were involved should be heard from. Why should I have to read The New York Review of Books for what [Pentagon correspondent] Michael Gordon or Judy Miller have to say? I would have sat down a long time ago and said, ‘Judy, sit down and write me a long memo and tell me just what happened. Now that your sources are out of the bag and don’t have to be protected, let’s turn that into a story.’
“Whether she’s capable of writing it or the editors do is a detail. If you’re going to teach both the readers and the profession, you want them to know more of what you do. What are our methods like, from protection of sources to the way we make assignments to the collaboration of reporters and editors? We still need a big retrospective look at what happened.”
Several other themes are developed around the “clock cleaning” story. This for example: “You don’t have any sense from the Washington bureau that there’s a government — just a lot of politics.” Another involves the Bush White House and its press policy. Gitlin:
One recently departed White House reporter for a major newspaper told me, “This White House is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cover. The editors need to realize their journalists are like in straitjackets. When it came to Lewinsky and Clinton’s campaign finances, White House reporters had help from investigative reporters. Where are they now?”
Frankel says categorically, “You can’t get news out of the White House. You have to go up to Capitol Hill and see what they’re doing there, you have to go to the departments and agencies … . If there’s anything missing, it’s the single voice pulling it all together.”
By clock-cleaning Gitlin and his sources mean things like this: Bush bashes Kerry for trying to cut $1.5 billion from the intelligence services nine years ago in a bill he sponsored that went nowhere. Kerry says its nonsense. The Times does a campaign sparring story— he said, she said. The Post reporters go back to 1995, look up the bill, and find that “the Republican-led Congress that year approved legislation that resulted in $3.8 billion being cut over five years from the budget of the National Reconnaissance Office — the same program Kerry said he was targeting.” Gitlin comments:
The Post’s headline writer got the point: “Bush Exaggerates Kerry’s Position on Intelligence Budget.” Eight days later, the Times got this on page A10 — in the 24th paragraph of a Katherine Seelye piece.
Another example, more serious, is from the weapons of mass destruction story, phase two. Both papers were taken in by the same combination of sources. Both had to go back and look critically at their own, overly credulous, stories. Eventually, they had to obey the reality principle. But, says a Times-person:
“The Miller problem is not so much what she wrote before the war — we’d all like not to be snowed by the administration, but sometimes we are — but what hasn’t happened since. [The Post’s] Barton Gellman’s reaction afterward was, ‘Where the hell [are these weapons of mass destruction]? Were you jerking us around?’”
“Judy Miller’s reaction was, ‘Look over here, look over there for WMD.’”
I wrote recently about another example: Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times did a he said, she said story (“Campaign Ads Are Under Fire for Inaccuracy.”) Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei in the Washington Post did a he said, she said… now we said, and it actually came to a conclusion: “From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity.” As might be expected this drew a heated, fact-filled 6,500 word rebutal from the Bush/Cheyney campaign. (That’s one way of getting information out of the White House.)
The Post article contained a sentence that caught my eye, because it was so unusual, and I didn’t believe it. After citing figures that show 75 percent of the Bush campaign’s ads are negative, compared to only 27 percent for the Kerry campaign, Milbank and VandeHei stuck this in: “The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate.”
Wait, both agreed on something like that? Hard to imagine. The principle these days is to dispute everything down to the third decimal point. And sure enough, in its press release “Setting the Record Straight,” the Bush/Cheyney campaign claimed the figures were inaccurate. Not 27 percent, 41 percent. So much for “both campaigns said…” I mention it as a small example of what press relations are like in the Bush White House.
Part of what the Post is doing better, in this analysis, is coping with a White House that is “impossible” to cover in a traditional fashion because, as a matter of policy, it rarely gives out information, or adds to what is announced, and those who work there are told not to talk to the press, but to keep themselves busy working for the American people. On the whole they comply; thus there are very few leaks, and many, many unreturned phone calls.
Over the years various observers in journalism, in the academy and in politics have argued that White House news is a co-production of the executive, which is supposed to “make” the news, and the press, which is supposed to report it. Yes, there are tensions and struggles, “good” periods and bad (and there are scandals, when the dynamic changes) but the relationship is a relationship. Recognizing they need each other, the two parties cooperate in the production of news. They are adversaries, but also intimates.
After all, the White House has to “get its message out” through the news media, tell its side of the story. The correspondents need material by deadline. The White House naturally tries to manage the news; the press naturally resents it and sometimes bites back. But the conflict remains within certain bounds. Thus, it was said to be news “management” (and thought rather clever) when bad news was released on Friday of a three-day weekend.
That all seems quite innocent now. The traditional notion—tension amid cooperation between the press and the White House—presupposed a bond of mutual convenience and necessity. Realism forced the parties into a relationship, it was thought. But when we use phrases like “the new normal,” what we are trying to say is that realism can change abruptly. I believe this has happened between the Bush White House and the press. There’s a new normal.
This White House thinks it doesn’t “need” the news media for anything— particularly the experienced reporters at the big networks and outfits like the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Time. It has other ways to get the message out. Therefore it does not grant the same status to the press and its inquiries. Journalists are just a special interest wanting handouts in the form of stories, scoops. And if not that, then they’re another advocacy group trying to make trouble for Bush— in effect, “working for Kerry” as many partisans on the right firmly believe.
If “feed the beast or get bitten by it” was normal for a White House press secretary like Marlin Fitzwater (Bush the elder) or Larry Speakes (Ronald Reagan), “beast, what beast?” may be the new normal. This is not so much an increase in tensions with the press, as a withering away of the whole relationship, as one party drops the premise of continuous engagement, and day-to-day struggle, with the other.
Politicians have approval ratings. News organizations have credibility ratings. If your approval if higher than their credibility, why communicate through the press at all? Why not become your own news medium? Recently, the way has been shown :
(NEW YORK) - The National Rifle Association is taking its news venture nationwide and NRA Executive Vice President will launch the initiative by making a major, landmark announcement on Thursday, June 17 at 2 pm ET.
NRANews.com, a new source of news and information for nearly four million National Rifle Association members and 80 million American gun owners, and SIRIUS Satellite Radio (NASDAQ: SIRI), known for delivering news and information, announced today an agreement to broadcast NRANEWS’ live three-hour news program daily from 2:00 to 5:00 pm ET on SIRIUS Channel 126. The show will be rebroadcast the following morning from 6:00 to 9:00 am ET on SIRIUS Right Channel 142.
Some people think the NRA’s move to become a broadcaster is a bluff, or mere publicity stunt. But I think something more radical may be afoot: who says news has to come from journalists? Why grant the news media any standing at all when you can become a broadcaster yourself? Doesn’t the front page of the White House website work just as well—maybe better—than the front page of the daily newspaper, or a press conference you cannot control?
If I wanted to determine whether such thinking was really a part of the Bush team’s calculations, I might consult someone like Mark McKinnon, the president’s admaker and media adviser. Well, Auletta did:
The Bush Administration appears to believe that the power of the White House press corps is slowly ebbing. “I think when viewed through a historical lens the role and importance of the White House press corps today have diminished—perhaps significantly,” Mark McKinnon says. “Drudge”—Matt Drudge’s popular Internet blog—“and non-stop cable news have created a virtual real-time news environment… . White House press briefings today are televised”—instantly posted on the Internet.
Stay with that premise for a moment, and peer into the politics. The Republican base is wired and ready and it believes— no matter what the press says. The liberal media thesis and the bias wars fit in perfectly there. The Bush haters will scream no matter what the White House says, and if press reports give them more stuff to scream about, who cares? The people who might go either way probably aren’t customers for the traditional press— or they don’t trust it. (Plus our friends at Fox are busy cleaning CNN’s clock.) Now where in that picture is there a beast to be fed? Where are there recognized costs to starving, stiffing or just ignoring it? Nowhere, I say.
My suggestion, though, is that there are such costs— to the American project in Iraq, to Bush himself, and to the political fortunes of the White House. It amazes me that the President’s friends, and Republicans up for re-election, aren’t more concerned about it. In “Fortress Bush” there is a story about this. It involves what is certainly one of the Administration’s biggest media mistakes, even by Republican calculations:
During his time at the White House, Fleischer deflected reporters’ questions about what would constitute victory in Iraq. At an April 11, 2003, press briefing, he said, “I am not going to be able to shed any more light on when the President will say the mission is accomplished.” Three weeks later, Bush appeared on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner.
Taken seriously, reporters’ questions about what would constitute victory in Iraq might force you to stop and think seriously about precisely that, even if you do not trust their motives for asking. In this case (and how many others are there?) what the press wanted to know was actually a critical matter for the Administration itself to struggle with— and to do so empirically, as it were.
Instead, theology (and its tool, public relations) took over, for that was the only sense in which the actual mission on the ground could be declared accomplished on the aircraft carrier. There was signal in the noise from reporters, but Bush and company had decided to miss it. The White House was reduced to denying any role in unfurling the “Mission Accomplished” banner, and then further degraded when it had to reverse that denial.
There are many ways to explain the troubles at the New York Times, and many reasons why its rival, the Post, might be pulling ahead, journalistically. But one factor, I think, is that the Post under Leonard Downie seems to have adjusted much better than the Times under Bill Keller to what is radical and different in the Bush team’s approach to press relations, it’s strategic thinking about the wider media landscape, its refusal to accept the constraints of the reality principle, and its “unempirical” style all around. (And I haven’t even mentioned secrecy under conditions of permanent war.) This is not a normal reporting challenge for journalists. It originates in the new normal the Bush team has created for itself— and thus for any press that would attempt to “cover” it.
Robert Cox of the National Debate just posted a short interview with Gloria Borger of CNBC. It was her interview with Vice President Dick Cheney last Thursday that kicked off the latest controversy over the New York Times reporting. (See ReadingA1, a blog about the New York Times, on it.) When confronted by Borger with comments he had made on Meet The Press in 2001, Cheney actually denied saying it was “pretty well confirmed” that Mohamed Atta went to Prague in April 2001 and met with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia. But he did say it. Is that theology, strategy, or self-deception? One thing is sure: it’s unempirical in the extreme. Cox and Borger puzzle it out:
Q. Let’s talk about your recent interview with Vice President Cheney. Your “pretty well confirmed” quote of the Vice President was accurate yet Cheney denied it…
A. ...twice…we were at a remote location so there was no opportunity to put up the quotes.
Q. But you knew you had it right?
A. Sure, and I knew journalists would pick up on it, and they did. There was no point in getting in an argument with the Vice President of the United States.
Q. You mentioned being at a remote location. Would the interview have been different in your Capital Report studio?
A. Yes. I did not have the exact quote with me and there was no way to display the quote like Tim Russert does on Meet the Press. That’s what makes Tim Russert so great, the quote or video tape is displayed for everyone to see, so the discussion can move from there.
Q. Cheney had to know that you had the quote right - the interview you quoted from was one of the most significant appearances since he has been in office. Why do think he was so insistent?
A. I have known Cheney for a long time but I can’t get inside Cheney’s head…
She wound up explaining it as a point of pride for him. But there is no pride in a televised put down of the reality principle, or the refusal to claim your words as your own. Nor is it effective politics in the long run. It will take an act of imagination before the press as a whole learns how to deal with the Bush White House and its new normal. The New York Times is still discovering that. The Washington Post seems to have learned the lesson. But maybe a cleaned clock will keep better time in the future.
After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links…
Ken Auletta, Fortress Bush (The New Yorker, Jan. 18, 2004).
Related PressThink: Bush to Press: “You’re Assuming That You Represent the Public. I Don’t Accept That.”
Reacting to this post, New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston writes to Romenesko’s Letters column:
Suggestion for PressThink’s Rosen
6/24/2004 9:01:42 PM
From DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Getting President Clinton, a voracious reader of news, to give thoughtful answers to Jay Rosen’s questions would enlighten our knowledge about the role of news in shaping our government and its policies.
If journalists ask these questions — and others about the intersection between news reports and policy — we might also develop insights into our own shortcomings and strengths in helping our free society endure. Two other questions: What policy shifts did you make in response to news coverage (or noncoverage)? What was your reasoning?
Suggestion for Professor Rosen: Invite Clinton to speak at NYU and fill the room with journalism students whose admission ticket is submitting to Rosen cogent, thoughtful, probing questions, the best of which Rosen will call on students to ask.
Hmmm. Certainly would draw a crowd.
Bill Clinton gives a partial answer to the questions I began with, on Larry King Live, June 24:
CLINTON: When the really, you know, outrageous stuff was flying and all those charges were coming out, I literally didn’t read them.
CLINTON: I arranged to get clips every morning from all the major papers on the editorials, the op-ed pieces and the news stories that related to my public performance as president — including critical ones. Somebody said, “I think Bill Clinton’s got a terrible policy in Bosnia” or something, I read that. But that personal stuff, I never read because I knew that all it could do was to keep me from doing my job.
Fog of the Fortress Mentality… Stephen Waters comments on a public temper: “Fortress Bush discounts the main stream media. Fortress Media discounts the President’s administration. Fortress Left discounts every single error in its position, Fortress Right follows suit. Fortress Moore gets awards and a fat wallet for self-indulgent agitprop…. If arguments are unlikely to dent the fortress, it is no wonder that Socrates’ preferred method was not to argue but to ask questions— to pit one intellect against itself.”
Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) back in May: “What’s most bothersome to me is that the anti-Bush stance adopted by most media organizations makes their reporting less useful to those of us who are trying to figure out what’s going on, and makes the Administration, and its supporters, tend to tune it all out, possibly causing them to miss important information. I don’t know what to do about it, except to try to point out the stuff that it seems they’re missing.”
In a real sense, they cut themselves off from reality. Joshua Micah Marshall, “The Post-Modern President” in the Washington Monthly (September, 2003):
Within the White House, the opinions of whole groups of agency experts were routinely dismissed as not credible, and unhelpful facts were dismissed as the obstructionist maneuverings of bureaucrats seeking to undermine needed change….
In any White House, there is usually a tension between the political agenda and disinterested experts who might question it. But what’s remarkable about this White House is how little tension there seems to be. Expert analysis that isn’t politically helpful simply gets ignored….
By disregarding the advice of experts, by shunting aside the cadres of career professionals with on-the-ground experience in these various countries, the administration’s hawks cut themselves off from the practical know-how which would have given them some chance of implementing their plans successfully. In a real sense, they cut themselves off from reality.
For those with a tolerance for psychoanalytic theory: The “reality principle” is an idea borrowed from Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis Lecture XXXI (1932): “The Anatomy of the Mental Personality.”
One can hardly go wrong in regarding the ego as that part of the id which has been modified by its proximity to the external world and the influence that the latter has had on it, and which serves the purpose of receiving stimuli and protecting the organism from them, like the cortical layer with which a particle of living substance surrounds itself. This relation to the external world is decisive for the ego.
The ego has taken over the task of representing the external world for the id, blindly striving to gratify its instincts in complete disregard of the superior strength of outside forces, could not otherwise escape annihilation. In the fulfilment of this function, the ego has to observe the external world and preserve a true picture of it in the memory traces left by its perceptions, and, by means of the reality-test, it has to eliminate any element, in this picture of the external world which is a contribution from internal sources of excitation.
On behalf of the id, the ego controls the paths of access to motility, but it interpolates between desire and action the procrastinating factor of thought, during which it makes use of the residues of experience stored up in memory. In this way it dethrones the pleasure-principle, which exerts undisputed sway over the processes in the id, and substitutes for it the reality-principle, which promises greater security and greater success.
You can find the whole lecture here.
Peter A. Brown, columnist for the Orlando Sentinel (June 25): “Coverage of the 9-11 commission’s staff report, and related stories, to impugn the Bush administration’s veracity over Iraq looks like hostility to me. Conversely, the president ought not to view the news media as the enemy. This can lead to unfortunate excesses, as Richard Nixon demonstrated.”
David Corn, Washington correspondent for The Nation on The New Republic writers, liberal hawks who supported the war and are now disillusioned: “This may have been the non-conservative hawks’ most profound miscalculation. They were blinded by their own desires for war (for the appropriate reasons, of course), and their enthusiasm was not sufficiently tempered by a rather harrowing reality: Bush would have to be the one to get right the occupation, reconstruction and democratization of Iraq—a tremendously challenging set of tasks requiring intelligence, understanding, sophistication, concentration, and open-mindedness. Talk about naive.” (From: New Republic Sends Its (Limited) Regrets.)
Now one could say, “it’s all political, another partisan group,” but then maybe it isn’t. From the Associated Press back in February:
President Bush’s administration distorts scientific findings and seeks to manipulate experts’ advice to avoid information that runs counter to its political beliefs, a private organization of scientists asserted on Wednesday.
Let’s call it a “related charge” to the charges I am making here. And if you’re really interested, see this report from Congressman Henry Waxman’s subcommittee staff: Politics and Science in the Bush Administration. (it’s pdf) From this site.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz tells a Congressional committee: “”Frankly, part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors,” gets denounced for it by Howard Kurtz (“Paul Wolfowitz is basically accusing journalists of cowardice”) and Maureen Dowd (“slimes journalists”) defends himself on MSNBC, and finally issues an apology to the press covering Iraq. Round-up here.
The New Republic’s Franklin Foer: Closing of the Presidential Mind. A lengthy essay making the case that a “derisive attitude toward experts,” with long ideological roots in modern conservativism, has grown to extremes in the Bush Administration: (The link works for subscribers only.)
Bush has stripped the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy of his title “assistant to the president”—a migration down the organizational flow chart that requires him to report through White House aides rather than to the president himself.
… The most common explanation for this animus is that the White House overflows with political hacks uninterested in the nitty-gritty of policy. But the administration’s expert-bashing also has deep roots in ideology. Since its inception, modern American conservatism has harbored a suspicion of experts, who, through adherence to inductive reasoning and academic methodologies, claim to provide objective research and analysis.
Posted by Jay Rosen at June 23, 2004 6:30 PM
How do you suppose a Fortress Bush might happen?
> At an April 11, 2003, press briefing, [Fleischer] said, “I am not going to be able to shed any more light on when the President will say the mission is accomplished.”
One of the greatest computational geniuses of all time, Alan Turing, inventor of the concept of stored program computers, concluded that one of the questions that could not necessarily be answered by a program while it was running was when the program itself would finish its task.
So while the media hounded the administration for when there would be a specific declaration of victory, sensible people outside the main stream media understood that the answer couldn't be determined in advance. Conditions that complete a mission are based on complex events, not a calendar. But to the national press, not to have a schedule seemed to imply not having a plan.
The Bush administration was being criticized by media for not being able to set a date when it would have been presumptuous to try. It is no surprise that in the face of media pressure that on the toppling of the regime a "Mission Accomplished" event was organized. Neither is it a surprise that media kick the administration around for subsequent events either.
A Press Secretary would be eaten alive who dared suggest, "I can't tell you when the mission will be accomplished. We hope it will be soon, but war is filled with uncertainty. The only thing we are certain about is that whether this takes two weeks, ten weeks, or several years, this administration realizes the importance of removing the threat and establishing a stable government in Iraq and is resolved to complete the job."
Jay says. "There was a signal in the noise from reporters, but Bush and company missed it." There were other signals in the noise but neither side seems to read them well.
No complex operation should ever forecast a time frame?
So when Kennedy said we'd be on the moon by xxx he talking out his ...
JFK was not forecasting, he was setting a goal. That is a very different situation. That he was right was a combination of an amazing amount of good luck, and JFK's ability, through his spurring the imagination, to get many of the smartest people around to devote enormous amounts of time to get the job done. The fact that huge amounts of money were available helped.
Regarding the White House comment on the "gotcha" game... is there anyone in the United States who does not believe that the MSM has turned White House press conferences into a gotcha game? If you don't believe it, get some old videotapes of the press briefings during the "get Bush for his National Guard issues" time. Gotcha is putting it mildly. Starving hyenas would be closer.
So the White House has decided to play the game differrently than conventional wisdom prefers. So what? If the press is viewed as a political enemy (which this year it clearly is - viewed as one and actually one), warfare against the press makes sense. In other words, concealment of information (except to a privileged one or two), refusal to play gotcha games, bypassing the news media via other media. Why not?
The suggestion that somehow engaging with the press would lead to better decision making in the White House strikes me as silly. There are lots of different groups feeding ideas into the fray - the press has no monopoly on potential consequences - in fact, it would be surprising if they asked any questions that the staff hasn't been asking also.
As to "not giving facts on the ground their proper weight" - that's just Bush bashing. It may be accurate (I really don't know) but it really has nothing to do with journalism.
Now if the White House is just ignoring the news, that would be a problem. But Bush doesn't need to read it himself - he has staff for that. Jimmy Carter, one the most ineffectual presidents in my lifetime focused on detail. It didn't do him any good. Reagan, who is probably not too popular here, nonetheless had many successes, even though he slept in some cabinet meetings - comment from my neuroscientist daughter: good, that made him smarter).
I would guess that Bill Clinton watched a lot of TV news. Unlike Bush, Clinton is very much a narcissist - enough so to damage his judgement, as has been seen in his post presidency period. A narcissist is going to watch anything he can about himself - especially praise or himself speaking. By the way, none of this is meant to detract from Clinton's obvious brilliance.
There is more wording about the Bush White House being too focused on wish instead of fact. This wouldn't surprise me, as I have observed that neocons have some utopian thought habits left over from their leftist roots, and neocons are certainly influential. After all, many neocons supported the Kosovo action, which is proving to be a failure. However, again, this is simply not a journalism issue.
But since you bring it up:the Bush Administration's habit of refusing to alter either policy or belief when realities on the ground turned out to be different than expected.
The Bush Administration, a conservative administration explicitly against nation building, changed 180 degrees when the circumstances on the ground changed - namely, the 9-11 event. We could argue details about the more recent assertions, but why? It's not about journalism.
I would offer a journalistic equivalent. On 9-11, the world changed. A shadowy group made the most deadly attack in history against the United States, targetting civilians.
Almost three years later, we have the media playing the Abu Ghraib game - raising hell over and over and over again about an out-of-control military unit's one-day sex orgy, and expanding it (as I predicted to myself when this started) to attack the use of coercive interrogations of terroriss.
Excuse me, but my daughter lives close to a probable target. Too close. I don't want some attitude that we should play by World War I rules on interrogation when dealing with terrorists withholding vital information damaging our capabilities.
The journalism profession is playing politics of usual. During a war it happily getts clssified information and spreads it around - knowing that it will be used by our enemy to recruit more terrorists. This is highly irresponsible behavior.
I suggest that it is the journalism profession which has failed to adapt to changes in facts on the ground. It is acting as if there wasn't a great big hole in Manhattan. It is acting like our little war with Afghanistan would somehow solve the problem, and thus it's fine to release damaging information.
In war, there is a cocncept of secrets. In modern American journalism, secrets are those things to get from leakers and provide to the world. Nobody would deny that secrets are kept when they don't need to be, but that is no excuse to release damaging information to our enemies.
Maybe the next attack will wake journalism up. Maybe when a dirty bomb makes downtown Manhattan uninhabitable, or an entire high rise building or 5 is poisoned with Sarin or Cyanide, killing thousands, the surviving journalists will wake up.
I do believe that the Bush administration made a mistake that adds to this attitude - it said we should go on with our lives as if nothing happened. Normally that is ccrrect after a classic small terrrorist attack with political aims. But when a huge attack occurs, causing the recognition that there are people willing to kill thousands, willing to commit suicide, and thus willing to acquire and use WMD's, it's time to go to a true war footing, not life as usual. Bush didn't do that and he should have.
Was the press asking if he should?
I wanted to make one addition of perspective to the Abu Ghraib story - something I have never seen in the coverage of this. I may have mentionedc this in a previous post. I went through far worse humiliation than Abu Ghraib in US Navy boot camp - 12 weeks of it. When I went to Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, I experienced significantly worse interrogation preparation techniques and was interrogated under real torture. Even though it has been 37 years, I still cannot go into detail (yes, it's classified, and although my knowledge is no longer classified, I have been informed that it matches the still classified information at that school, which is still operating). Hence unlike the press, I removed my story to protect future American POWs.
So when I read about Abu Ghraib, I wasn't too interested in the "torture" and preparation therefore. I was distressed that this unit had gotten out of control, and especially uoset that a woman was photographed mocking a prisoner's genitals. But I knew these people were on their way to big trouble (the investigation had been announced in January). Breaking rocks in Leavenworth is reportedly not a lot of fun.
However, I was angered by the unnecessary release of the photos. I have since tracked down where they probably came from, and it was from a source trying to protect one of the accused. So the media, while reporting in horrified voices about this, is protecting one of the perpetrators by poisoning the jury ("command influencec") by running those photos.
Why were those photos released? Was there anything Americans needed to learn from those photographs that was worth American lives?
My answer is no, unless journalists have lost their writing skills. The events could have been descrived without the pictures.
The pictures were used by the press to increase ratings, and also to tie a bizarre set of homoerotic abuse pictures to George Bush as part of the larger "gotcha" campaign against Bush.
Americans will die as a result. Some in the press, in this case, are responsible for murder.
It reminds me of Vietnam.
There is a tendency to jump on a particular phrase, mutilate it beyond recognition, and follow the mutilation off on a tangent. I'm not going to rummage around in comment history for the line, but the inference is that Bush does not read newspapers and has therefore lost touch and, furthermore, feels, as a tactic, that it does not need to engage them.
A question and then an anecdote with two observations.
Question: Has anyone asked the White House how major media is represented to the President as part of his Daily Briefing? Clippings? References? Summaries?
The anecdote: In September, 2002, as publisher, I wrote a question to George Bush, Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, and Tom Daschle:
Under what conditions do you believe a country might forfeit its sovereignty? Who considers this issue in international diplomacy and international law?
We wish to write editorially on the subject for our 15,000 circulation daily newspaper. Thank you for your comments and for your pointers to sources of interest.
Not surprisingly, I received no substantive answer to a question that came from out of the blue. But March, 2003, brought an interesting opportunity. Publishers from the National Newspaper Association were invited to attend a "high level" briefing at the White House and another at the State Department. I was able to raise my question at both sessions. They promised to follow up -- and at least one of them did.
First observation: The Bush administration in March, 2003, was not trying to wall off the press. They were proactively trying to communicate with the broader press -- I'm talking real telephone numbers for inquiries from community press. Perhaps the conclusion jumped to about the White House "disengaging from the press" is, instead, hubris getting in the way of fair observation. Why do you suppose the White House was actively engaged in exploring alternative channels to the Main Stream Media? Don't you suppose there was a reason why? (The answer that they wanted to control the press gets minus ten points.)
Second observation: My question from 2002 is a damn good question. Precise. Pointed. It forms the crux of current world affairs. It is why the UN is ineffective (Article 2, Paragraph 7). It is why the U.S. and the coalition is in Iraq. It is why genocide has been tolerated in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Balkans. It changes the premises for dealing with North Korea, Isreal and Palestine.
Since March, 2003, I have fed the question to the Asociated Press and the Economist to no avail. [Although a former Secretary of State did respond that the U.S. would not wish to have another entity examining its sovereignty.] So who the hell amongst the press carries enough weight to get this question to the forefront?
Back to Jay's focus: "The mission will be accomplished when we say so" turned out to be disaster for Bush himself.
That's because the press is never the problem, because it is outside its own scope to examine. When was the last time Wolf Blitzer said, "Boy! Did I screw up!" and laugh it off.
Jay continues: There are hidden costs to the benefits of being question-free, just as engagement with the press, for all its costs, has hidden benefits. I do not believe these have been properly calculated by the Bush team.
Perhaps "engagement" would be better if PBS's "On the Media" weren't peopled by the same people who cause the problem. Sent to them June 7th:
Questioning Pentagon staff about Armed Forces network broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh's show, "On the Media" was skeptical about one person's claim that Limbaugh was balanced on the other side by NPR.
But wait. Later in your show, you berated George Bush's advertising campaign at length for lying. To toy with the Bush story so long, and then to gloss over Kerry campaign lies in three short seconds -- diminishing them as "less so" -- shows that sometimes you unwittingly DO balance the Limbaugh perspective.
1) Lying is lying and deserves to be exposed equally.
2) Look at your own work with the same keen eye you use on others.
Is it worth bringing these back up for reference?
Interview With President Bush
HUME: How do you get your news?
BUSH: I get briefed by Andy Card and Condi in the morning. They come in and tell me. In all due respect, you've got a beautiful face and everything.
I glance at the headlines just to kind of a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage.
HUME: Has that been your practice since day one, or is that a practice that you've...
BUSH: Practice since day one.
BUSH: Yes. You know, look, I have great respect for the media. I mean, our society is a good, solid democracy because of a good, solid media. But I also understand that a lot of times there's opinions mixed in with news. And I...
HUME: I won't disagree with that, sir.
BUSH: I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world.
Filter Tips, Oct. 16, 2003
It's an interesting epistemological question how our president knows what he thinks he knows and why he thinks it is less distorted than what the rest of us know or think we know. Every president lives in a cocoon of advisers who filter reality for him, but it's stunning that this president actually seems to prefer getting his take on reality that way.
How Books Have Shaped U.S. Policy
, April 5, 2003
Bush's Summer Reading List Hints at Iraq, August 20, 2002
A President's Primers, August 2001
Tim: the charge that the Bush team ignored the reality principle has to do with the way it conducted the war, the planning and especially the peace.
I think it is a valid charge, especially in the post-"regime change" planning and operations.
You may be missing or dissing the significance of war supporters, as at the New Republic, losing all confidence in the "empiricism" of the Bush team. To me that says something.
I may be missing something, that's always the most difficult to detect. I don't think I've dissed the significance, but if I have can you point it out?
I'm actually surprised it has take as long as it has, given how quickly supporters have doubted past operations - such as Kosovo from about day 7 to 78.
I also don't think that's the point, or the danger, of the Bush thesis. Nor do I think the Bush administration is particularly unique in thinking their id powerful enough to withstand the pressures of the external world that would crush most normal (read less ambitious) souls.
The Bush thesis, and correct my errors here, consists really of three
- I can afford to not speak to the press, and go around it, with greater abandon due to its reduced credibility (reasons for loss of credibility being another discussion)
- I can afford to attack facts in the press and even out-right deny history because ambiguous stories of reality are subject to the credulity of the consumer rather than the credibility of the reporter.
- I can afford not to pay attention to what the press is saying because it lacks credibility and distorts the signal.
I don't think you're bashing Bush or the war, well, at least not with the unreasonable abandon that the term bashing implies.
Phoenix Woman (Jay, I'll try to deal with this side issue minimally - one response and that it to Phoenix Woman)
Mr. Moore, unless you or your buddies died or were repeatedly gang-raped for little or no reason, then you did not get the Abu Ghraib treatment.
None of the information you gave me even hinted a gang rape. But since you mention it, it does lead me to question why the events at Abu Ghraib are of so much interest to the left and the media than the epidemic of rape in our own prisones.
One could draw the conclusion that the treatment of terrorists is more important to those you and the media than what happens to Americans every day in every state in the land.
Tell me, Phoenix Woman, how many times have you demonstrated against prison rape in the US? For that matter, do you like Sheriff Joe's Tent City?
Moving on to the deaths. It is clear (in the time I spent scanning your sources) in the cases given that all the deaths (with one possible exception) were unintentional.
But just to answer your question: yes, people did die in the training; a person in my boot camp company had his back broken in a blanket party; another attempted suicide. People died at SERE school, and we had to sign a waiver before we went in giving the Navy permission to do anything they wanted to us.
And remember: Our own military intelligence personnel told the Red Cross that between 70 to 90% of all the people in Iraqi prisons were arrested 'by mistake'. So they're being tortured 'by mistake'.
False assumption. I'm not surprised. Most people are in Iraqi prisons for crime. Don't you remember that Saddam emptied the prisons just before the war. Your assumption that the number applies to those subject to interrogation is simply that - an assumption.
I will take your comments seriously when you care as much for prisoners in American jails as you do for those in the terrorist/resistance wings of Iraqi jails.
But, of course, if you're a bigot who takes the "Nuke their ass and take their gas" philosophy, then these little injustices, done to a people we were 'freeing', don't bother you at all, do they?
My god, I've been discovered!
Since it would appear to be Bash Bush in the main article, answers, equally divorced from journalism seem appropriate.
The Bush vs. Science narrative has some problems. First, it uses a report prepared for a partisan opponent of Bush (Waxman). Does the press have any skepticism of this - I haven't seen any.
Is it shocking that an administration might replace scientists appointed by another administration? Hardly.
Is it shocking that an administration might tinker with the results of studies? I used to think so until I saw the Clinton administration in action in areas where I had my own sources. Should an administration tinker with scientific results? No, in my opinion, but then I don't think the media should be biased either, and the two are of a kind. If liberal media bias is okay and even good, then presidential tinkering with reports is okay and even good.
Dr. Watson was pushed out of the lead position in the global warming debate. Dr. Watson was the leading proponent that global warming, caused by mankind, was a problem. He has an agenda, which is not unusual in science.
Under the Clinton administration, friends of mine who are climate researchers would only tell me their real opinions in whispers. They were afraid that if they showed skepticism to the accepted anthropogenic global warming scenarios, they would no longer get research grants. One of them, now that he can study without that fear, has discovered shocking errors in the paleoclimatic data used to calibrate global warming models. Another friend, an agronomist studying the impact of increased CO2 in the atmosphere, was defunded.
The message was clear: only science which supported the global warming hypothesis was allowable. Science which might help understand the positive consequences of CO2 increases was verboten.
Now the shoe is on the other foot.
This is a price we pay for public research - it becomes subject to political pressure (AIDS research, for example, siphoned hugh resources away from other more common diseases).
Then there is the issue of stem cell research. The administration limited the number of lines of human totipotent fetal stem cells that were allowed in federally funded research. It did nothing to change private stem cell research. Possibly as a result of this ban, research into non-fetal stem cells was undertaken. It turns out that for brain research, pluripotent stem cells harvested from adult organ donors are preferable to fetal stem cells, which is not surprising since they are already differentiated enough to guarantee you end up with neural tissue and not a kidney in your brain. It also reduces the odds of producing cancer, a major obstacle to the use of stem cells.
I won't bother with the rest. It does not belong in a discussion on journalism as far as I can tell, other than the fact that journalists failed to report on various Clinton administration interferences in science, including the suppression of the results of a $500,000,000 study on acid rain when the results were not adequately alarming.
I don't know of the history of the politicization of science. I do know real scientists (in other words, people who publish in peer reviewed journals) in the areas of stem cells and climate change (and a few other areas), and their experiences with this and the prior administration.Also, my father was an NRC scientist on one of Al Gore's committees. Hence I have pretty good sources.
Just as the myth of journalistic objectivity, so is the idea of unpoliticized government sponsored science. Under Clinton, climatological research which focused on global warming was preferred, but the normal skeptical mechanisms were interfered with in a political manner - hence why the real scientists I talked to were talking in whispers and didn't want their views attributed to them. Research about the ameliorization of global warming consequences was not welcome.
There was also a remarkable fraud put forth which the media reported on uncritically: Kyoto. There were many things wrong with it, but the fraudulent aspect was that, using the same projections that justified it, it was trivial to show that it would make no significant difference. There are two ways to look at the projected effects: resultant change in temperature in the year 2000 (unmeasurable), or delay in warming compared to no treaty (6 years after 100 years). The proponents of the theory, when pinned down, admitted that it was insignificant, that it's purpose was merely to put a mechanism in place that could be used to make dramatically greater CO2 emission reductions - great enough to be infeasible. It was a trojan horse. The reason that the Europeans signed onto it was because it would have a relatively more significantly negative impact on the American economy than the European, improving Europe's stats vs Americas. The other reason was that it was safe - they knew the US would not approve it.
Just for fun, I'm going to produce another fact that is unlikely to be known from the regular news: Enron was in favor of the Kyoto treaty. I will leave it to the reader to ponder why that was the case.
As I read through the report prepared for a hostile congressman, some things seem improper. Of course, how much should I trust a document that says "When Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol" when the Senate, by a unanimous vote, rejected the protocol? Likewise, one which quotes Scientific American is automatically suspect - Scientific American has always been opposed to ballistic missile defense in any form. Furthermore, it spent 14 pages attacking Bjorn Lomborg and only provided him 1 page to reply, and prevented him from publishing the report with his comments on his web site.
No, we are nowhere close to Lysenkoism. None of the issues were anywhere close to basic science. Some weren't science at all. I think if certain members of the Republican base were in charge, we would have the equivalent of Lysenkoism: creationism or intelligent design vs evolution. But that hasn't happened.
In some of the cases, EPA toxicological estimates were changed. Since the methods the EPA uses to create maximum exposure limits are quite unscientific in many cases - using linear dose extrapolation from large animal doses to tiny human doses, this doesn't bother me very much. The EPA also used to suppress the raw data it used to reach its conclusions, and its methods have many times been attacked as weak science. Ultimately the EPA was required to produce its data after an embarrassing number of unscientific but very expensive mandates were emitted.
In general, the changes were in controversial areas, not basic science. Science magazine objected (I read the original editorial ages ago), but this is the same Science magazine which labels anthropogenic global warming skeptics as nuts. One must be careful to distinguish its editorial stance from the scientific article it carries.
I see nothing in here that is different from the sort of interference under Clinton/Gore, although more scientists objected because they tended to be in favor of the direction of Clinton/Gore tinkering.
I have mentioned how Clinton/Gore suppressed scientific results (the acid rain study) and suppressed research in areas that might produce results conflicting the administration's specific environmentalist agenda.
Overall, it would be nice if politics stayed out of science. But when policies are affected by sciencec, when science is funded by the government, and when pseudo-science (such as many sociological studies) claim the mantle of more legitimate science, this sort of thing will happen.
I don't like it, but then I don't like a media which is proud of being biased, and which lies to me.
It's a tough world.
Bush would have to be the one to get right the occupation, reconstruction and democratization of Iraq--a tremendously challenging set of tasks requiring intelligence, understanding, sophistication, concentration, and open-mindedness. Talk about naive."
Yes, and NO! What it requires is good results, and a good standard to compare the results against. Occupation, recon, democratization -- all seem pretty good. Yet, I think a huge Bush mistake was not accepting ration cards as voting reg cards and getting local city councils elected. Haven't heard Kerry/ Dems pushing this. Dems complain, but have no alternative.
The Leftist media has, incessantly, been trupeting minor problems. Abu is not nice, but it's far less bad than My Lai, or Dresden WW II.
Bush and Iraq are doing pretty well, and sometime around October I'd expect some sophisticated analysis of just HOW well they're doing.
At less than 1000 US casualties, with less Iraqis being killed than was the Saddam yearly average, the problem is that the PRESS, and Bush critics, have failed to provide any reasonable standard of comparison. Instead, they infer an unreal Perfection, and complain LOUDLY about Bush failing.
Clinton's many large and small lies are all fully excused, but Cheny denying his earlier quotes are terrible? And how important is it? The Czechs, only, say there was a meeting. Cheny should stick with that, and say he believes the Czechs -- and that there's no evidence showing the Czechs are wrong.
If the Press is an Enemy, what is the right way for Bush to handle it? I think Bush could do better, but I have no alternative which I'm sure is better.
I agree with you that the bias discussion misses Jay's point.
My interpretation of Jay's point is that the Bush administration has too many filters, too narrowly set, in order to ensure that only reinforcing signal (positive feedback) - or maximally - compliant criticism gets through.
That "the press" is signal being considered unnecessary, and unwanted noise by the Bush administration.
That even (ideologically weak) partisans are so troubled by the filters preventing recognition of anithesis based on empirical feedback that they are speaking up.
Perhaps metaphorically, that the Bush administration refuses to suffer fools gladly at its own peril, and ours, and that there are enough roosting chickens to worry.
The bias that the so-called "liberal" media showed was that "yes, indeedy, the weapons and threats exist." Coming from a backwater area that national politicians ignore, it seems to me that most of the national press and television news is biased far, far to the right.
Is this a narrative bias that got started with Kamel's defection, if not earlier? Was it a bias far, far to the right then?
Lastly, narrative bias leads many journalists to create, and then hang on to, master narratives--set story lines with set characters who act in set ways. Once a master narrative has been set, it is very difficult to get journalists to see that their narrative is simply one way, and not necessarily the correct or best way, of viewing people and events.
But a discerning reader can still find out what's going on.
Can a discerning administration figure out what's going on? Is this administration, as well as a healthy number of the citizenry, receiving enough noise from enough sources to discern enough signal?
Is enough undistorted signal available to and from the MSM?
Chuck, Tom and John Lynch: welcome.
Peter Levine (click on his name) is a political philosopher who blogs about today's puzzles.
That means he is engaged, professionally-- almost all of his work time is spent--trying to bring clarity to precisely those things that get so brilliantly muddled by politics the way it is argued in actual forums such as this, the way it is played as game or contest... and the way it plays out in the end.
That's pretty much what I'm up to with PressThink, substituting, of course, journalism for politics. (But writing about both.) His blog could easily be called Polity Think. It's one of the weblogs that mine talks to.
Neither of us think this "un-muddling" of public things in motion around us can be done by abstracting ourselves from political and public space. Neither of us, I feel, gives a rat's tassle about postionless objectivity and we're glad to see it limp from the stage.
But we are nonetheless constantly met with the numerous situations in which a kind of objectivity is not only desirable, but humanly possible, and not only possible but familiar to us-- that is, common sensically real.
Sit on a jury and you will instantly discover what I mean. (Peter may or may not agree.) "Pure objectivity is impossible" is simply not the kind of thought that goes through your head when a jury trial begins, and you're in the box. If you're a decent person, you are struck by your task: wow, I have to try to be objective here. I have to decide what to believe, based on the evidence, not the story in my head.
This, more or less, is what Jefferson meant when he said: state a moral case to a ploughman and a professor, the farmer would do just as well. Probably better! is what we love to add today.
In a jury situation, which is a special situation, there is a person there, the accused, who needs your objectivity. That's no battle of abstractions. Not saying, "the objective juror exists," by the way. But the experience of trying to be one, as best we humanly can... that very definitely exists.
"Okay, if we try to stand back and look at this..." is ordinary language's way with the effort to be objective. Who would call it unreal, impossible? Post-modernists, I am one of you, so hear my plea. It's naive to say objectivity is impossible.
If you mean it in any sweeping way, that is. The statement ignores human experience, the numerous other specialized situations in which people are trained or taught to "stand back," suspend judgment, look at the data, first, or be a referee, or just intervene between competing points of view, lending to people you know the advantages of distance. Ever done anything like that? Then you know it's possible.
The question that puzzles us: if objectivity is possible in life, where is it not possible in journalism? What about politics? Or social policy? How's about war? It is then we discover the limits of objectity, the dangers of pushing it too far, it's total unsuitability to many situations. The myth.
In fact, we learn other, more confusing things, such as that "objectivity, claim to be" has one of the longest headings in the Daily Encylopedia of Propaganda. Meanwhile, "we're objective, you're not" has the worst track record for any argument in journalism for convincing anyone but the professional journalist. And so on.
Mark, John Moore, and everyone else in earshot: Please try to keep the mano-a-mano sniping and ratio of totalizing accusation to developed idea down, down, down please. I will start censoring posts, which is dumb and a distraction and takes up my time, which otherwise might go to intellectual output-- like an essay, or a more intelligent comment than this police action in which I am engaged right now.
Also the "do you know who I am?" and "my family came from..." posts are not helping you or us. I also want to be constructive, however, so let me risk a few suggestions. They apply to whomever applies them in threads @ PressThink.
If you've been arguing the same thing and are getting sick of it, but you're in what John Moore amusingly calls a "target-rich environment," so it's difficult not to blast them ducks, you might just stop, for variety's sake, and argue it instead with links, plus a crisp sentence.
Shorter, more effective. And if they are carefully presented, each link adds Web value to PressThink in the way that another brilliant round in the duck shooting competition does not. If you argue with links and keep it short, it helps engage us all-- all who want to check the link. You'd be surprised how many do go, until they don't trust you anymore-- your linking, I mean.
I see you doing this sometimes, and it helps.
Thing is, I can hate what you say and love your link, for totally different reasons you do. This, I feel, is the Web's way with everyday objectivity.
Your introduction of the creationists is interesting. There seem to be a lot of them (although now the "intelligent design" people are taking away members, and are somewhat less dangerous - the pass of pseudo-science as science, but I don't think they engender the same distrust in mainstream media).
I think one reason that pseudo-science like intelligent design is accepted is because so much pseudo-science is used in academia and by the left. I have a simple rule of thumb: "If a field of study ends in the world science, it isn't."
It is possible to do legitimate science in a number of areas where it is also possible to do bogus science and get away with it. Anthropology, psychology, sociology, and even epidemiology have this problem. There are a number of fields which adopted the trappings of physical sciences without adopting the real discipline. Hence one can find a paper in psychology with footnotes to other papers, chi square tests of significance, computer generated graphs, etc - published in a peer reviewed journal - that is utter crap. The same is true in all the fields I mentionedd. Look at how long Margaret Mead's fraud was the gold standard of anthropology?
A number of fields switched to the physical science form of analysis and publication, and it is clear that in many cases it was done to achieve the same respectability of the hard (meaning, solidly fact checkable) sciences.
Because of this, the public has reasons to distrust "scientific" pronouncements. This is unfortunate because real science has much to tell us. But the layman cannot distinguish between pseudo-science and real science.
When science or pseudo-science gets in the hands of the press, it gets even worse. We are all familiar with the frequent scare stories, and the frequent great discoveries that are going to solve cancer or neurological damage or whatever. Worse is the use of sociological and epidemiological studies. There have been some very shoddy anti-gun studies ("you are much more at risk if you have a gun in your house") which were reported uncritically by the press. These were done using inappropriate epidemiological or sociological techniques.
My biggest problem with the MSM when they deal with science is their inability to properly understand the story, and hence silly reports. Some of these are political (if it's a warm winter, global warming did it, if it's record cold, global warming did it), some are just sensational, and some are just ordinary stories that are factually highly inaccurate.
I do not believe that all problems in the coverage of science come from creationists or intelligent design folks. I've seen other groups that just don't believe the scientific news.
One example would be the issue of the use of Ritalin among school kids. People have all sorts of beliefs there. I don't even know which ones are true. I do know that Ritalin is a very good drug for treating ADD (and, by the way, for doing better on tests in school). But there are charges that "they're drugging our kids." I am sure sometimes ritalin is over-used - have a kid that's hard to deal with, automatically assume ADHD, and feed him some Ritalin. This sort of thing has led to controversies where people have strong opinions and little knowledge, but the opinions are strong enough to probably override anything in the MSM.
Another area one sees this is in cancer clusters. Statistics tells you that it is impossible not to have cancer clusters, and yet when they happen, people demand a cause, and will latch onto any story that presents one (a favorite around here, since the Phoenix area has lots of electronics manufacturing, is TCE in the water).
These beliefs rise to the level of superstition, and yet are not caused by anybody's view of creation.
I do agree that intelligent design and creationism are a significant problem. A few years ago, my best teacher ever, a high school biology teacher, was removed from teaching as a result of a row over how he responded to a student asking about intelligent design. Hundreds of his former students, many now senior biological researchers, wrote to defend him, to no avail.
This is going to sound a bit odd, but I'm putting it in here just as an insight I have that others might find interested (although it isn't directly journo related)... In Christianity in America today, Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism are increasing their numbers, while the old mainline, rather innocuous protestant denominations are dying. There are two reasons: 1 - the mainstream protestant denominations have been taken over by the left, causing many to flee to traditional Christianity, and 2 - the culture wars starting with Roe v Wade and continuing into todays attacks on Christianity from all over the place are driving Christians into the stronger sects - which means Catholic or Evangelical. Put in one word: "backlash."
Since the Evangelicals tend to be some kind of Creatonists (I don't know if it's all Evangelicals or just some - Bush is an Evangelical Methodist, which is almost an oxymoron), and since Evangelicals are increasing in number (and they are really taking over Latin Americca - as a result of leftist Catholics and their liberation theology), the number of anti-Evolutionists is unfortunately increasing.
It is possible to be an engineer or a scientist in a number of fields while holding those beliefs. But in the biological field, not understanding Evolution leaves you out of the game - unless all you do is count fishes or run annual mammal censuses, etc.
There is another side to this coin that is both fascinating and a bit dangerous: sociobiology. This is the field of evolutionary insights into human behavior. The crudest example would be "The Cave Man's Diet" but far more sophisticated conjectures exist - such as theories about monogamy vs promiscuity and all sorts of other fascinating things. Unfortunately, many of these theories, even though the appear to have powerful explanatory power, are not testable or are not tested. The just pop up and become "the explanation" for some human characteristic. This can be so subtle that one can do it without realizing it - I love to analyze things using this approach but it can subtlely lead one into believing that the analysis is true.
Anyway, I would hope that the MSM ignores intelligent design and creationism except for stories about the subjects. Evolution is probably the second most well proven theory in science, behind quantum physics.
To the extent that we the public, the consumers of news, are relying on the news to inform, advise, and to help us shape our opinion(s) of the world, there is an implied trust that the news is 'objective.'
I agree that passionless and simple recital of the facts as known at the time is not journalism, and that kind of reporting can fade gracefully from the scene. However, replacing it with journalism does not imply permission to remove the task of informing the public, nor that of allowing the public to form their opinions.
The public shows an appetite to find complete enough news coverage to avoid cognitive dissonance. If a story does not fit reality as they know it, they will switch to coverage that adds to their understanding sufficiently to allow them to fit the facts with the world that they know.
Referring to Chuck's post: 'you cannot lead the public where they do not want to go.' I'm not sure that that is quite correct, but I think the assertion can be restated as 'you cannot lead the public where it does not make sense for them to go.'
If a given outlet does not provide meaningful news, they may elect to do so. Doing so, they may lose those readers/viewers/listeners that have facts that do not reconcile to the assertions stated by those outlets.
The outlet loses market share. But what else happens? The reader / viewer / listener finds another outlet. The subjects covered, such as politicians, no longer find dialog with that particular outlet to be meaningful.
It is by the choice of 'positioned,' passionate, non-objective, biased coverage that a given outlet loses: readers, position against competitive outlets, and finally their gravitas with politicians they are covering.
If a whole segment of outlets, like lemmings, each make the same choices, then their entire segment may face the same fate: they lose relevance. Relevance is reduced: to the reader; and to the covered.
I am not advocating passionless reporting, simply listening reporting. Bringing pre-established positions, or failing to advance past points that are no longer the subject under discussion provides a type of coverage that is not interesting, not informative, not engaging - on the part of the covered or the reader, and I would assert: not journalism.
It explains first conservative talk radio and then Fox. In fact, it must drive news mavens mad that people would rather get their facts from conservative talk radio (known to be biased, and pretty lousy in the facts department outside of the political sphere - for example, Rush Limbaugh and science).
I enjoy that discomfort in the media, because it serves them right. When I found liberal bias and activism in the news being cheered on here, I knew the profession had lost it. Of course, following MSM news leads to the same conclusion, especially when the subject matter is in an area where personal exeperiencec and alternate information sources are available.
But the reaction of the MSM is counterintuitive - they are reacting to the consequences of a leftist bias by getting more biased and more uniform every year. They are not acting as actors in a competitive world. It's no wonder that the Democrats tried to outlw conservative talk radio!
And this brings up a disagreement I have with your comments: in too many ways, there is no competition. For those who prefer their news boiled dowN to half an hour, they can only get it from the monolithic Iron Curtain of the standard media bias.
For those willing to look a bit harder, they have Fox. The more criticism of Fox I hear by MSM people. Furthermore, so much of the criticism is hypocritical. This blog has lots of interesting reading and analysis, but the criticism of Fox is mostly that of monopolists upset when competition (in ideas) finally arrives.
MSM ideologists could discount conservative talk radio - different medium, different form, not news - easy to shake off. But Fox is a serious news organization, it is eating the lunch of its Cable TV news network competitors. And it is doing so by presenting, relatively speaking, fair news (Drudge and Fox are most centrist by the recent poll) and Bill O'Reilly - a person whose attractiveness I do not understand. My daughter, no dummy, likes him, but I can't stand him.
In any case, Fox's triumph is delightful, for those of us who have felt that a media royalty has been asking us to kiss their rears for decates. Pardon me while I engage in a bit of Shadenfreud.
I brought up before the issue of lying by the MSM. Perhaps some time we can explore that issue. A large percentage of the populace not only doesn't believe the MSM, but believes they are lying. I also believe that and gave some examples. However, I am simply asking for a dialog at some point on this and related issues.
A related issue is suppression of news. We have seen this in the election issue on anything which criticizes Kerry's war record or his anti-war period.
Suppression of news is no differencec than lying. It is merely lying by omission.
The MSM in the US, on political subjects, uses the same techniques and achieves the same effect as the propaganda ministry of an authoritarian regime.
Until lying and suppression of news are analyzed, MSM analysis is seriously incomplete.
A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on. - William Burroughs
"... and the whole battery of lesser but still famous and vivid alleged conspirators headed by Alger Hiss."
Some thoughts on The Paranoid Style.
"In the history of the United States one find it, for example, ..., in the popular left-wing press, in the contemporary American right wing, .... The basic elements of contemporary right-wing thought can be reduced to three: First, there has been the now-familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism." [The other two have now been rendered impotent for all but the institutional with the collapse of the USSR. Perhaps they have been replaced with new ones.]
Are some of the modern terms of the paranoid style: Vast Right Wing Conspiracy
, Angry White Male
, Neocon Cabal
, Pax Americana
, empire (reg. req.), brownshirts
, INC/Chalabi conspiracy
, 9/11 Bush/bin Laden conspiracy
, Carlyle group conspiracy
, Cheney/Haliburton conspiracy
Has the conspiratorial rhetoric now woven its way off the broadsheets and TV screens onto the big screen in Moore's F9/11 and Thomason's The Hunting of the President?
Are these big screen and Internet left-wing versions different from the small screen video (Clinton Chronicles), Internet (Clinton Body Count) and book versions (too many to list) of the right-wing.
Can we agree that the political paranoid style is still with us, and that it finds its way into our political and cultural journalism?
"I am interested here in getting at our political psychology through our political rhetoric."
So, let us re-write and re-examine:
1. I am interested here in getting at our news media psychology (PressThink) through our news media rhetoric.
(I debated using informational rather than news media, but wanted to maintain a more blog-tethered scope.)
How do we distinguish between the news media rhetoric and the news media reporting of rhetoric? Are surveys of public and professional opinion useful in probing the existance of a groupthink, qualifying and quantifying its characteristics? Are surveys enough? How about electronic searches on descriptors and rhetorical terms, like right-wing (4566 hits) versus left wing (3041 hits)? Is it anecdotal process or building evidence of a trend across empirical observations?
Should we be testing a thesis, such as: Thought-provoking or sensationalized news is inherently biased toward liberalism? (A conclusion I do not subscribe to.)
2. I am interested here in getting at our bias psychology through our bias rhetoric.
Is "liberal media" a term within the paranoid style of bias crusaders? 5th column? Useful idiots? Pseudo-journalism? Nattering Nabobs of Negativism?
Can we use ad hominem circumstantial to claim journalistic bias based on media ownership? (Scaife, Murdoch, Ailes, Gates, Turner, Cox, ....) Is this part of the paranoid style, or just poor argumentation?
Are these representative of hostility expressed within an "apocalyptic and absolutistic framework"?
Given that America has trended toward Hamiltonian Federalism with only brief spurts of Jeffersonian Democracy (the ideal, not the way he governed as President), should we be concerned about a populist press?
Probably not worth 2¢, and way too long. Apologies.
I am very familiar with Fox, and I simply see neither paranoia or resentment. I challenge your characterization as incorrect.
Here is a subjective truth:
I think spinach tastes awful.
Here is an objective truth:
Spinach is a vegatable.
Here is something else:
Spinach tastes awful.
Now are you saying that "Fox News has a resentful style" is like saying "spinach tastes awful"?
If a color-blind person were to say "Spinach is gray" is that a subjective truth? What if everyone was color-blind, would it be an objective truth? Or is the assertion that spinach has a particular color neither objective nor subjective, and yet true?
I likes my spinach.
Signal to noise ratio: Digitally encoded music on compact discs sounds perfect and undead. Music on vinyl records sounds warm and alive, even though there is a proliferation of unintended noise due to the imperfection of vinyl recording.
Antagonism is fundamental to democracy. There is no such thing as a "harmonious democracy". If it were, it would be totalitarian.
The characterization of the loyal opposition as "the enemy" is not just an expression of antagonism, but an attempt to legitimate the elimination the enemy - to remove the noise.
In the context of computerized technology, the opposition knowledge/ignorance has been replaced by the opposition knowledge/noise.
One can educate ignorance, but one can only eliminate noise.
The mere act of applying the metaphor "signal/noise" to public communications is fundamentally undemocratic.
Irony: The president who said to the press "you assume you represent the people" lost the popular vote, and may have won the electoral vote on a technical error (chads) and a technical intervention (ChoicePoint).
Tim: I think you are saying something important, but in pieces, and indirectly sometimes in the way you word things. These are not criticisms. In fact, the bias discourse in its repetitive forms--and about 70-80 percent of what I hear is that--is a kind of mental bulldozer that goes forward when switched on, clearing a path to ram its all-embracing point through.
This includes forms of bias hunting you find on the right, the left and in a myriad of specialized institutions that limit their watch to areas like Palestine, where the bias wars come frighteningly close in their conduct to the shooting wars going on. Heavy harassment of journalists, to the point where psychologically, they sometimes cannot endure, and they beg off the beat.
By the way, as journalism becomes more transparent, more communicative, it becomes easier to inflict threats and other extreme measures on journalists, especially if you're a highly motivated group, and see the media as your enemy in a mortal fight. When I say easier, I also mean morally easier.
From what I have seen, the bias bulldozer cannot be stopped at this time. There is too much fuel available, too much media bull that indeed needs plowing away, too much resentment behind the choking motor. All you can do is scatter pieces that don't fit, and maybe throw the mechanism off for a moment. Always come at the beast indirectly; I agree with your approach.
Get in front of a bulldozer with a "good argument," or Killer Fact, and you will still be flattened, run over-- plus you get the exhaust. But sometimes a link thrown in becomes a kink, and the engine can be stalled. For a moment, a more human discussion flourishes. Then the awful beast cranks up again--new study proves it!--and more of the media savannah is bulldozed into One Path for political argument's sake.
Your word "distortion" unlocked some of what you have been saying for me. You're right, a distorted source makes it impossible to evaluate how distorted it is, especially when some of its accounts (or pieces of each account) are factual and distortion-free.
This raises the question: when is it rational to ignore the press? (I believe John Moore was asking me this too, maybe others.) I don't know the answer to that, but I can see how people come to such a decision.
Should journalists be worried about such things? Absolutely, they should. But do they know how to worry, how to address it, how to reform? I have big doubts about that. I think the press is in big trouble in this country.
And I do believe the bias bulldozer, running day and night, is leaving us further from any resolution or answer. And such cruel signs they paint on these machines! Accuracy one is called. Fairness is another. And the meanest and loudest of all: The Facts.
And finally, a little kink for the engine is Ari Fleischer's statement: “The White House press corps sees its role as taking the opposite side of whomever they cover.” That is a very different thought from: "The White House press corps sees its role as taking down Bush in the election, and clearing the way for Kerry." But the Liberal Bias beef goes right over Ari-- flattening one of its own. Fascinating thing.
You take my statement: I am very familiar with Fox, and I simply see neither paranoia or resentment. I challenge your characterization as incorrect.
And turn it into a vegetable.
Let's try this a different way. Whoever is asserting that Fox has a paranoid style, or that it is the network of resentment, has the burden of at least illuminating the source of that characterization. I simply find the charge to not make any sense (note: I exclude O'Reilly from the characterization of Fox, because he is an editorialist and does not claim to be a news source.) I don't even know what a network of resentment would be.
I could certainly give URL's of internet conservative publicationos that represent a paranoid style. The resentment characterization just doens't make sense at all.
You sense that I ask if it is rational to ignore the press. I think that depends on who you are. If you are, for example, a solidly pro-life conservative, and are a one issue voter, then you can ignore the press.
For anyone involved in politics, or wanting to be informed at all, it is irrational to ignore the press. However, the choice of press sources may be significantly different than one might think.
I detest the New York Times as a player in the political game. But I still read it - not in depth - no time, no subscription. I usually read the Wall Street Journal, both the reportage (which is not right wing) and the editorial page (which is right wing, although I get annoyed at their stance on immigration). I have a subscription to it. I take an internet peek at the Arizona Republic because it has local news in it. I used to subsribe, until it changed emphasis to PC issues and got rid of its science reporting.
For that matter, I read Scientific American, which has a very pronounced bias (which sadly seems to be leading to its ultimate death - each issue seems thinner). It is easy to list SA's biases, and one can still get a lot of useful info from it, although if you relied on it for information about missile defense or the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, you would be getting a very biased viewpoint.
I read Science, which is a true scientific publication - it is peer reviewed in the actual articles. The editorials often have a viewpoint I disagree with, but the magazine has many redeeming characteristics - especially its survey articles.
Basically, if you want to be informed, you need to seek information. The MSM has many of the interesting stories, but because of its biases, I also use alternate sources - such as World Net Daily - recognizing that those sources have biases and quality issues that are different from that of the MSM.