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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:

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., 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.

KING: Literally?

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