March 4, 2005
De-Certifying the Press, Continued
The whole idea of the White House press corps is that the reporters in it represent the public's common interest in seeing executive power questioned, monitored, examined, explained. The President needs an interlocutor, it was once thought. No more.
When PressThink undergoes its first re-design, I plan to install on the right rail a “live” list of my top ten press puzzles of the day, which would change with the events that present those puzzles. Or not change, if the puzzle persisted.
Right now, tops on my list would be: “de-certifying the press,” which I have written about since September of 2003. Last week’s installment was In the Press Room of the White House that is Post Press (Feb. 25). It was about putting “Jeff Gannon” into a larger context, the “post-press” philosophy of the Bush Administration.
Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post wouldn’t think much of my rankings, if I had them up. Yesterday he said that my Number One story—which is not really “a” story but a situation made of many stories—is mostly bunk.
“Are the Bushies at ‘war’ with the Fourth Estate?” Kurtz asks. “I wouldn’t go that far,” he answers. The evidence he alllowed into beat reporter’s court was this:
Bush says he prefers “unfiltered” news from his staff. He holds few news conferences (though he’s picked up the pace a bit after winning a second term). He doesn’t like “preening” television correspondents. Cheney’s plane bars New York Times reporters. Top officials all seem to be reading off the same set of talking points. Ari, and now Scott, toe the company line. Prepackaged videos are sent out as real news with fake reporters.
But the problems of the press are not these things, Kurtz said; they’re self-driven scandals. “Nothing the White House has done has damaged the media’s credibility more than what the profession has done to itself.” And he lists all the recent goings-on from Jayson Blair and Eason Jordan to declining ratings, in order to ask: are any of these Bush’s fault? (He left out excessive credulity on the Weapons of Mass Destruction story, which is on most people’s list of recent press failures. That, of course, was Bush’s fault.)
In my view Kurtz’s judgment on this is wrong— very wrong for a beat reporter with his experience. His attempt to de-excite us about de-certification deserves to fail. But at least he links to the arguments made by Eric Boehlert of Salon (March 2). He’s been following the de-certification story:
Recent headlines about paid-off pundits, video press releases disguised as news telecasts, and the remarkable press access granted to a right-wing pseudo-journalist working under a phony name, have led many observers to conclude that the White House is not simply aggressively managing the news, but is out to sabotage journalism from within, to undermine the integrity and reputation of the press corps.
Ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind, who reported on the White House communication shop in the first term and interviewed some key people there, told Boehlert that the strategy to “diminish the mainstream press” was the “same as how to handle the federal government; you starve the beast.” Then in its weakened state it can be attacked and subverted, which is where Armstrong Williams and Jeff Gannon come in.
De-certifying the press is a means to a much larger and scarier end. Boehlert’s formulation of it: “If the press loses its credibility, that eliminates agreed-upon facts — the commonly accepted information that is central to public debate.” I’m with Eric Boehlert and Ron Suskind (I’m quoted in the same article) as they try to discern the situation before us. And here are a few of the reasons I think Howard Kurtz is wrong to dismiss their ideas.
“People forget that every administration tries to neutralize the press,” he writes. For an example, he points to Bill Clinton stonewalling during scandals and circumventing the press corps when he started going on Larry King and other talk shows.
But Mike Allen of the Washington Post, Kurtz’s colleague, did not forget what every administration tries to do. On October 8 he wrote: “Although all presidents are kept somewhat removed from reality because of security concerns and their staffs’ impulse for burnishing their image, Bush’s campaign has taken unprecedented steps to shield him from dissenters and even from curious, undecided voters.” Did Kurtz catch that word “unprecedented?”
Kurtz says people forget what presidents do. But I didn’t forget (and I’m people, Howard.) Last week I went out of my way to address his doubts from this week.
It is true that all Administrations want to speak to the nation in an unfiltered way; there’s nothing notable about that. All at one time or another see the press as “against” them. All cry foul— and in the name of the facts! Hating the press is normal behavior in the White House. So is favoring the sympathetic correspondent.
But we can recognize these facts, and still discern something going on with the Bush team:
There’s a difference between going around the press in an effort to avoid troublesome questions, and trying to unseat the idea that these people, professional journalists assigned to cover politics, have a legitimate role to play in our politics.
Which is what de-certification is about: attacking that idea on as many fronts as possible. Kurtz should understand the thesis he is rejecting, and not rely on the entirely superficial approach of picking out two or three things Bush is accused of that Clinton was also accused of.
“It’s been apparent since the day he took office… that George Bush has little love for the press,” Kurtz writes. But what wasn’t apparent, at first, was the different philosophy of press relations the Bush White House held, and advertised that it held. Why have a different theory, and why talk openly about it, if you intend no changes in practice? (See Ken Auletta: Fortress Bush.)
There is no Fourth Estate, says the Bush Thesis. The White House press has no check and balance function. As for journalists, “they don’t represent the public any more than other people do,” according to Chief of Staff Andrew Card. “In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election.”
Of course the whole idea of having a White House press corps is that the reporters in it do represent the American public’s common interest in seeing executive power questioned, monitored, examined, explained. The President needs an interlocutor, it was once thought.
Keep in mind how often it has been observed that the British have the ritual of Question Time in Parliament—where the Prime Minister must answer the opposition— while the U.S. has the White House press conference to serve a roughly similar goal. Maybe it doesn’t serve very well, but on the other hand if the press does not have an accepted right to question time with the President, who does?
This is the most disturbing part of the entire pattern: To answer questions from informed people who might doubt him is not an essential responsibility that Bush, as President, feels he even has.
Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Briefing column for the Washington Post, sees this as part of “Bush’s bubble,” which
first emerged as a serious news story during the campaign — in particular when he seemed unprepared for his first debate. It reemerged after the election, as Bush opted against new blood for his second term and instead gave increased power to loyalty-tested aides. And now, the protective bubble appears to have become standard practice wherever he goes — even when he’s abroad.
Consider what happened on the President’s recent trip to Germany: Reuters, looking ahead, reported on Feb. 14 that White House “organizers are still taking all necessary measures to ensure the German public’s dislike of Bush does not mar his kiss-and-make-up session with Schroeder.”
Initial plans for a “town hall” style meeting attended by local students, businessmen and Americans have been scrapped — to the relief of German government officials, who feared privately that such an open forum could backfire.
Elizabeth Bumiller had a more intriguing account Feb. 21 in the New York Times:
The proposed town-hall meeting raised the inevitable issue, said Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to Washington, of “Do you know what kinds of folks you are going to have at that meeting and what kinds of questions they might ask?” Ischinger said the Germans told the Americans that the guests could not be screened, as White House officials do at similar events in the United States, and so “don’t be mad at us if some nasty question comes up.”
That was enough to sink the plan. So not only does Bush fail to accept any responsibility to be vigorously questioned, he now expects that others will supply the conditions in which he can appear to have an interlocutor but actually face no challenge at all. The Germans refused to play along.
Then on Feb. 23 the German weekly Der Spiegel added some additional facts:
As an ersatz for the town hall meeting on Wednesday, Bush will now meet with a well-heeled group of so-called “young leaders”… The chat is being held under the slogan: “A new chapter for trans-Atlantic relations.” The aim of the meeting is to give these “young leaders” a totally different impression of George W. Bush. In order to guarantee an open exchange, the round has been closed to journalists — ensuring that any embarrassments will be confined to a small group.
The ultimate solution, then, was to exclude the press after the Germans could not guarantee friendly questioning. To exclude in this way is closely related to the de-certifying I have talked about. But what is the result? No public interlocutor for Bush. From the standpoint of a de-certification move, that’s a solid win.
Here are some developments in the de-certification story:
- The New York Times has had many media reporters (it’s Kit Seeyle’s beat now) but it has never had a real press critic— until Frank Rich began his Arts and Leisure page column. It’s printed on Sunday but released to the Web on Thursday. This week Rich is at it again as a presser of the press, reminding the Times Washington bureau that the “Gannon” story isn’t finished: “We still don’t know how this Zelig, using a false name, was given a daily White House pass every day for two years. Last weekend, Jim Pinkerton, a former official in the Reagan and Bush I White Houses, said on ‘Fox News Watch,’ no less, that such a feat ‘takes an incredible amount of intervention from somebody high up in the White House,’ that it had to be ‘conscious’ and that “some investigation should proceed and they should find that out. Given an all-Republican government, the only investigation possible will have to come from the press.” But don’t count on it, he says. I see Rich’s column as a fairly open challenge to the Washington Bureau.
- The blog Fishbowl DC, with Garrett Graff—a part of the Media Bistro empire—has been trying to obtain one of those day passes that Jeff Gannon received so easily. It’s an interesting experiment. You can follow along in his progress— which was zero, until USA Today began asking questions. Here is Graff’s “Open Letter to the White House Media Affairs Office.” UPDATE: Fishbowl granted bloggers pass.
- Michael Crowley in the New Republic has a fascinating report on the South Dakota senate race, which featured bloggers attacking the Sioux Falls Argus Leader as biased for Tom Daschle. They were fed information by Jeff Gannon: “In late January, Republican members of Congress convened at a rural West Virginia resort to plot strategy for the new congressional session and the 2006 midterm elections. They held meetings, on issues like Social Security and tax reform, led by committee chairmen and even the president himself. But no session generated as much interest as the one led by a mere freshman, John Thune of South Dakota. It’s rare for such a junior senator to lecture his wizened colleagues. But Thune’s elders listened with rapt attention as he explained how bloggers and partisan Internet ‘journalism’ helped him defeat former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle last fall… Even senators who missed out on the session have been asking for details of Thune’s story. ‘Other senators have asked him in private how he worked with the bloggers,’ says Thune spokesman Alex Conant.”
- Don’t miss this related account by Jan Frel at Personal Democracy Forum, focused on the same race, which shows that some of the bloggers attacking the newspaper for its bias were being paid: “Nine bloggers — two of whom were paid $35,000 by Thune’s campaign — formed an alliance that constantly attacked the election coverage of South Dakota’s principal newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. More specifically, their postings were not primarily aimed at dissuading the general public from trusting the Argus’ coverage. Rather, the work of these bloggers was focused on getting into the heads of the three journalists at the Argus who were primarily responsible for covering the Daschle/Thune race: chief political reporter David Kranz, state editor Patrick Lalley, and executive editor Randell Beck. Led by law student Jason van Beek and University of South Dakota history professor Jon Lauck, the Thune bloggers tormented and rattled the Argus staff for the duration of the 2004 election, clearly influencing the Argus’ coverage.”
- Oh, yeah… Taking note of my In the Press Room, “Jeff Gannon” at his blog says I am “spouting another conspiracy theory about how the White House created Jeff Gannon,” which “puts Rosen onto the Divorced From Reality™ Express.”
To which I say: watch the closing doors.
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…
Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit (March 4): “Jay Rosen writes about de-certifying the press. But my question is, who ‘certified’ them to begin with?”
Good question. I may give it a longer answer later. Short one for now:
“Certified” in this case does not mean legally so, as with a Certified Public Accountant. That would be unconstitutional. Rather, what the Bush team is doing is like de-certification (though not literally so) because it’s a sudden change in accepted status and a rejection of a commonly recognized role.
One answer to “who granted this status?” is “tradition did.” Previous Administrations, Republican and Democrat, established some common and accepted practices without codifying them. Glenn’s a law professor; he should understand why you don’t overthrow precedent lightly (and you don’t deny that you’re doing it when you are.) I have also used the term de-legitimize to describe what the Bush forces are doing. Prefer that? Fine.
Reynolds replies: “Hmm. ‘Tradition’ formed by whom? Not me, and not the large number of Americans who have shouted back at their televisions over the years. It’s just that now people can hear it. As for ‘precedent’ — well, to be ‘precedent’ a decision has to come from an authoritative body. And, again, which body legitimized the press? It seems to me that the press did. For a while, when it played ball with politicians (e.g., by not mentioning FDR’s polio or JFK’s infidelities) the politicians were happy to treat it as a quasi-government. I’m not sure that was an improvement, really, though I can see why journalists regard it as a golden age.”
Stephen Waters: De-certifying ‘De-Certifying the Press.’
Reading A1: The press and the new order, again. (March 4)
The interlocutory function of the White House press is, obviously, unspecified and unimagined in the text of the Constitution: but the White House press conference represents an enactment, a practical interpretation (one of the most visible and significant of the past era), of the meaning of the First Amendment guarantee of press freedom—and its association of the freedoms of conscience with the right to seek redress from the government. Understanding this aspect of the issue is crucial if you’re going to form theory about it.
What Jay Rosen isn’t seeing—what isn’t being seen generally yet, which is why I’m repeating myself here—is that one constitutional order doesn’t pass away without another taking its place.
Well, I appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night (March 3), in a taped “report” about the new journalism with funny man, actor and correspondent Rob Corddry. His background is in Second City style improv, I learned. It was fun and a little unnerving. Bill Doskoch has a blow-by-blow, and Crooks and Liars has the video, if you want to see. I didn’t see the whole show (traveling) but I am told Stewart asked Ari Fleischer straight out if the administration saw the news media as just another special interest group. Fleischer apparently dodged the question.
Wonkette has a brief review.
Read this incredible tale of a blogger, Crooks and Liars, getting an apology from CNN and (sort of) from Robert Novak for Novak’s misuse of a Howard Dean quote. And the blogger spake: columnist, you must remain reality based. In this case, CNN agreed with the blogger. Interesting. And way more important than getting Novak to admit X, Y and Z.
Dotty Lynch of CBS News, Fear & Loathing In The Blogosphere (March 3). She read my essay, Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over, and summarized its key points. She then made her own. Hers is a rational, rather than a reflex view of why blogging counts for newsroom types. She isolates it pretty well, and her tone is non-hysterical.
Political research I’ve done via the blogs during the 2004 campaign and for the Gannon column has convinced me of the validity of a lot of these points. There is information on the blogs that is extremely helpful to advancing a story and journalists who ignore blogs are overlooking a huge resource. Media Matters, Americablog, Kos and their contributors plucked information about Gannon, Eberle, Rove, et al, quickly and disseminated it before Talon News and GOPUSA decided to remove it from their sites. The guerilla warfare continued last week when a conservative site, The American Spectator, put up a controversial ad attacking the AARP, which was then captured and circulated on the liberal sites, eventually making it to the MSM. By the time the MSM discovered the story, the Spectator had taken down the ad.
The italics are mine.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN. Background: The Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, in a written memo, ordered government staff not to speak with the Baltimore Sun’s State House Bureau Chief David Nitkin or columnist Michael Olesker. (See this archive of articles on the issue.)
I love the press in America. I think it’s great. I love freedom of the press.
But that freedom does not require me to answer every question you ask or to respond to every issue you raise. I’m not obligated— because I’m an elected official doesn’t obligate me to do that.
Now, you come to me as a constituent, now that’s a different story. But as a newspaper reporter trying to write a story, it’s my option.
I wonder if Steele will be having public and on-the-record sessions where constituents get to ask him questions and, you know… be an interlocutor. After all, it’s his option. Lt. Gov. Michael Steele: If you or your office are listening, PressThink asks: are you planning to have citizens question you after journalists no longer do?
An important essay: Robert Cox at The National Debate, Why “Blogging” Sucks. Among other insights, he explains why the term “blogger” is empty and will eventually become meaningless.
John Robinson, blogging editor of the News & Record in Greensboro: “The Houston Chronicle, WRAL-TV, The Oregonian, The News & Observer and USA Today have called me over the past week to talk about blogging. Not for a story but to pick my brain — what little crumbs are left — about our experiences online. All of the interviewers seem to be trying to figure out how to make the case to introduce blogging to their sites.” Does anyone remember when I said that Greensboro was national news?
From In the Press Room of the White House that is Post Press (Pressthink, Feb. 25): “…’Jeff Gannon’ can be thought of as the replacement press, a fake journalist with a fake name working for a fake news organization, asking fake questions at a real press event.”
CJR Daily: Interview with ex-Newsday science writer Laurie Garrett, who recently quit daily journalism.
A colleague of mine that used to be at Newsday and is now at Time magazine described this by saying that she had grown up in a working-class Irish-American family in Brooklyn. All of her brothers and sisters were either cops or firefighters or nurses. And she was the one that they all thought was an oddball because she was a writer. She said there came a day in the newsroom when a little light bulb went off in her head and she suddenly understood why fundamentally she was always disagreeing with other reporters and editors and had a different instinct about where to go with a specific story. And it was because one of them said in the newsroom, “How could anybody be a working stiff and a Republican?” And she realized that she had certainly grown up around working-stiff Republicans and here was a newsroom full of people who absolutely couldn’t comprehend how any one individual could put those two ways of thinking together. Which meant that, of course, they couldn’t understand who elected George Bush.
Posted by Jay Rosen at March 4, 2005 6:01 AM
Although I agree with your basic premise about decertification, I think Boehlert (and by extension, you) miss one of the main points when he wrote:
"If the press loses its credibility, that eliminates agreed-upon facts -- the commonly accepted information that is central to public debate."
IMHO, this has things kind of backwards. Much of any White House effort to pass its agenda is being accomplished by eliminating agreed-upon facts themselves. The White House is not simply engaged in an attempt to control the flow of information, but is actively engaged in disinformation campaigns. The press, by passively accepting this disinformation, winds up de-certifying itself as the truth becomes known.
No better example exists than with the "Social Security" debate. The White House claimed there was a "crisis" in Social Security, when there is no such thing. The White House also said that there will be problems for Social Security starting in 2014. That, of course, is a flat out lie---what happens in 2014 may create problems, but those problems will not be with Social Security.
And this kind of stuff was reported by the press as if it was established fact, rather than a misstatement of the facts by the White House. The lies were repeated, and in fact continue to be repeated, by "mainstream" anchors and interviewers and pundits, with startling regularity. Moreover, the most obviously partisan right-wingers continue to spread the same lies.
The press, in other words, is an active participant in its own "decertification" by passively accepting obvious lies and distortions as "facts" to be reported. (Of course, some of this acceptance is far from passive, as in the case of "Fox News".) Rather than basing its "reporting" on "agreed upon facts", it has allowed the facts themselves to become muddied.
Although activist democrats have succeeded in making most people aware of the actual facts, that process has required weeks of enormous effort.
(And, it should be noted, it has been the "loony leftists" of the blogosphere who have done all the heavy lifting here. "Moderate" democrats were quite happy to perpetuate Bush's lies initially)
But despite these efforts, it still very easy to find examples of print and (especially) television "journalists" spreading these falsehoods either directly, or by allowing factual mis-statements and opinions based on lies to go unchallenged. With the public becoming increasingly aware of the facts, each time the public is exposed to journalism that allows the lies and distortions to go unchallenged the process of "de-certification" is being advanced.
In this case, we can certainly blame the right-wing for engaging in a disinformation campaign, but those efforts are directed not at de-certifying the press but in pursuit of an ideological agenda. The only group that the press can blame for its loss of credibility is itself in this case, because (unlike the WMD mess) the facts are part of the public record, and the press chose to ignore them.
Bush's attempts to decertify misbehaving press are like chemotherapy. Isn't giving poison to people wrong?. Well, yes, but if a measured dose kills the disease and the patient returns to health, in chemo it can be justified. So is Bush giving chemotherapy to journalism? Jay writes:
There's a difference between going around the press in an effort to avoid troublesome questions, and trying to unseat the idea that these[my emphasis] people, professional journalists assigned to cover politics, have a legitimate role to play in our politics.
Does the adjective "these" apply to all the press? Or does it to those whose tenuous grasp on a prestigious position in the spotlight (or producers just behind it) depends on differenting themselves from the pack to maintain their place. Consider this: absolutely nothing in journalistic practice justifies preconceiving the notion to cast the net widely across the United States prior to Bush's inauguration to juxtapose the ceremony on the network news with the funeral of a American soldier killed in Iraq.
What is different today, is that when the New York Times recasts its news, primary source material links ripple through the blogs to show that the Old Gray Lady's slip is showing. When you challenge Bush, you forget that, technologically, this is the first time the President can challenge the small circle of "professionals", not necessarily to behave, but to cut some of the obvious crap, because evidence is out that the public can understand.
Jay raises the alarm when he writes: There is no Fourth Estate, says the Bush Thesis. might more accurately say, "There is no Fourth Estate, says Jay Rosen's Bush Thesis." It's only a thesis, and it's Jay's. He presents as evidence, "As for journalists, 'they don't represent the public any more than other people do,' according to Chief of Staff Andrew Card." I have repeatedly said, "'Journalist' is an earned accolade." which is the same thing Card said, but I'm not accused of undermining journalism. Journalists are not institutionally special; they are special when their reporting stands up in the crucible of examination.
When Jay says, "Of course the whole idea of having a White House press corps is that the reporters in it do represent the American public's common interest in seeing executive power questioned, monitored, examined, explained.", he can't seem to consider that the current crop of candidates might not be doing its job.
I have stood before Presidents, senators, members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, and even presidential press secretaries, to ask hard questions that, with some obvious exceptions, were treated squarely, fairly, openly, and thoroughly. I do not expect this to change. If, the chemotherapy continues beyond curing the disease, then I'll be first in line to help Jay write the column. Meanwhile, I'm with Howard Kurtz. Journalism, no less than the troubles of academia, is at greater risk from the political correctness that, in silence, tolerates poor work.
Correct me if I am wrong, but itseems like the problem is that people see the MSM as corporations, with money and influence (which is partly true), and even as interest groups
In all arguments that I am seeing, I am still waiting for the conservatives in this debate to tell me what they say about someone like Bill O'Reilly, or Joe Scarborough, who make about as much money (if not more) as Dan Rather or John King, but seem to be talking heads for the right-wing, and they are praised (by our conservative friends) as bringing THE truth back into the news business.
For all the talk on the right side of the aisle for truth and facts, the issue is that people want to hear THEIR truths. And when members of the MSM ask the hard questions to the right's beloved Bush, they feel attacked and hurt and tortured and beaten. I believe that we are losing track of priorities here. At the end of the day, if one is not a sleazy poliicians, one should not be afraid - whether Democrat or Republican - to face the press (MSM or Blogging). The fact that the current administration seeks to circumvent the press (under the guise of attempting to send unfiltered facts to the public) simply tells me that they either have something to hide, or they are not confident in their program and they are attempting to ramrod it up our throats unnoticed.
Now, I do like the comparison with Question time. The American President (as an institution) is about the least accountable leader in the whole West! So maybe he does have the right not to answer to a quetsion, but by God, if he wants to claim that he is accountable to the people, he does not have the right to refuse to be asked the question, in a public forum (except, in my opinion, with regards to his private life and his family). In other words, whether they are good or bad, lefty or righty, MSM or bloggers, the President IS held accountable press, in the name -indirectly - of the people. And if he does not like their questions, he can refuse to answer, and deal with the consequences. But not even allowing the media to ask! Voluntarily avoiding the media when asked tough questions! That's criminal!
Anyway, sometimes my english gets me confused. But we do not all live in DC. If I want an independent (as in not linkd to the White House, or the party of the person that's in it) account of what is happening in DC, where do I go? I will be a responsible citizen, and do my research. But it does not hurt me one bit to hear about the bills that passed the house, or the decisions being taken in Congress, and see/hear live people debating them. And that, only organized journalists, within the MSM can provide. I know I am going to get trouble for all that I have said, but that's okay.
Jay, I saw you yesterday, on the DailyShow. Good job! What was going on with the "Thank you for wearing pants"?
Or, maybe he wouldn't.
you are correct, I probably wouldn't. But then again, to me all he is doing is confirming what I already know to be factual, so the question of biased presentation of the facts is irrelevant to me .
Were you, however to have repeated my point (hopefully, more coherently), I'd agree with you. Its just as useless to try and convince a right-winger using a source that has an obvious left-wing ideological agenda.
But there is a difference between an "ideological" bias, and a "fact-based" bias -- and one of the means by which the far-right is trying to decertify the press is by saying that there is not such distinction. I am "biased" against people putting their hands on a hot stove. I'm also "biased" against people invading other countries on false pretenses.
Now, in both cases, I think that my biases are justified by the facts. And what the right wing is trying to do is say that it is impossible to trust any of the facts that I cite because of my biases.
The right wing doesn't care if people don't trust even a right-wing presentation of facts, because the right-wing knows that once you have eliminated facts (and thus, eliminated logic), all that one needs to do is appeal to people's prejudices.
We saw the success of this with Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and Rove's "Faith Based Strategy." In both cases, the GOP appealed to people who regarded "agreed upon facts" as unreliable indicators of the truth, and were actually impervious to factual information that is inconsistent with their prejudices. (It was no coincidence that the majority of Bush voters still thought that WMDs had been discovered in Iraq, and that Saddam was instrumental in the 9-11 attacks. It didn't matter how many times the facts were repeated, these people ignored them.)
The far right is now involved in exploiting the obvious---if you can reduce people's reliance upon "agreed upon facts", far right wingers will be empowered.
OK, let's say the issue is "excessive credulity" regarding Iraqi WMD rather than "nobody knew."
The IAEA had absolutely debunked the "mushroom cloud" bullshit Bush was pedaling, the main scare tactic. After he was called on his bullshit, Cheney, Rice, and company kept right on lying about it. The fictitiousness of the mushroom cloud line is a matter of fact. You can't hide radiation. The administration response was, how can we rat-fuck the IAEA and UNSCOM most effectively? You are citing Blix, who opposed invasion, in support of how unclear the evidence supposedly was. Do you trust his judgment or not?
Dragging in the Clinton era red herring of excessive credulity regarding WMDs BEFORE INSPECTORS WENT BACK IN is a refusal of Bush's clear personal responsibility for the hysteria over the debunked mushroom cloud scenario and effective refusal to hold Bush responsible for rolling out the Iraq invasion "product" on the basis of the "mushroom cloud" lie. The reference to Blix is after the inspectors started but before they finished and uses Blix's information to draw a conclusion completely opposed to his. You are also resting your argument on a man THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION WAS ACTIVELY TRYING TO DISCREDIT IN THE ROVEAN SCORCHED EARTH MANNER THEY TREATED WILSON/PLAME. Don't you see a little difficulty here?
The Bush decertification bubble was at the heart of selling the BS and creating a disinformed public and congress. Scoffing at Kerry's vote for war is a condemnation of Bush. Kerry's problem was that he believed Bush's lies. Bush was effectively saying, "How can you vote in Congress based on the lies I approved and the secrecy of the classification state I created and call yourself serious world leader material?" And really, how could he? That is precisely why Kerry was not a credible candidate. He took Bush and his chronic mendacity seriously. He and the Democratic primary voters in Iowa were nearly as responsible for the Iraq psychosis as embedded reporters stateside.
Your argument that the problem was excessive credulity has one ENORMOUS problem: THERE WERE MILLIONS OF US PROTESTING IN THE STREETS AGAINST THE INVASION AROUND THE WORLD WHO WERE NOT EXCESSIVELY CREDULOUS. Your argument disappears the entire anti-war protest movement. It is true of Bush Republicans, though not Scrowcroft Republicans. It is true of Demcratic Leadership Council Democrats, though not of Dean Democrats. The anti-war protesters knew then, we know now, and you're still not making sense.
If the problem was excessive credulity as you say, you should be correcting yourself and saying, "Damn, those anti-war protesters were right after all. Good Job!" That's not exactly what I'm hearing from you.
"Excessive credulity" is a Bush Republican avoidance of responsibility. Your argument is a "nothing new under the Bush sun" argument in denial of decertification of the press and agreed upon facts. Nothing has changed, so Bush is not responsible for anything.
You are ultimately using the effect of Bush's decertification of the press as an excuse for Bush's behavior! "We've had excessive credulity about Iraqi WMDs since Clinton so nothing can ever be Bush's responsibility." It effectively asks, "Why didn't you know Bush was lying when he distorted or classified all relevant evidence and conducted character assassination of anyone whose opinion differed!?" Well, the answer is, several million of us did know.
I'm beginning to think allergy to personal responsiblity for the consequences (not the intentions) of one's actions is the core value of Bush Republicanism.
You seat yourself in the Bush Republican jalopy. Whether or not you enjoy the ride will be up to you. You are free to step out at anytime.
I think that you miss at least part of the point the Bush administration has been making, and I think that the rhetorical repetition of "The president needs an interlocuter" is missing a few adjectives.
Members of the Bush administration have stated publicly that members of the press have no special brief, or inherent right to speak "on behalf the electorate." That's a very different philosophical approach to the press than was taken by previous administrations, who, while they may have believed that the press was biased against their administration, did not challenge the underlying need for the press to act as "an interlocuter" for the public.
So what's changed? Is there more to it than a nefarious plot on the part of Karl Rowe to deliver the media into the hands of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Reynolds? I suspect the reality is more systemic than that. In the past, technology didn't allow an alternative to mass media for information delivery - like it or not, the reporters of the mainstream media were hooked into the infrastructure of information delivery - newspapers, radio, TV. To repeat a truism, that's changed with the advent of the Internet. Information delivery has been cut loose from a monolithic, expensive infrastructure. A producer of information no longer needs the capital to install a printing press or transmitter to deliver that information to a wide audience.
But there was another, less obvious, service that reporters and editors performed in the past - they served the public as the informed filter of information. The implicit assumption was that reporters and editors gathered and pored through all of the various sources of information available, parsed and selected what was important, explained and provided context - all, at least in the US, in a reasonably neutral way. This was the true value of the human infrastructure of the mainstream media and is perhaps an even more vital function today, because of the greatly increased sources of information available provided by the Internet.
And it is a function that the mainstream media could have transitioned to - who better than an experienced political reporter or editor to locate, collate, explain and set in context all of the wonderful mix of news, opinion and just plain hot air in the blog world today?
Unfortunately, the mainstream media, whatever their qualifications in terms of experience and skill in this area might be, have largely forfeited the trust of the public by their intense partisanship and lack of scruples. Quite frankly, neither the administration nor the electorate believes that the press is a disinterested intermediary any more. What the public needs is a neutral - maybe adversarial, but not partisan - interlocutor. What they get is an intensely biased, largely unreliable advocate for a particular world-view, and a blurring of the line between reporter and advocate for the left-wing. And I believe that I can speak with some authority on this - while I was in Afghanistan, I was involved in two situations that made it into the mainstream media - in both cases, the factual errors, overt bias and complete lack of understanding both of Afghan society and of the US military (and, in one case, of basic geography) made the news "stories" completely unrecognizable.
Perhaps it was always that way, and has only become obvious with the decoupling of information gathering from information distribution. Its a shame really, since there's surely still a requirement for an informed editor to collate and present information in a rational way; and still room for a more considered approach than the "hey, look at this" Instapundit style (not a slam on Instapundit, by the way - I enjoy the site very much.) And, yes, there is still very much a need for a neutral, disinterested interlocutor on behalf of the electorate - I just think that most of us have stopped believing that the press fills that role.
Bloggers are "correspondents", letter-writers in the fine old sense... through the 1920s and '30s, when postmen delivered 3 - 4 times daily, many artists and authors would spend half their time composing and responding to communiques in letter format. And don't forget Paul Revere, with his Revolutionary "Committees of Correspondence", which Royalist authority made every effort to suppress, but in the end could not.
actually, if you are looking for an appropriate historical analogue, bloggers are pampheteers. (in the sense that Revere cited above was a pamphleteer, and the Federalist Papers were, in fact a series of "pamphletes").
In fact, when "freedom of the press" was established, "press" actually meant "printing press". (Although there were about two dozen newspapers at the time of the Revolution in the colonies, the use of the word "press" to refer to "newspapers" did not come about until the early 19th century.) "Freedom of the press" was simply an extension of "free speech" --- a way of extending one's voice by using a printing press to create pamphletes. (Although it should be assumed that "newspapers" were included because they were created with a printing press, the modern understanding of "freedom of the press" as a distinct protection for journalism is completely erroneous---a result of the change in the primary meaning of the word "press" in the course of 200 years times.)
If our MSM possessed the slightest integrity, they would make it their mission to inform, not criticize-- by that, I mean "inform" us of Clinton's KGB passport, Kerry's Dishonorable Discharge, etc. rather than dismissing Bush's 4 1/2 years of TANG service in obsolescent fighter jets as "AWOL from Vietnam" (!).
this is truly frightening --- a perfect example of the success of far-right wing disinformation campaigns.
Indeed, along with this...
I have learned that most polls tell the opposite of what they are trying to get us to believe. For example, the CBS/NYT poll a couple of days ago discussing how social security reform support is sagging. Now for you that may indicate that social security reform support is sagging, but it tells me that it is getting stronger and Prez. Bush will be successful in some aspect of social security reform.
well, I can come up with no better example of how the mainstream media has failed to do its job, and the challenges it now faces as a result. These are people for whom the decertification campaign has obviously worked.
More importantly, these are the people who put Bush in the White House, and gave the GOP control of both houses of Congress.
This is how fascism happens. Of course, the complete rejection of "agreed upon facts" here also makes it possible that we will be getting our next set of leaders straight out of Clown College....but I don't think that what we are seeing is a random event.
I'm a Ph.D. student in math at NYU. My undergraduate work was at Yale. I am a political junkie. Honestly, I don't need the press speaking for me in the White House Press Room. I can think for myself and cut through the bull. Are press releases spin? Of course they are. Clinton, Stephanopolous, McCurry, etc. were masters of it. The Bushies are trying to compete and who can blame them?
Just because some jerk over at the NYT got credentialed to be in the WH Press Room because his paper publishes daily doesn't mean that he is any more of an expert or an observer than Gannon/Guckert. As many have mentioned here before, Helen Thomas reads leftist screeds posing as questions every single day. I don't hear much criticism of her for being a partisan.
Have you done reporting on how many NYT/WaPo/CNN reporters in that press room have had embarassing sexual histories? Doubtful. So why get all hot under the collar about Gannon/Guckert just because someone happened to look?
It is interesting that you mention Maryland since I am from there. Full disclosure: in HS I worked on Ehrlich's campaign for Congress. The Baltimore Sun in general, and Michael Olesker in particular, have always been a fifth column for the Democratic Party in MD and Baltimore, which sees the state and the city as their personal fiefdoms. I have never seen a fair reportage of state or national politics in the Baltimore Sun. The hostility towards the GOP with which they covered the Sauerbrey/Glendening campaigns of 1994 and 1998 and the Ehrlich/Townsend campaign of 2002 is an embarassment. They spread lies about GOP candidates, peddled innuendo, and engaged in race-baiting (for example, scaring black voters that Ellen Sauerbrey would roll back civil rights, yet gave Townsend a free pass when she failed to show up for a debate with Ehrlich at the NAACP). Why should state officials speak to Olesker and company when they will quote people out context and twist every single fact to support their biases?
This brings me to the idea of the Press being a check on government power. That's pretty interesting since throughout the last 40 years, the press has been in defense of increasing government power. They twist the facts on guns to present gun owners as complete nuts and promote anti-freedom gun laws. They promote higher taxes. They promote more government regulations. They promote campaign finance reform. These stances are not the result of Republican efforts (guess which party also supports these policies).
It bothers and insults me when I read the NYT and they pretend as if they, the enlightened ones have to lecture me. One blatant example is a column by Adam Cohen a couple of months ago about the Right's attempts to have the judiciary hijacked by radical Right-wingers. In Cohen's lecture on the history of the judiciary over the last 100 years, he "neglects" to mention FDR's Court-packing plan, pretending like Republicans are the only ones who politicize the Courts. Maybe someone who doesn't know much about the Supreme Court would be convinced by his screed. But I knew enough to know that what Cohen wrote was a bunch of bull.
The "official" press has no more of a right of access to information than you or I or Gannon/Gucker do. Just because they work for a company that claims to "report" doesn't mean that they ought to get official access. I am really tired of media insiders like you claiming that something "chilling" is happening in America when Dick Cheney bans the NYT from his plane. The NYT has no more of a right to be there than I do.
Certainly, it is impossible for the press to be objective. But at the least, it can try to be fair. I believe that most of the major media have utterly failed at that. Regardless, they have no more of a claim to speak for "the people" or question our politicians than you or I do. You ought to stop pretending like they do.
it is our underground railroad in response to the FSM(Fringe Stream Media). Understandably, the FSM and Democrats are resisting like they RESISTED the emancipation of the slaves because of one simple thing which they have not yet accustomed themselves to:
WE HAVE A DIFFERENT VIEW OF THE WORLD AND ITS WORKINGS
First of all, I resent your comparison to the Underground railroad. Most democrats of pre-60's America, correspond most certainly to today's Republicans. That is why the south changed hands: The tendencious WASPs found that the Republicans were now ge ones yo represent their rights to supremacy, and they eventually switched. To say that today's Democrats correspond to the very same slave-holders is... inaccurate, to say the least.
Second, I wanted to point out that you have terrorized people into believing in your worldview. I was one day in a church in Delaware County (here in Ohio), during the campaign, when Karl Rove came to speak; he told the assembly that the Democrats were trying to make it impossible for them to go to church, that they were anti-christian heretics, and un-patriotic because one could not regect the Christian faith and be a good American. He raised the bible, and said that if Kerry was elected, they would become paiahs in their own country, and the Bible would be a symbol of shame. Hadn't I known that was ludicrous, I would have believed him.
If it weren't for my reverence for houses of God, and my fear that I would be lynched by all the frightened White nodding heads around me (I was one of 3 black people in the room), I would have exploded, and made a scandal that day. And those warning messages were disseminated all around rural Ohio. So widespread and distorted with time, that I even heard people saying that Democrats were allied with Al-Qaeda to bring down the loving and God-fearing people of America.
Liberals do sleazy things too. But to my knowledge, they try to maintain a healthy respect for the truth, and to keep smear to either a minimum, or to excesses that are clearly satirical (like the whole Bushitler thing). But at the end of the day, in the media, it all comes down to this: People claim theyd do not need intermediaries (and that is fine), but they are often quite happy to get those intermediaries that agree with them (i.e: Limbaugh, Scarborough, O'reilly). Our friends from the Right are quite quick to condemn Liberal party hacks, but they do little to tackle the bias of their own hacks-urned-newspeople.
Regardless, they have no more of a claim to speak for "the people" or question our politicians than you or I do. You ought to stop pretending like they do.
I somewhat agree. However, they have the connections, the resources, and - whether you like admitting it or not - the majority's (though depleting) trust for at least reporting the facts. After that, it's a catch twenty two: The White House rejects them and refuses to use them(therefore they have to find their leads from elsewhere), then conservatives criticize them for not giving them accurate (read slavish) accounts of what the White House said. We are not in Communist Russiam for Christ's sake! If you want a TV that blurts out the party line, go to China. For me, as long as they get the facts right, they are doing their job. If they left-editorialize afterwards, since you claim to be so smart, you will realize it, and block it out; If (like Sacrborough) they right-editorialize it, I will listen, just to know what the other side thinks. But you cannot deny the MSM the large conparatice advantage they have in the business of reporting. As I have previously said, some stories should be given less prominence... But then again I often see that as a result of a righy-wing conspiracy to keep BUsh's mistakes of the air... [;)]
Jay, great comment on those with too many posts; Sisyphus & Mark set a fine example (and Sisyphus has done a great job, here).
I think Bush is doing some great things in the world, but is not perfect. I don't see the MSM trying to support any of the great things, merely acting as Dem Party opposition hacks. The silly "don't you want to apologize" press conference was a fine example; the first Bush-Kerry debate is another. 13 questions, all "attacking" the Pres, not one asking about any Kerry positions.
Kerry lied about Christmas in Cambodia -- in Senate testimony. The Dem Party MSM failed failed failed, like you, Jay, fail, to investigate, publicize, and explain what this means. Or Kerry's failure to sign Form 180.
The Lying-by-omission Dem Party MSM is being de-certified, and deserves it. The fact that the MSM has, as mentioned nicely, ALWAYS supported more gov't power and more gov't regulation in line with the Dems, makes them understandably outraged when they are delivering such gov't power to their political rivals, whom the MSM see and treat as enemies.
I try to skip most of p.luka's rants, but saw a mention on how fascism develops as if blaming Reps. Ha! The PC thought nazis who are certain that genes force most gays into their sexual orientation, but can not possibly be a reason for fewer top physicists being women, is the kind of inconsistent thinking that leads to fascism. It's in the Dem Party, today.
Malau, the EU parliament rejected a Commissioner because he was Christian, but accepted a former Communist. The anti-Christian pro-abortion folk, there and in the US, DO want to make people feel ashamed to be Christian.
Jay, thank you for the excellent and important point that the US system has not yet developed a better check on the gov't than a free and critical press. I trust that the market will, over time, provide such a check.
Unfortunately, the market often works slowly -- this is a main reason so much gov't action is supported, to get "there" sooner. The Fox News critics complain about their opinion shows; but what about their factual news? It seems (I have to look on the net, we only get CNN/ BBC in Slovakia) that only Fox news publicizes any news that is critical of the Dem Party.
Jay, where is your complaint that the MSM fails to have weekly church-going Republican reporters and editors? You know that the "diversity" which is missing in MSM is of different ideas, not different skin colors or sex.
Any media composed of "activistists" should be relabled as ideologues; which the MSM is quick to paint on any pro-Christian Republican, but denies for itself.
Where are the MSM stories of the child-raping UN peace keeping forces in the Congo? And in Kosovo? And in how the UN fired a whistleblower in 2001?
Oh I forgot, the anti-Bush MSM wants to, secretly, promote the UN as an alternative to the US (analogous to promoting Dems over Reps), so Jay only wants an MSM that checks Rep and US power...
But I'm glad, and here, because I do believe you are NOT divorced from reality.
A long and tedious argument that chooses to ignore the fact that the mainstream press is its own worst enemy. Over the past 15 years or so I have seen the American press change from reporting the news relatively objectively, while keeping opinions in the editorial pages. Today the reverse is true.
Today, national news papers, for the most part, have become tabloids, intent more on sensationalism than real news, and reporters are more concerned with how well they can write into the news, their own biases and ideologies.
Hence, their "integrity" has gone down the tubes. Why? Well, this is not rocket science; for example, consider the reportage on the war in Iraq; when or where have readers seen a story on the good things we have done that isn't rife with caveats.
Rather, mainstream news concentrates on bad news. That focus on the bad unbalanced by the good is reprehensible, for two reasons: 1) "news" is written primarily to sell newspapers, absent the unvarnished truth, and 2) their poison pens are openly directed at an Administration that the liberal press despises: consider what CBS and the NYT tried to do to President Bush, just before the November election.
The American press, with some notable exceptions, is steeped in a post modern world of critical analysis, while the overwhelming majority of their readers still live and work in that world where the news is not opinion mixed with facts, and where covert ideological innuendo sprinkled throughout the news, is shunned.
In short, report the news objectively, or lose your integrity and your readership.
"Just the facts man/mame, just the facts."
Of particular interest is the claim by the right-wingers here that they don't want or need the press to decide what is important for them to know.
Which is all well and good. We now have C-Span, and official websites in the hundreds, which are capable of producing "unfiltered" information for those individuals who have the (practically infinite amount of) time to watch everything on C-Span, and read every press release, report, and piece of legislation offered by public officials. And, unless we assume that these people wish to remain ignorant of any supplemental relevant information, criticism, and counter-proposals, each of them will of course devote sufficient time to all of these sources as well, so that they are capable of making fully informed decisions.
In other words, when you take more than 30 seconds to consider declarations like "I don't need a White House press corp to tell me what is important", you realize that these right-wing critics of the press are completely -- and in most cases hopelessly -- delusional.
As Malau has noted, these same people do, in fact, allow others to decide for them what is important for them to know. They listen to Limbaugh and Savage, watch FoxNews, and read FreeRepublic and Instapundit and Little Green Footballs.
In other words, these people have chosen to live in an alternate "reality" that has nothing to do with what the administration acknowledges is the "reality-based community." They don't even acknowledge that their information is being filtered through an extremely narrow media perspective -- and actually believe that they are making informed decisions based on an understanding of all the relevant facts.
This is all well and good. People have a right to believe what they want to believe, even if they are completely divorced from the "reality-based community."
The problem is that these delusional right-wingers want to impose their anti-reality on everyone else. And the reason this is a problem is that the folks that the "reality based community" rely upon to maintain that "reality base" (i.e. the press) have abandoned the principle of presenting "reality" because "presenting reality" leads to "liberal bias", and the press has placed a higher premium on being "unbiased" than on presenting "reality".
The net result is reporting that does not differentiate between reality and delusion, between contextualized information and disinformation, or between facts and lies.
Here is one example of what I'm talking about, from today's Times. After telling us that Bush has said that Social Security is headed for "disaster" unless "drastic changes" are made, we read....
Mr. Bush made plain that he expects to hold Democrats accountable if they do not meet him with their own Social Security alternatives
It is not until much later that we are told But Mr. Bush has not laid out his own blueprint for change either, detailing mostly the benefits rather than the cost of personal accounts.
And we are never told flat out that the "drastic changes" that Bush is pushing will do nothing to stave off the "disaster" that he predicts---and will, in fact, accelerate it. Instead, we are treated to this: "a move that detractors say would cost trillions in transition costs and ruin the underpinnings of the system." [emphasis added]
Its not "detractors saying" it, its an established fact that the "disaster" that social security faces is that at some point in the future, promised benefits under current law will exceed funds available to the Social Security system, and that under current law benefits would have to be cut at that point to bring the system into balance. And its also an established fact that "private accounts" will mean that the date at which benefits exceed available assets will be moved considerably closer to today.
In other words, Bush is saying that "drastic changes" have to be made to avoid a disaster for Social Security, but is proposing "drastic changes" that accelerate the disaster, rather than avoid it. But, he is also insisting that the democrats will be held accountable if they don't come up with their own plan to stave off the coming "disaster" --- implying that Bush has proposed such a plan.
He hasn't, but we are never provided with that fact presented as objective reality , instead we are left with a very weak statement about what "detractors say". And this is happening because to relay the facts would mean directly contradicting the President, and directly contradicting the President leads to accusations of "liberal bias".
Imagine if you know that your car will need more oil at some time in the future or your engine will seize up. Now, imagine that someone recommended that the way to fix the future problem was to drain a quart of oil from the crankcase, and put it in someone else's engine. And now imagine that someone comes along and says "Hey, draining that quart of oil is only going to mean that more oil will be have to be added sooner."
Would any sane reporter relate this story from any other perspective than one that describes the person who wants to drain the oil from the crackcase is completely delusional, and the person warning against doing so is making perfect sense?
So why is the Times presenting the same basic story as if the guy who wants to solve the future problem by draining a quart of oil is not completely insane, and that the guy who is warning against doing so is just offering an opinion?
This is why the press is "decertifying itself". The Bush administration is presenting a version of reality that creates severe cognitive dissonance in anyone with a vestige of intelligence---and the media is relaying that version of reality as if it was not completely absurd.
There is only so much cognitive dissonance that intelligent people can take before they stop listening, because it represents a frontal assault on their sanity. So they "tune out" the sources of this "anti-reality" in order to maintain the capacity to act as rational human beings.
BobT: there's been no response to the Blogfather's (Prof. Reynolds), rosignol's and my question: Who "certified" the press in the first place?
As a "certified" regular reader of Glenn Reynolds "Instapundit" let me step up to the plate to knock this softball out of the park. Your is a question that misinterprets the title of the essay since Jay -- and every sensible journalist -- has always fiercely opposed licensing journalists.
That said, their ain't enough spots either at the Superbowl or at the White House press secretary's daily gaggle. How should one choose who will attend. When the issue-driven spotlight isn't shining, perhaps the selection process can be more casual. [The Gannon episode will make it less likely that I, from a community print newspaper, might get in occasionally.] The defacto "certification" no doubt reaches back to a time when MSM was the only alternative to collect and distribute news. Those discussing this issue now overlook that a kind of "decertification" -- favoring television networks over print journalists, has been happening for years.
The decertification of which Jay speaks is a challenge to the varied tasks the White House press would perform. They include:
1. Does the White House press "speak" for the American people? Certainly not, although they may presume they do. Bush has been taken to task for pointing out the reporter's presumption.
2. Does the White House press ask questions for the American people? It has to try to, but a lot of the questions they ask seem to be self-serving.
3. Does the White House press report credibly back to the readers and viewers they serve? Since technology has multiplied the avenues for information, this has been called into question by many, including past and current Presidents.
Unfortunately, Jay uses Bush's comment about "1" to address the administration's concerns about "2" and "3" as if they were the same issue. Jay is concerned about possible consequences of the administration bypassing -- "decertifying" -- the White House press because the administration apparently does not believe either the press's questions or their reporting of answers fairly serve the public.
The administration apparently does not believe that the White House press' questions or their reporting of the answers fairly serve the public. In consequence, the administration appears to be bypassing them. Jay sees this as "decertifying" them and is afraid of the consequences.
Jay wants the administration to stop it. So do I. But Jay is focused on the administration and I focus on both. I think things will improve, not when the White House press becomes docile, but when they get back to their job.
BTW: My own critique of Jay's essay, "De-certifying 'De-Certifying the Press'" appears as a comment above.
The traditional role of the press is a two edged sword in this debate. I think that most of the posts arguing in support of the new reality boil down to a realization that, over the last 35 years or so, the press as an institution has abandoned its traditional role as a reasonably neutral "interlocutor" and become, with some few exceptions, advocates for a particular point of view.
I think that the posts of p.lukasiak are an excellent example of this. Rather than taking the view that reasonable men can disagree, he holds that not understanding the decision that the majority of the electorate made is "this is a reflection of one of the limitations of excellence. Simply put, smart people have an extremely difficult time understanding how stupid people think." But, he likes the press just fine, holding them to be the "reality based" antitype to the "delusional" thinking of the majority. I would argue that this is true because the press largely reflects his extreme world-view. I believe that this is indicative of a press corps that has abandoned its traditional role of neutral disinterested questioner, and taken on an advocacy role.
The "de-legitimizing" of the press by the Bush administration, is, I suspect, at least partly a reaction to this. It is in some ways an acknowledgement that the press has "de-legitimized" itself by abandoning its traditional role. I don't think people take it seriously anymore when when CBS simultaneously invokes the tradition of Murrow and countenances the actions of Rather.
In my previous post, I indicated that the technology changes that decoupled the interlocutor function from the information distribution function made this possible. However, I still think that there is a role for a professional, informed press corps to serve as honest brokers between the government and the electorate. However, because of the changes it has made in its traditional approach, the press corps we have now is incabable of fulfilling that role. I don't think its possible to seriously advance the argument for tradition without, at the same time, calling for a serious, systemic reform of today's mainstream media.
Tradition should be respected, certainly, but not blindly - in this case, the press has abandoned its traditional responsibilities, and cannot, in my opinion, at the same time invoke tradition as a justification to maintain its traditional privileges.
The only exception I would take to your response is that I do not think that the White House - or any arm of government, for that matter - should be involved in the emergence of the new interlocuter. Witness the beginnings of the supposedly "independent" 527's and the recent furor over regulating political speech on blogs. As McCain-Feingold so aptly demonstrates, when the government gets involved in speech, even on the fringes of the 1st amendment, they almost always screw it up.
On the other hand, with apologies to Hugh Hewitt (disclaimer: I haven't read the book, although I suppose I'll have to now) I don't think the Reformation model works very well. Yes, its theoretically possible that, with the Internet, I could go to the original sources, do my own research, seek out competing points of view, judge the veracity and accuracy of each, for every important issue I should understand as a member of the electorate. Realistically, for those of us with families, careers, and interests other than politics, I don't think that's possible. The number of important issues, and the amount of information, argument and opinion available on each one, is simply overwhelming. Also, individuals do not have the resources to, say, embed a reporter in a Marine platoon in Iraq, or attend press conferences at the White House.
So, I don't think the model of what I call the information filter, and what I think Jay means when he refers to the interlocuter, is obsolete. I believe that we (meaning the electorate) need someone to locate, collate and provide context for information so that we can make rational decisions. I just think that the traditional media representatives have abandoned that role. And, I think that what will emerge as the new model or organization needs to be discussed and debated explicitly by the press (in Jay's inclusive definition) and by the electorate. Will it include a reformed mainstream press? Will a more peer to peer model of bloggers, each expert in a given area, emerge? Will it be some combination of the above?
I think that ultimately, the press is "certified" by the trust of the electorate to work on their behalf. Right now, the task is to find a press model that regains that trust, and present that model to our government.
My own disenchantment (decertification? delegimitization?) with the press started during the first Gulf War. As an engineer who works for a lower level defense contractor, I have a passing familiarity with some of the defense systems employed by our forces. During the press conferences carried by cable TV at that time, I heard repetitive, inane and just plain stupid questions directed at the officers doing the briefings. A sizable portion of the reporters sounded like their previous beat was the fashion page based on their apparent lack of knowledge of anything military. Why then should I trust their reporting?
obviously, you never stop to consider the fact that the vast majority of Americans "lack knowledge of things military", and would also want answers to "stupid" questions. Nor have you considered the possibility that reporters may know more than they indicate when asking an "obvious" question, but ask the "obvious" question in order to let the government representative give the "obvious" answer that provides those with a "lack of military knowledge" the perspective they require.
Finally, you simply ignore the possibility that just because a journalist asks a stupid question does not mean that s/he is incapable of providing an accurate account of a press briefing and/or question and answer period.
Instead, you became "disenchanted" solely because the reporters didn't know as much as you thought they should know---because YOU knew it. This self-centered perspective---the demand that your reporters act as extensions of your personal biases, rather than that they function to inform the public as a whole---is what is at issue here.
The whole Rathergate nonsense just confirmed this view. Anyone with any experience with both typewritten and Word generated documents could readily see the similarity. Citizens with their own expertise in typefonts, typewriters and computer generated printouts could cry foul on this particular high priest without having to persuade some other high priest to cover the story.
a truly remarkable display of ignorance caused by political bias.
In fact, Word is designed to produce documents that look like they were 'typewritten.' Anyone who thinks that they could eyeball a document that has obviously been subject to multiple reproductions and state authoritatively whether or not it was typewritten or produced by MS Word is a liar.
And, indeed, no one has ever denied that it would have been possible to have created the documents on far later model typewriters. The issue, in fact, was whether those specific documents could have been typed in 1972 and 1973. And only someone with specific expertise in typewriter technology circa 1972-73 would even hazard a guess upon merely eyeballing the documents.
The "citizens" who "cried foul" in fact did so without any real knowledge that you ascribe to them whatsoever. The "reproduction" that convinced so many right-wingers that the documents were fraudulent because they were "exactly alike" were not even close to "exactly alike" when examined --- similar, yes...but as I noted earlier, Word was designed to produce documents that looked like typewritten documents, so it would come as no surprise that it would be easy to create a similar looking document.
In fact, the overwhelming amount of "evidence" of fraud has been discounted as completely false, or utterly irrelevant. But that doesn't matter anymore---even the Thornburgh--Boccardi report said that, based on over 100 records provided to them, there was no evidence that the Texas Air National Guard could have produced a proportionately spaced document in 1972. The only problem is that there is evidence from Bush's own files that such documents were being created in 1971 --- but the document that proves it was withheld by the White House when it released "all the records" in February, and only came to light on September 24th, 2004 as a result of an Associated Press lawsuit.
(and, if you want to complain about 'journalistic incompetence', you should complain about the fact that the AP writers who wrote about these documents didn't notice that they were proportionately spaced until I brought it to their attention. Now, I don't consider the fact that they missed it a sign of incompetence --- I noticed it because I am intimately familiar with all of the records that were released in February, and this OFFICIAL document was clearly different from the ones that the White House had not suppressed.)
Your statement with regard to the memos in other words, is a result of your own biases that result in your ignoring contrary evidence, ignoring logic, and avoiding those sources of information that would provide you with information that would contradict your ideological prejudices.
Drat! I guess I will have to shut up and resign myself to being lectured by my intellectual "superiors".
no, but it would help if you opened your mind a bit, rather than simple assume that your prejudices conform with the facts.
I am surprised at how superficial your response is Ironbear, lecturing me as if I am unaware that the press isn't literally certified (something I have said here four or five times), or alternatively, going on as if you had never run across the metaphorical use of language or had a god-like the power to disallow it. Weird, man.
As I told Glenn Reynolds: if you want to quarrel with my term de-certify (like that's the issue) then just substitute de-legitimize.
And don't tell me it's not happening; that insults my intelligence and it contradicts what Bush's own people have said. (See Ken Auletta: Fortress Bush.) I have eyes, I have ears, I've studied the history of the White House press and I know a different approach when I see one.
If you want to argue that the Bush Team has some special right to select the press it wants to face as an interlocutor, then go ahead, make the case.
Also, I am very surprised that the President's supporters--including those here--don't seem to realize how little confidence the White House staff shows in Bush himself by keeping him away from tough or unexpected questions. How condescending of them.
He cannot handle anything but a hand-pickled audience? The guy's the most powerful person in the world, and his people are afraid of letting a few German citizens become his unscripted interlocutor for an hour. If I were a Bush supporter, I'd be mystified by that, and asking myself: is he really that weak?
Here's my big picture case, Ironbear. If you are going to dismiss it, then deal with all of it. The thinness of your comment above is far below your standards.
It started with John Ashcroft: National Explainer. (September 16, 2003, shortly after PressThink's debut.) Why Karen Ryan Deserved What She Got (March 31, 2004) was my second look at the Bush Administration's assault on the practice of journalism-- the impersonation of a reporter by PR woman Ryan.
In a follow up, Flacks Cannot Say They're "Reporting" Anymore, (April 20, 2004) I told of pressuring the Public Relations Society of America to either declare what Ryan did wrong, or say out loud that they wouldn't. (They did, meekly.)
My first look at the Bush Thesis, which I consider an imaginative leap in press relations, was A Prime Time News Conference Before a Special Interest: Make Sense to You? (April 13, 2004) I was asking: if Bush meant what he said about "just another special interest," why would he call a press conference at a rocky moment? That led to Bush to Press: "You're Assuming That You Represent the Public. I Don't Accept That."(April 25, 2004) where I explained the Bush Thesis, and the de-certification impulse, in more depth.
I also learned something from the reactions. Many on the cultural right cheered my report on the Bush Thesis. They saw it as just, and just what was needed. They loved it that Bush stood up to journalists. (You represent the American public? I don't think so.) For a time, Bush to Press was PressThink's most heavily read post. The put down made sense to them. They saw no problem with it.
That reaction was one thing that led to There's Signal in That Noise: The White House, the Reality Principle and the Press (June 23, 2004): "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."
I examined the cultural front and the Right's complaints with the press in Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes (Oct. 4, 2004), which tried to distinguish between those "frustrated and angry with the traditional news media," who want changes in the institution, and another group, "posing as critics of bias," who simply want to discredit and destroy it.
On. October 28, 2004, I was quoted by Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times, "I think there's a campaign under way to totally politicize journalism and totally politicize press criticism... It's really an attack not just on the liberal media or press bias, it's an attack on professionalism itself, on the idea that there could be disinterested reporters."
In The Coming Apart of An Ordered World: Bloggers Notebook, Election Eve (Oct. 31, 2004) I told of getting phone calls from editors alarmed about the coordinated attacks they were feeling as the election drew closer. I also nominated Ron Suskind's New York Times magazine article, "Without a Doubt" for campaign piece of the year-- a heroic effort to describe the "leap" in thinking that the Bush team has made.
Then on the day after the 2004 election I wrote Are We Headed for an Opposition Press? "The Bush White House has the national press in a box," I wrote. "As with so many other situations, they have changed the world and allowed the language of the old world to keep running while exploring unchallenged the fact of the new. The old world was the Fourth Estate, and the watchdog role of the press, the magic of the White House press conference. It was a feeling that, though locked in struggle much of the time, journalists and presidents needed each other. Although it was never put this way, they glamourized Washington politics together, and this helped both.
"In Bushworld, all is different."
Finally, Bloggers Are Missing in Action as Ketchum Tests the Conscience of PR described the falsification of journalism by means of a public relations firm, Ketchum, favored by the Bush Administration with $97 million in contracts, one of which went to conservative columnist Armstrong Williams.
Now the trail has led to Jeff Gannon, and In the Press Room of the White House that is Post Press. As far as I'm concerned, it is all one story.
I just thought the electorate would be better served by journalists who were informed on the subject so they could discern whether or not they were being fed a line of bull by the briefers. Isn't that supposed to be the function of the fourth estate?
Its one of the functions, but not (IMHO) the primary one (which would be relating to the citizenry the information they need to act as an informed electorate.)
What we now call "investigative journalists" used to be referred to by the far less flattering term "muckrakers." (think "sanitation engineers" vs "garbage men.") From what I have gathered (and I'm not an expert on the subject) the assumption of a "watchdog" function on government is a relatively recent phenomenon. And, up until fairly recently, there really was no assumption that when you read a newspaper, you were getting "unbiased" news. Papers were very often associated with a particular party or ideology, and would "watchdog" the other guys, but the sense that "the press" was supposed to watchdog "the government" is fairly new.
And I think one of the reasons for that is that there was an assumption that people could trust their government until very relatively recently. People might disagree with what the government was doing, but when the government said something, it was generally believed.
That started falling apart with Vietnam and Watergate, when trust in election officials was severly eroded. And there were consequences to governmental dishonesty -- Johnson did not run for re-election, Nixon was forced to resign, Reagan had to apologize to the American people (Iran-Contra), and Clinton...well, we know what happened to him when he lied....
Which is a long, drawn out way of saying that, up until very recently, there was an assumption that government spokesmen would not be handing reporters a "line of bull"; that reporters could relate what the government said, and be confident that it was true.
In regard to the Rathergate issues, I know you are somewhat of a crusader on the subject but you are only preaching to the choir. I have looked at the evidence and am not persuaded to your positions.
I have the feeling that you don't know what my actual position is. I have no idea if the memos are genuine or not. I certainly don't claim that they are genuine, and I think that CBS should have withdrawn the story much sooner, when truly substantive questions (rather than the nonsense that was appearing on the internet in the first couple of days of the controversy) were raised with regard to the memos that it could not immediately address in an adequate fashion.
The problem with the Newcomer analysis is that it assumes that everything that contradicts it is a result of the repeated reproduction that the memos went through, while using evidence that is just as (if not more) likely to have been the result of the same reproduction processes. I personally found the Hailey analysis (which does not say the memos were genuine, only that they were typed) far more convincing. (One of the most significant bit of evidence is that if you take an MS Word document, and subject it to repeated reproductions, the loss in quality that occurs looks nothing like the loss in quality that is shown by the Killian memos. This is something you can try yourself, btw. Type something up, copy it, scan it, fax it, do whatever....what you wind up with will be degraded, but not in the way that the Killian memos were. Specific letters do not wind up slightly raised, and specific portions of letters do not consistently show the kinds of signs of wear that is characteristic of typewriters, but not of of laser or inkjet printers.)
The fact is that I really don't have a horse in that race --- the Killian memos simply "flesh out" what can already be determined by examining the Bush records from within the context of the laws and policies of that era. They really don't add any key information, they just provide additional detail to a narrative that is already established.
Insulting their intelligence doesn't strike me as a successful tactic.
you are correct, its a horrible tactic if my goal was to convince right-winger to adopt my position. But that is not my purpose in saying it. Rather, its to convince "non-right wingers" of the nature of the problem facing the press, and the nation as a whole. As far as I'm concerned, right-wingers are (with some exceptions) pretty much impervious to rational argument based on facts. Read the thread, and you will see that most of the right-wingers making comments now assume that any facts contrary to their prejudices are either untrue, irrelevant, or presented in an out of context fashion because of "liberal bias."
And you really can't argue with that.
One of the first things you notice about a White House press conference is the near-uniform hostility toward the president. Some of this is not really hostile so much as asking tough questions, but when reporter after reporter asks whether he wants to apologize for not finding WMD in Iraq, it has ceased to be a fact-gathering session and turned into a debate.
I sense that the press doesn't understand how offensive such spectacles are to ordinary people. They seem to be very dense about this for some reason, always coming up with bromides about "holding government accountable." Now that people are holding them accountable, they don't like it and act as if non-journalist critics are violating some right to always be right.
"There's a difference between going around the press in an effort to avoid troublesome questions, and trying to unseat the idea that these people, professional journalists assigned to cover politics, have a legitimate role to play in our politics."
I think this is a mischaracterization. When Bush says "You're assuming that you represent the public. I don't accept that," he's making a point that the media seem almost deliberately dense to: that the "peoples' right to know" belongs to the people, not the press." That's what Glenn Reynolds is saying, I think. The people aren't being served by the polarization of the media. Bush has a right to get his own message out, and if the media are blocking that message, he has a right to go around them.
It seems to be an article of faith for reporters that no one is allowed to question their judgment and interpretation of facts and that anyone who does is violating the First Amendment. What part of "freedom of speech" don't they understand?
Bush cannot de-certify the press. The press can only do that to itself, as we have seen CBS and Eason Jordan do. It should be a wake-up call to journalists that Fox News Channel has been so successful and that Rush Limbaugh has such a following. Heretofore, technology favored the forces that have turned the news business into an oligopoly, but now it has enabled a host of new commentators. The press seems to have mistaken the status quo ante as some kind of natural law, and want some kind of redress. That's why they are being compared to the dinosaurs, who got huge in a world that was suddenly altered in favor of the small creatures who didn't need to eat whole forests to survive.
The meteor has hit. Good luck.
Well, ok, here I go casting bait one more time.
Jay Rosen: "As with so many other situations, they have changed the world and allowed the language of the old world to keep running while exploring unchallenged the fact of the new. The old world was the Fourth Estate, and the watchdog role of the press, the magic of the White House press conference. ..."
Do you, Jay Rosen, mean to say that the old world was Dewey? The Fourth Estate predates Dewey.
[Dewey] contended that just letting discussion go, without eliciting facts of any kind, and without appealing to common meanings, was fruitless (Hart 1993). While Dewey did not dispute Lippmann's claim that social inquiry and policy design can be done by experts, he claimed that all the relevant facts and potential implications of such inquiry and proposed policies should remain a public trust which must not be manipulable by private interests. In The Public and its Problems (p. 365), he admitted that "it is not necessary that the many should have the knowledge and skill to carry on the needed investigations; what is required is that they have the ability to judge of the bearing of the knowledge supplied by others upon common concerns." For Dewey, once the relevant facts are made public (and in this regards he placed great emphasis on the need of a truly free press), the role of discussion is to determine the exact nature of the common good in that particular situation.
The question is, if not "the press", then who will replace them in this function: "relevant facts and potential implications of such inquiry and proposed policies should remain a public trust which must not be manipulable by private [and arguably, political] interests".
Would it be better to say - rather than Bush is "De-Certifying the Press" - that Dewey's dead?
We seem to be arguing over who killed the Dewey press, Bush or the press, and more importantly, whether Dewey needs to survive.
Is Jay Rosen trying to make the argument that the public should hold the political estate responsible for either playing nice with a dysfunctional press for the sake Dewey?
Or, politicians should create another means for bringing to the public "relevant facts and potential implications of such inquiry and proposed policies ... which must not be manipulable by private [and arguably, political] interests"?
Jay Rosen, are you making the "Jeffersonian/Dewey" accusation that the Hamiltonian/Lippman "Bush Thesis" decertifies the Dewey/Rosen Thesis? And are you finding "Hamiltonians" and "Lippmans" to debate?
I think you are, and you know it [
One of the first things you notice about a White House press conference is the near-uniform hostility toward the president. Some of this is not really hostile so much as asking tough questions, but when reporter after reporter asks whether he wants to apologize for not finding WMD in Iraq, it has ceased to be a fact-gathering session and turned into a debate.
I sense that the press doesn't understand how offensive such spectacles are to ordinary people. They seem to be very dense about this for some reason, always coming up with bromides about "holding government accountable."
first, lets make it clear that the press wasn't asking about an apology because "Bush didn't find WMDs in Iraq", it was because there were none to be found and Bush had used their existence as his rationale to go to war.
And under those circumstances, (and within the context of the history of Presidential apologies for lying about stuff) I'm not quite sure why it would be offensive to ask if Bush was going to apologize.
The fact is that Bush betrayed the trust of the American people (and the trust of the press who delivered Bush's message to the American people without questioning it sufficiently.) Under those circumstances, Bush should have said (the equivalent of) "I'm sorry. I screwed up. I learned a valuable lesson, and nothing like this will ever happen again" in order to restore trust.
Instead, he was defiant, because he didn't give a damn that he had screwed up, that hundreds of thousands of American lives had been disrupted, and hundreds of American lives had been lost. Bush had screwed up, but remained unrepentant.
It was at that point that the press should have declared war on George W. Bush, because George W. Bush had declared war on the foundation of democracy---an informed electorate. Bush said "I can lie and get away with it."
The press hasn't decertified itself. It has neutered itself.
A couple of points:
First off, I am amused by the stereotypes some of the posters on the left have of right-wing critics of the press. You guys assume we all go listen to Rush and get our marching orders from him or Hannity or Savage. I don't think that I've listened to Rush's show in the past eight years. At least not since 1996, when I was in 10th grade. I hate Hannity. I have never listened to his radio show and I turn the TV to MSNBC every time he comes on with Colmes. I even met Alan Colmes on the street once and told him I thought he was smarter than Hannity. So, no, we don't all go to our favorite source of information and take everything said there for granted. When a SC case comes out, I go read the opinion and decide for myself.
What, you don't know of any intelligent liberals whose every argument about why Bush is destroying the economy begins with "Paul Krugman wrote that..."? Or the people who claim the MSM lies to promote a capitalist, racist, fascist agenda, but then believe everything they read on Indymedia? Give me a break. People are gullible and like things that confirm their prejudices. People on the right do it no more than people on the left. And don't assume that we on the right who dare rise up on our hind legs to criticize the media get our marching ourders from Rush and Instapundit.
One MAJOR problem with Prof. Rosen's arguments against the Bush administration's brave new techniques to delegitimize the media is that in fact, everyone had done it in the past. What Bush is doing is not a change in kind, but at worst in degree.
For example, the thing with the PR firms. Well, the Clinton administration did it as well. They hired PR firms to promote government agenda. Whatever you think of this, it wat not pioneered by the Bushies. They might have spent more money on the ideas than Clinton did. But that might be only because Clinton didn't need to spend as much money. He was a rather popular president who, by 1996, could push most items on his agenda through a hostile Congress. If Clinton were in the position of Bush, he would have spent the same amount if not more. You have no evidence to the contrary.
Prof. Rosen writes:
"That one has a right to exercise the power of the American Presidency without being questioned--and that is the Bush belief--is a sense of entitlement far greater than even Mike Wallace could project."
But I don't see how any of the "evidence" he musters supports that Bush believes he has a "right." I think that the best case scenario is that he would rather not be questioned. He in fact strongly prefers no questioning. So what? I would assume that Dan Rather strongly prefers not to be questioned as well. His stonewalling for two weeks sort of attests to that.
I thiink one major reason that the Bushies have become so oppositionally entrenched towards the media is the result of the 2000 election. It is undeniable that the fever pitch in the nation has risen and even mainstream political figures like to spout that Bush is a fascist. Under Clinton, no one but the lunatics thought that he was a communist proto-Leninist. But now, you have Harry Reid denouncing Bush, and Bobby Byrd comparing Republicans' tactics to that of Hitler. And the media has helped with this. From day one, they were misrepresenting his initiatives. Remember the arsenic in the drinking water stuff?
I just think that this kind of hot rhetoric makes people whom the rhetoric is about, a bit more entrenched. And that's a shame. So many people thought that the last election was stolen, that they actually believed that we had a guy in the White House who was ILLEGITIMATE. I don't think that this has happened since Reconstruction. So, isn't it understandable that when the ultra-leftist staffs of the major papers think that you were "selected not elected," you might get a little hostile to them questioning you?
We need to get a little cooler in this country about such things. If we disagree with someone, we ought not call them illegitimate, or compare them to Hitler. We need to stop questioning people's motives and start tackling the issues at hand. When too many people question motives, the people questioned get testy and refuse to debate. This is just simple human nature.
Prof. Rosen, imagine you submitted an article to some academic journal and they rejected the article, writing back that your article was so ridiculous that it was definitely written by a lunatic idealogue paid off by Google to promote Blogger. Then they start digging into the people who fund the NYU Journalism department, and through an eighth party realize that since NYU received money from the Carnegie foundation, and Carnegie gets money from Google, clearly there's a quid pro quo. Would you submit an article to that journal ever again? Of course not and no one could blame you. But why do you expect Bush to cooperate?