August 19, 2005
Guest writer Austin Bay : "Roll Forward: Why the Bush White House Needs the Press to Win the Big One"
Weekly Standard writer, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, Republican, conservative, blogger with a lit PhD. That's Austin Bay. "America must win the War On Terror, and the poisoned White House—national press relationship harms that effort," he says. Plus, my reply.
On July 25, I sent Austin Bay (his bio, his blog) the following note:
In my post, Rollback, I argued that the Bush White House has been pro-active in pushing the press back, by: feeding it less information, answering almost none of the questions reporters choose to ask, reducing their role as interlocutor with the president, letting it be known within the White House that talking to the press would not only be frowned on but punished, and many other ways. This collection of policies I call rollback, which goes beyond wariness to change the terms of engagement with the press.
That is my view of what is happening. I think it correct but not exclusively so.
One of the benefits of doing a blog, as you know, is that you learn what people say back to you; and I know from doing PressThink that for a healthy percentage who support the President, or despise the cultural left, or believe with all their might in what we’re doing in Iraq, or think the news media hopelessly biased, “rollback” sounds like a pretty good idea. They’ve told me so, any number of times.
My questions for you. Do you think rollback has been happening to the press under Bush, 2001-05? Or is my description off? And if there is press rollback, is it a wise policy, a necessary one?
This is what he wrote in reply. I will save my commentary to the end. We’re publishing it at both blogs today.
Special to PressThink
Roll Forward: Why the Bush White House
Needs the Press to Win the Big One
by Austin Bay
One: What “Rollback” Echoes With
In his July 16 post, Rollback, Jay selects an interesting term—a frame, really—to describe what he calls the current Bush Administration’s “press strategy.”
Here’s his definition: “Press rollback, the policy for which McClellan signed on, means not feeding but starving the beast, downgrading journalism where possible, and reducing its effectiveness as an interlocutor with the President. This goes for Bush theory, as well as Bush practice. The President and his advisors have declared invalid the ‘fourth estate’ and watchdog press model.”
What’s in a name? “Rollback” has historic echoes— including “rolling back the Communists,” a strategy Dwight Eisenhower rejected as too risky. In early 1953 Ike had his national security team wargame the Truman Administration’s strategy of “containment.” Eisenhower commissioned two teams, one tasked with evaluating containment and various related options, the other evaluating “rollback” or offensive-type strategies against the Soviet Union.
Ike had his teams examine the options in detail. Rollback’s economic costs—as well as its risk of all-out war—led Eisenhower to conclude that a modified-form of containment (a reinvigorated shield of conventional forces backed by the threat of nuclear retaliation) made the most sense.
Ike knew the Cold War would be a long, tedious test of wills, and he agreed with the Truman Administration’s assessment that the social, political, and economic vitality of the U.S. would be very effective tools in that struggle. The Hungarian revolt in 1956 was the ultimate test for Ike’s decision to forego “rollback” and stick with “containing” the Soviets. Because the U.S. didn’t intervene or back the armed revolt, Hungary suffered another 33 years of Red fascist Hell. Of course, nuclear war didn’t turn Central Europe into radioactive glass, either. And ultimately, Communism was rolled back
Jay mentioned the “long roots” of the recent spat between White House Press Secretary and the “gaggle” of reporters. The roots are longer—and thornier—than his original post suggests.
Jay and I agree that the Bush Administration and what (for the moment) I’ll call “the national press” are locked in a figurative war. Let’s stipulate that this figurative war occurs in the midst of a real (non-figurative) and ever active global conflict—both hot and cold—that is first and foremost an information war waged by an enemy that is itself a strategic information power. I speak of course of Al Qaeda. The “press conflict” and US domestic political clashes cannot be isolated from this multi-dimensional war and its harsh historical circumstances. Those who think it can deceive themselves.
A quick review of Al Qaeda’s information warfare capabilities helps put the White House’s biggest challenge in perspective. Yup, Al Qaeda’s a more serious “information” challenge than the “the national press.” Let me quote from a recent column:
Al Qaeda…understands the power of perceived grievance and the appeal of Utopia. In the late 1990s Osama Bin Laden said Al Qaeda’s strategic goal was restoring the Islamic caliphate. Bin Laden expressed a special hatred for Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk, who ended the caliphate in 1924. History, going wrong for Islamist supremacists at least since the 16th century, really failed when the caliphate dissolved. Though Al Qaeda’s time-line to Utopia remains hazy, once the caliphate returns the decadent modern world will fade as Western power collapses— and presumably Eastern power as well. (Islamists are active in China’s Sinkiang province.) At some point Bin Laden-interpreted Islamic law will bring strict bliss to the entire world. If this sounds vaguely like a Marxist “Workers Paradise” that’s no accident— the Communists also justified the murder of millions pursuing their atheist Utopia.
The appeal to perceived grievance and promise of an Islamist utopia made Al Qaeda a regional information power in a Middle East where other political options were denied by tyrants. The 9/11 attacks made Al Qaeda a global information power: they became an international advertising campaign for Jihad. Four years later Al Qaeda remains a strategic information power, but little else. In every other measure of influence and success, Al Qaeda is very weak.
Our world, however, is “information-rich,” and “compressed.” I made this point in a Weekly Standard article that appeared July 22, 2005:
Oceans still spawn hurricanes, but they don’t stop ICBMs or terrorists. On 9/11 al Qaeda demonstrated that what the World War I generation called “over there” is nowadays very close to “back here.” America—according to its enemies—is everywhere, but a computer keystroke finds al Qaeda, Chinese spam, Nigerian scams, North Korean agitprop, Bhutanese rug prices, and Sudan’s hideous genocide in Darfur. An airline ticket, a sick tourist, and 22 hours moves the Asian flu from Bangkok to Denver. The upscale phrase is “technological compression,” but the down-to-Earth 21st century fact is all of us live next door.
When it comes to understanding the effects of technological compression in their area of expertise, public health officials are way ahead of journalists. No one doubts the flu is a contagion that harms us all—- though the health officials often face huge political fights when they attempt to impose quarantines that affect trade. Information isn’t a bug—health officials rely on the free flow of information to stop the transmission of infectious disease—but rapidly transmitted information can also kill. Here’s an example: A reporter’s or US military officer’s verbal slip-up on tv “live from the battlefield” can fatally compromise an on-going operation. By fatal I mean fatal for American soldiers.
Sparring between Scott McClellan and “the national press” comes in the midst of a war fought in a world where video and audio travel at the speed of light, but cultural, historical, and political contexts still move at the uncertain, iffy velocities of education, thoughtful analysis, common interests, and mutual respect, as well as accurate translation.
Two: The New York to DC to LA Axis
The first word in Jay’s definition of “rollback” is “press.” What do we mean by “press?” I used a provisional term “national press.” But—thanks to technology—there is no “national” press, not anymore, not in a world with technological compression as a defining feature. PressThink and my web log are both international platforms. So is a cellphone with a camera. Middle school teachers know their classroom yawns can be e-photographed by the kid-in-the-back and sent to every giggling student on campus. No campus, however, is an island. The photo of the awkward yawn can end up on a computer screen in New Guinea.
Quoting The Economist, Jay describes a case of lost power:
Power is moving away from old-fashioned networks and newspapers; it is swinging towards, on the one hand, smaller news providers (in the case of blogs, towards individuals) and, on the other, to the institutions of government, which have got into the business of providing news more or less directly.
If power is moving away from the “big” news engines, the next question has to be: the power to do what? Power to make money in the same way networks and newspapers have made money for the last fifty years? Yup— that business model’s moving. Power to investigate? It’s arguable that institutions of government cracked Watergate, since we now know Woodward and Bernstein’s Deep Throat was the FBI’s deputy director. Power to transmit information? I’ll agree that this form of “press power” is more diffuse: welcome to the 21st century. As Jay notes, government websites can dispense with the press as “middle man.” Readers can interpret the press release for themselves.
Or perhaps Jay means the “national press’” power to set an agenda is fading? Jay writes:
I think Rove also knew that the press is that rare special interest group that feels constrained in how “organized” it can be to protest or strike back. In fact the national press, which is only a semi-institution to start with (semi-legitimate, semi-independent, semi-protected by law, and semi-supported by the American people) has no strategic thinking or response capability at all.
So who is “the special interest group?” Here’s what I think the Bush Administration means by “the Press,” and I think it intersects with a definition Jay would grant has a degree of validity: The NY-DC-LA (Nid-Claw) axis that dominated American political and cultural information from the late 1920s to the mid-1990s.
What are the Nid-Claws most noticeable characteristics? Urban? Yes. Politically liberal? According to the received wisdom of polls, nine out of ten members of “the national press” say they are Democrats. Culturally liberal? Return to the description “urban.” When I lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the early 1980s, I knew precisely six other Reagan Republicans. I was the only one who’d say it loud and say it proud.
Recently an international reporter told me (with a touch of bitterness) that his stories have to meet a specific editor’s expectations. That’s the word he used: “expectations.” Of course, you say, the editor is his boss. The reporter felt—felt, heck, he knew— important information he gleaned in the field was often cut from the account back home. Important nuances were lost. Do we blame it all on limited column inches or limited air time? Exercising good judgment, relying on professional experience, and just good, common sense editing are the upside of an information template— the affirmatives. Personal bias, ignorance of the facts, and lack of field experience are the downside— the negatives.
I’ve had way too many field reporters tell me that the people who get promoted to editor tend to be the NY and DC “stay at homes” who play the office and local political games well, but have minimal field experience themselves. It would be interesting to see some hard statistics to either dispute or support the anecdotes. The key questions wouldn’t simply be “years in the field” but “years where?”
Five years Paris, London, and Tokyo don’t score a tenth as many points as four months in Somalia, circa 1993. But I’ll wager that one type of editorial bias derives from the urban editors whose central experiences are Beltway, Manhattan and Hollywood politics or corporate gamesmanship within the media hierarchies themselves. This is a tough question to ask reporters; it could put their career on the line. However, if the “urban political milieu” affects editors, then that needs to be recognized and the bias vetted.
The memory of old institutional successes deeply affects the NY-DC-LA axis today. Two great gotcha successes drive the national press: Vietnam and Watergate. The Bush Administration thinks these “press templates” utterly distort today’s world. Some old guard media institutions operate on a “paper template”: a fossilized notion that information is still disseminated at the speed of the postman or delivery boy.
Again, from the July 22 Weekly Standard:
Unfortunately, many politicians and journalists still habitually live by 20th-century templates. Newsweek certainly thought [they’re] there and we’re here” when it ran its notorious “Koran flushing” anecdote, sparking deadly riots in Pakistan. Two other templates were also in play then: the Vietnam and the Watergate templates. Vietnam and Watergate for three decades have provided the New York-Washington-L.A. media axis with convenient—if reductive—headlines. The Vietnam and Watergate rules are simple and cynical. Rule One: Presume the U.S. government is lying—especially when the president is a Republican. Rule Two: Presume the worst about the U.S. military—even when the president is a Democrat. Rule Three: Allegations by “Third World victims” are presumptively true, while U.S. statements are met with arrogant contempt.
Yes, that’s the myth of the Noble Savage re-cast, just like “blood for oil” is a Cold War lie in jihadi clothing. Iraq is not Vietnam. Nor is Afghanistan. Nor was Desert Storm. But what’s the first template applied to any US military engagement since 1975? Vietnam.
Three: How About Rolling Forward?
The press templates are not only inaccurate, they are a disservice to the citizens the “national” press claims to serve. They are archaic domestic political frames that are particularly damaging in the midst of a global war against a strategic information power.
Editors and producers need to roll forward to the 21st century, and perhaps a new generation will. Glenn Reynolds says that 40 to 45 is the cut-off age between the graying fogies reveling in Vietnam/Watergate glory; and a newer, more acute crop of newshounds. He thinks the old boys and girls will have to retire before the templates go. I think —given the intricate and deadly global war— we don’t have that luxury.
Jay says the Bush Administration has declared the Fourth Estate and the “watchdog” press model invalid.
If there’s been a declaration I missed it. Jay’s rhetoric is a bit edgy here, but that’s the nature of blog debate. Let’s consider the core of his contention: the “watchdog” model. “Watchdog” (forgive me) begs a number of questions, including questions about the watchdog. Who does the watchdog watch? How does it watch? How does it bark? At whom does it bark? Like the dog Sherlock Holmes found strangely silent, how often does the watchdog not bark? Does the NY-DC-LA watchdog bark at Democratic and Republican presidents with equal ferocity? Is it even a watchdog, or is it a watch-pack, or watch-herd. (Herd is a more apt description of the press descending on Aruba to report on a missing tourist or hanging out in Santa Barbara while Michael Jackson faces a jury.)
Which leads to another point where Jay and I agree: The Bush Administration despises the “national press.” Key members of the current group despised the press prior to 9/11. I’ve presented the argument that “rollback” or “containment” by the Bush Administration, in the context of the War On Terror and 21st century information technologies, makes a kind of strategic sense. The “Vietnam” and “Watergate” templates distort. The White House leads the war effort, not a press clique dedicated to “playing gotcha” and/or “setting the agenda.” However, lurking behind the “rollback/containment” policy is a deep, abiding anger—and an anger that isn’t in the best interest of America.
Let’s not totally disparage anger as an emotion. The KosKidz at the DailyKos thrive on anger. Jay’s Rollback post displays an occasional flash of anger; and from the perspective of a journalism professor who knows, personally and professionally, that honest reporting protects and strengthens our democracy, his anger is just. The reporters snapping at Scott McClellan during the press conference Jay analyzes are angry; they believe they’ve been misled or lied to.
Key members of the Bush Administration believe they have been the victims of lies or victims of a relentless, decades-long selective reporting and commentary by members of the big media axis. Are Republicans ticked at Ambassador Joe Wilson’s truth challenged New York Times essay? One reason they are ticked is because they have seen this same kind of canard before. Recall Gary Sick and his nut-case story that George H W Bush flew to Paris on an SR-71 to negotiate with Iran? (See this, and Daniel Pipes with his Wall St Journal response; this link shows the conspiracy theory Sick pushed was first “reported” by Lyndon Larouche.)
The 1983 “Euro-Missile Crisis” is another bitter memory: the rhetorical hokum that Bush is “more dangerous than bin Laden” is 1983 recast. Oh, the accusations of 1983! Ronald Reagan was stupid. Reagan was a dangerous cowboy, a warmonger seeking the nuclear destruction of the USSR. Reagan was — good heavens — a unilateralist. In 2003 the Mayor of London called Bush “the greatest threat to life on the planet,” but then Ken Livingstone isn’t called “Red” because of his hair color. Hollywood also repeated a refrain. In 1983 ABC TV produced “The Day After,” a lousy piece of video propaganda that basically argued US nuclear forces would inevitably destroy the planet. In 2004 Michael Moore produced “Fahrenheit 911,” an even more explicitly anti-American film asserting Bush conspired to launch the 9/11 attacks.
Ironically, the Euromissile Crisis proved to be the last big political battle of the Cold War. In 1989, the Berlin Wall cracked, and the communists’ workers’ paradise was exposed as the Red Fascist gulag it always was. The repetition of 1983’s political scams by Democrats and their media allies—political scams that events would prove to be strategically foolish and historically wrong— receives little media attention outside of the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and Fox News Network.
Republicans look, listen, and remember with chagrin. And chagrin—in the George W. Bush White House—has turned to disdain. At the human level it’s understandable. Why give such a biased, and myopic bunch a break?
Here’s a good reason: America must win the War On Terror, and the poisoned White House—national press relationship harms that effort. History will judge the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the War On Terror. A key strategic issue for the current White House—perhaps a determinative issue for historians—will be its success or failure in getting subsequent administrations to sustain the political and economic development policies that truly winning the War On Terror will entail.
The Bush Administration needs the dying, withering, but still powerful press axis to do this.
Four: Bridging the Political Cycle
Jay’s post quotes an unidentified Bush Administration minion who says:
We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, judiciously, as you will, we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
I think Jay includes this story for several reasons. The man’s arrogance is supposed to indict the administration, and to a degree it does. His demeanor reminds me of the snooty, brat presumptiveness of George Stephanopoulos during his stint at the Clinton White House. (And for that matter, his continued brat act at ABC.)
If America is an empire it is an empire without precedent, which suggests the word is at best an inadequate description. America is a creative idea that defies geography, but I doubt this Bush minion understands that.
I also doubt our minion has ever served in the military; certainly he never served under fire. His are the words of a third-order actor. The minion’s soliloquy is a decadent and degraded version of Teddy Roosevelt’s critique of the critic. TR wrote, and I quote at length:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of the cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride or slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not exactly what they are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be a cynic, a fop, or a voluptuary.
This is how the Administration’s raconteur casts himself, as a man “in the arena,” though I strongly suspect his arena of conflict is the Beltway, not in Baghdad or Al Anbar Province. It is the United States of America, however, that is actually “in” the arena. The Bush Administration knows this. Here’s how I put it in the recent Weekly Standard article:
Al Qaeda’s jihadists plotted a multi-generational war in the early 1990s our enemies began proselytizing London and New York mosques and in doing so began planting cadres throughout the world. If the US leads a successful global counter-terror war many of these cadres will turn gray, get fat, and rot. But that must be a multi-generational war, which means a multi-administration war, which means bridging the whipsaw of the US political cycle.
The Bush Administration has not done that, at least not in any focused and sustained fashion.
9-11’s strategic ambush sought to force America to fight on Al Qaeda’s terms, to suck the United States into a no-win Afghan war, to bait the United States into launching a “crusade against Islam.” Osama bin Laden believed he possessed an edge in ideological appeal, “faith based” strength against what he perceived as U.S. decadence. U.S. failure in Afghanistan would ignite a global “clash of civilizations” pitting all Muslims against America.
Toppling Saddam and bringing the hope of democracy to the Middle East strategically changed Al Qaeda. Time is now turned against Al Qaeda, in the form of a New Iraqi Army, in the political shape of a new, pluralistic Iraqi government, examples of what General Abizaid calls Iraqis taking control of their own lives.
So the rats have come to Iraq to fight. Building a New Iraq and defeating those who would destroy it is the grand strategy, but the Bush Administration didn’t make that case explicit. It suggested the case but not at the center of its public diplomacy. In retrospect that was a long-term political mistake. The Bush Administration must revitalize its public diplomacy, and that means “rolling forward” and establishing a new, more mature relationship with the press. Someone much higher up the food chain than Mr. Empire Creating His Own Reality has to make that call.
But the NY-DC-LA axis must also “roll forward.” It’s in their institutional interest as well as simple survival. Joe Wilson hasn’t gotten away with the game as cleanly as Gary Sick did, and Dan Rather, well, he’s like Conrad’s Mistah Kurtz, only he doesn’t know it. The Internet is doing precisely what Jay says it’s doing. Here’s Jay’s quote from Patrick Healty writing in the May 22 edition of the NY Times:
Scrutiny is intense. The Internet amplifies professional sins, and spreads the word quickly. And when a news organization confesses its shortcomings, it only draws more attention. Also, there is no unified front - no single standard of professionalism, no system of credentials. So rebuilding credibility is mostly a task shouldered network to network, publication to publication.
Network to network, publication to publication. No, the big city press axis is no single outfit, but it is a club. There may be no single standard, but there are club leaders. So let’s pick on the leaders.
Here are a few things The New York Times can do to heal itself and set a new standard for White House-press relations in the midst of war. (And don’t say I’m confusing reporting with the editorial page. Joe Wilson and Gary Sick began on the editorial page, and their allegations fed national reporting. As I recall, Sick ended up on The PBS News Hour, chatting with Jim Lehrer.)
First off, Fire Paul Krugman and replace him with a real economist like Arnold Kling or Walter Williams. Krugman’s been predicting economic doom for four years. He needs to get a sign and walk the streets, not write a newspaper column. Turn Maureen Dowd into a gossip columnist. Replace Dowd with someone like Froma Harrop (a New Yorker who has moved to Providence). The Times could also fire the op-ed editor who inserted Bush Hate into Phil Carter’s column. (See my post for the details.)
Here are a few other suggestions for The Axis:
- Find Dan Rather’s missing Lucy Ramirez, the source for his fake but accurate documents. If they can’t find Lucy then that’s a big story, too.
- Get us a copy of the still-unreleased Eason Jordan tape where the CNN bigwig accused the US military of targeting (meaning murdering) journalists.
- Remove Linda Foley as national president of The Newspaper Guild. Linda Foley repeated Jordan’s slander.
- When Roger Ailes gets dissed for running Fox News (Why, he’s a Republican!) mention the news presence of George Stephanopoulos and Tim Russert and Chris Matthews and Bill Moyers in the very next exhalation.
- When Abu Ghraib rates a story or report, include a historical comment on FDR’s detention camps for Japanese Americans. Good guys make mistakes in war.
Jay, pass the ideas on to your Axis buddies. Tell ‘em it’s for starters. Ending rollback means rolling forward by both the Administration and The Axis.
Austin Bay copyright August 11, 2005
Jay Rosen replies:
Well there’s a lot that I don’t agree with in Austin Bay’s post, just as I’m sure there’s a lot he would dispute in my various posts on Bush and the national press. This is normal. (Right?) I reserve the right to amplify those points of diagreement later on.
The headline for me is that Austin Bay, proud Republican, friend of the Administration’s project in Iraq and a veteran of the war, believes the clever people in the White House are making a mistake in their policy of rolling back the press, which he prefers to call “containment.” He does not deny that the push back happened, and he says it made a certain sense to Republicans tired of the gotcha games and 70s frames.
Still, it’s dumb policy, he says.
Why is it dumb? According to Austin, it’s dumb because if you’re serious about a war on terror you know that it will have to be fought consistently and well across Administrations. This means that several waves of “players,” who are likely to be from both parties, will come in and out of policy-making before the war can in any sense be put to rest, or won. Each new generation has to understand what United States policy is, and continue on the path Bush the Younger set. This is a path Bay himself supports.
How is the strategy going to work if it shifts with each new cast of players? Austin says it can’t. Al Queda, a global information power, will be waiting on any wavering American governments show. Thus a key factor in winning the Big One is the Bush Administration’s “success or failure in getting subsequent administrations to sustain the political and economic development policies that truly winning the War On Terror will entail.”
For this, he says, the Bush team “needs the dying, withering, but still powerful press axis.” As far as I know, this has never occured to anyone in the White House.
What can the press do? (Here I am adding my own sense of what Austin was getting at.) For a long time the Washington press corps was considered part of the “permanent government.” There was a reason for that: Tim Russert and Jim Lehrer don’t leave, but Administrations come and go. This is exactly what drives people nuts about the big media establishment (how do we vote these guys out of office?) but Austin makes a different point.
Like it or not, journalists “carry” institutional memory. They port the story and its premises over from year-to-year, government to government. The press can create expectations of continuity by the way it looks at policy. It can treat as “surprising news” any plan to depart from principles established in 2002-03. At presidential debates it can ask the questions that would expose a shift in strategy. But will it? Not the way things are going, he says.
“The Bush Administration must revitalize its public diplomacy,” Austin writes. (I think the “re” is a bit much. This has never been a vital part of the White House’s approach.) “And that means ‘rolling forward’ and establishing a new, more mature relationship with the press.” What he means by more mature is found, I think, in this observation:
Ike knew the Cold War would be a long, tedious test of wills, and he agreed with the Truman Administration’s assessment that the social, political, and economic vitality of the U.S. would be very effective tools in that struggle.
A mature view would be that a weakened, timid or corrupted press, discredited and marginalized, under constant attack from office holders, or imploding from its own mistakes, is no sign of a strong and vital polity.
To me this was a key passage: “Key members of the Bush Administration believe they have been the victims of lies or victims of a relentless, decades-long selective reporting and commentary by members of the big media axis.” I think he’s exactly right. Once upon a time, Republicans had a more suspicious ear for the victim’s mentality.
“Why give such a biased, and myopic bunch a break?” writes Austin. But giving the press a break is not the way I see it. I don’t think chief-of-staff Andrew Card should do that— give reporters a break. But he could ask himself this: In the global arena where the war on terror is actually being fought, in what sense is a weakened, discredited, co-opted, or truth-starved press in the strategic interests of the United States?
I will be interested in hearing your reactions here and at Austin Bay’s blog.
My thanks to Austin Bay. The discussion has continued at a new post, An Open Thread after a Closed One. To comment go here.
Posted by Jay Rosen at August 19, 2005 1:28 AM
As an ex-Libertarian, new-Republican, I can affirm my own Rep rage against the press, while totally agreeing with Austin Bay that the White House needs to get better Public Relations, and better relations with the Press. In prior threads there was a desire to have writers with passion. Most Rep bloggers have lots of passion – against unfair Bush-hate by the press (with few Leftists making any serious attempt to understand the Rep position.)
For most Unreal Perfectionists who complain about the Iraq war, I feel they deserve:
"Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world."
War is hell; it means killing, dying (like Casey and many others), and even killing the innocent.
I wish the Bush-critics & supporters could focus more on the future, on rolling forward.
The future is never a "fact". Previously GW made an argument of the form:
‘A is taking action because of a belief B is coming. B is coming. Those are the facts.’
While "A is taking action" is a fact, "B is coming" is merely a prediction. In a longer analysis of such a story, I'd expect to see more evidence that B really is coming, including the strongest argument the B is NOT coming.
We DO have facts about the past.
Austin Bay: “Building a New Iraq and defeating those who would destroy it is the grand strategy, but the Bush Administration didn’t make that case explicit.”
This has been and remains a real problem. Bush is failing in not explaining what Building a New Iraq really means. Not finding out what it means is how the press is failing. It seems that the speeches Bush gives don’t tell enough, and the questions the press asks don’t clarify what is known and not known, enough. As in any building, it’s not done yet; much of the construction hasn’t even started yet. The Iraqi Constitution is the blueprint for the future institutions, to replace the current temporary gov’t. We don’t know what it is yet, nor whether it will be approved in October. (I hope they go for an Iraqi National Oil Trust so most oil money goes to Iraqi people directly; it’s not too late.)
After Austin discussed how Reps feel they’ve been victims, Jay writes: “I think he’s exactly right. Once upon a time, Republicans had a more suspicious ear for the victim’s mentality.” This is SOOO rich, Jay complaining about Rep unhappiness in being victims, Jay blaming the victims! -- ‘It’s the Reps fault the Press unfairly hates them’; or maybe Jay means ‘yes, the Reps do believe this stupid media-bias stuff, they used to be smarter than this.’ Admittedly, Jay more often does discuss how the press needs to change, which I celebrate him for. Since Bush just DID get reelected, I suggest the press change first (fire more of them?)
Jay asks: “in what sense is a weakened, discredited, co-opted, or truth-starved press in the strategic interests of the United States?”
If you believe, as I do, that the current goal of the “national press” is to repeat their glory days of Vietnam, the goal of such a press is Public Relations against Bush, implicitly supporting the death squad terrorists in Iraq. I think weakening press Bush-hate is good, and discrediting a Bush-hate filled press is good. It is both good and will save American lives.
A co-opted, pro-war press is not quite what I want, since I accept more Americans dying in order to fight for a free press; though I want a press more balanced than the anti-Bush (=pro-terror) press I (seldom now) read. Yet a pro-war, pro-Bush, pro-America press would minimize the casualties in the building of a New Iraq.
The press is not starved for “truth” by Bush. What the press is looking for and feel starved for is gotcha’ quotes. Jay, please consider Bush since 9/11, and describe some “truth” that Bush refused to feed the press. I might not understand what you mean.
Perhaps it’s the difference between being wrong and lying.
Consider the Downing Street Memo. Their use by the Left is to show that Bush was preparing plans to go after Iraq even before 9/11 (looks true). The Right uses them to show that Bush really believed Saddam had WMDs (Bush was wrong). What is the “truth” that Jay thinks the press is starved for? It seems to me the DSM serves both the Left and the Right. However, insofar as Bush’s belief in Saddam having WMDs conflicts with the primary Leftist narrative that “Bush lied” – the press has let this story become “uninteresting” and thus not NYT front page. (Bush being merely wrong doesn’t fit with the Leftist need to claim the moral superior position that Bush lied.)
Similarly I read a lot of junk about Bush incompetence in Iraq – but never see a standard by which to compare. Kosovo? Rwanda? Or Cambodia & Vietnam? The UN child-rapists in the Congo? It is not “truth” that is missing, but honesty about “incompetence” as a judgment, and a standard of comparison. The implicit standard is Unreal Perfection, so I judge most press critics by Austin’s great Teddy Roosevelt quote:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”
I’m fully aware that, as a critic of the critics, I’m with those who do not count. (waiting for Pajama Media …)
The press is much worse than postulated above. The idea that the problem is a little "bias" masks the fact that the Press is riddled with ideologues, liars, and essentially uneducated journalism majors. The phrase "weakened, timid or corrupted press" points toward a solution - a corrupted press is less damaging if it's also weakened. Better would be to reform it entirely, but I'm not sure that the idea that the Executive should remake the press (even if it could) is an idea which is consistent with Founding principles. The Press should be independent. It is not necessary that it be both independent and good. And thank gawd for that, as it's never been good - think of the great days of the Yellow Kid.
So in general, a press which is both independent and poor is a better choice for the Republic than a hypothetical Press which is good but is little more than an extension of the White House Press Office. That would make it indistinguishable from a Ministry of Propaganda controlling the news. And that would be a disaster no matter which party happened to be running it.
So where is our institutional memory to come from? Not from the Press, for sure - it's busy losing Vietnam all over again. And not from the Executive, as its time constant is too short for the tackling of deeds on a global scale. Theoretically it was supposed to come from Congress, but in all of US history Congress has never been good enough to do that competently, and it's not likely to change soon.
So how about relying on the Electorate? The Electorate can lose the war against international terrorism by electing an Executive which lacks the insight, imagination, and courage to fight our mortal enemies. We have certainly had such executives before, and have come perilously close to electing others. By the same token, the Electorate can win the war - and it's going to have to.
The same Electorate can control the Press by voting with its wallet, as, whatever else it may be, the MSM is a business, and it needs customers to survive. There are indications that this is happening now.
Fobbing all responsibility off on the Administration - for the state of the Press, as well as for the state of the war against homicidal Islam - is a distinctly un-American notion. The public is going to have to do its bit, because that's how the country is put together. We the Electorate put the Administration there, and kept them there. We have to do our bit with the Press as well.
Yet, of course, it wasn't a Carter or a Dean or a McCarthy in the White House when Vietnam imploded and the rush for the last helicopter out occurred.
It was Nixon. He with the secret plan. He of the Christmas Bombings and Peace With Honor. He declared victory and bugged out. Now we find it was all the liberals fault.
But enough history. Iraq isn't Vietnam. It's its own craphole. In this flurry of self-congratulation and press condemnation, I think we should take a pause from all the certitude.
Beau Dure's points bear repeating. The press isn't supposed to be the White House's buddy. Or Congress' or the mayor's. As BD said, it's to hold government accountable.
Around some journalistic circles, it's evolved as "cut through the bullshit and get to the bottom of things." To a depressing degree, the media haven't done that very well lately.
Which is why I find all the "this would be a great war if it wasn't for the media" chatter. Or the 'liberal' meme. Sweet Jesus, I'll give you guys a liberal economist on the Op/Ed page if you'll take Judith Miller out of News.
But back to BD's other salient point: The fragmentation of the news. Government can now more easily tailor its argument through friendly outlets and ignore the rest. And news consumers increasingly be 'informed by the news/blogs/talk shows they want and ignore the rest.
Which puts hopes for an informed people up the creek.
If the government wants to go to war and spend the nation's treasure and blood of its children, than the government has to make a damn good case for it. And not change reasons in mid-stream when those motives fall apart. And there has to be some planning for the peace. Or the war never really ends.
The media's other role is as a stand-in for the public. It's why we go to school board meetings and trials and legislative sessions. God knows, it's not for the coffee.
If the government doesn't live up to its obligation to the public to say why there must be war and how that war may transition to peace, why should it expect unquestioning support from either the media or the people?
It's good you remind us a bit about WHY we are in a pre-emptive war -- to stop Iraq BEFORE he gets nukes.
Looks like Bush succeeded to me.
Root cause of terrorism? Dictatorships, funded by oil profits. Looks like Bush is successfully changing that in Iraq, FASTER than in Kosovo.
it should be someone's job to hold government accountable.
Accountability? Have you ever looked at budget accounts? Usually 3 columns:
Actual -- Plan/Budget -- Difference
Bush has been lousy on not specifying a clear plan/budget, of how much it will cost (lives, dollars). But his actual numbers are great in terms of very few lives. (If he gets democracy in Iraq at less than 2500 US soldiers, he's doing great.)
I never see, despite constantly asking for, any Bush-critic specify an alternate plan or budget to use in holding Bush "accountable". This leads me to think they aren't really serious about true accountability.
Jay, as I noted early, I salute your desire to help the press change.
One of the changes that would be very good is to try to get simple alternative plans & budgets from gov't folks -- yet there also needs to be understanding by the public that when "actuals" are "different" than "plans", it is NOT a lie.
If the press is going to treat any deviation from "plan" as if it's a lie, then it would be irresponsible of Bush to tell such a press any plan.
The main accountability for politicians is elections. Bush got elected in 2000; re-elected in 2004.
Message to top editors in NYT, WaPo, LAT, CNN -- or anywhere: if the actuals are a lot lower than the plan, time for editors to start leaving.
Owners need to hold the press editors accountable; I can guarantee that there will be more editors changing in the next 3 years than US Presidents. That's a fact. (er, well, actually just a prediction...I'd bet LOTS of cash on it, though)
(See Marginal Revolution for more on betting markets as predictors of the future)
I disagree with with Austin Bay's thesis that the Whitehouse should "roll forward" by using diplomacy or any other means to build or rebuild ties to the "nidclaws".
The Whitehouse has abandoned the nidclaws, just as Israel has recently abandoned the Gaza strip, and for similar reasons.
The nidclaws would like everyone to think they are a 4th branch of government, but it is only a branding, not reality, they are actually a 5th column for the Democrat party ( and will probably convert into the same for the Republicans, if they retain power for 40+ years). It is the nature of power and type of people it attracts, much like moths to a light.
We are currently in a transition which has been triggered by Democrats becoming politically out of phase with most Americans, exacerbated by alternative media influence such as talk radio and the blogosphere.
Due to alternative media outlets, and the entry they provide people of non-Democrat/liberal views into the nidclaws institutions, the White House can ignore nidclaws until nidclaws conforms to the White House view of journalistic propriety, if, that is, the White House view of journalistic propriety does not vary overmuch from mainstream Americans' view of journalistic propriety.
If Austin Bay wants to make the argument that the White House has not utilized the Alternative Medias enough, to promote thier message to counter the nidclaws Democrat propagandizing, I would be in agreement.
Were I king of White House media relations, I would hold press conferences and put out releases to an assortment of media outlets which expressly excluded some, if not all the nidclaws. Making the exclusion a story unto itself so that the issue could be discussed and debated on a national level. If the nidclaws were offended, so what? What are they going to do, use fake documents to indict the President?
This would be acceptable to the American public as long as it was percieved as a slight against specific media outlets which are little more than Democrat organs, rather than a rebuke against press coverage in general, which is what thier current actions seem to indicate to some degree.
My take is that the "law" will implant the idea in the public mind which will then hold the government accountable.
BTW Bush made ending tyranny one of the conerstones of his policy. Read it in his speeches. As to WMDs. it is quite possible they were spirited away to Syria. In any case Saddam never accounted for them which he agreed to do in '91. So I would say finding or not finding the WMDs was not the issue. Saddam's not living up to his agreements was.
As tomaking the case for war. Some of you may not have noticed this (it has been buried by the MSM) but Bush won the election in November 2004. Republicans increased their numbers in the House and Senate in that election.
Me? I'm with the current majority that does not believe Bush is doing a good job re: the war. I'd like to see more pressure on Iran and Syria.
So let me ask my friends on the left here. Why when the questions are asked in polls about Bush's war policy don't we see the option of a more vigorous prosecution of the war as part of the questioning?
OTOH. I think the polls as written give the Rs an advantage. Dems think "unhappy with the war" can mean only one thing. I'm happy to let them keep their illusions.
As to balance - I think the press ought to be objectively anti-fascist. You know like not giving the Soviets a pass. Not giving Mao a pass. Not giving Hitler a pass. Not giving the Islamic Nazis a pass. etc.
Islamic Nazis over the top?
Palestinian Role in the Holocaust
Why don't we see any of the history of the direct connection between the Nazis and Palestinian politics in the press? The usual historic amnesia. Doesn't fit the narrative.
Plame? It is quite possible Wilson outed her. Time will tell.
BTW what in hell does Plame have to do with the situation we are in now? Other than history. What is the way forward that will not lead to a disaster for the Iraqi people as the pullout from Vietnam was for the Vietnamese?
The press got its way in Vietnam (I was on their side for that one, much to my sorrow). 100,000 were slaughted and 500,000 went to sea - of which about 1/2 died.
So what is the motto of the left/press on this war? No worse than Vietnam? No worse than Rawanda?
The problem Bay identifies is groupthink. It is as simple as that, and resembles the NASA groupthink that consistently views the Space Shuttle as inherently safe despite the obvious evidence to the contrary.
Bay's recounting of the complete lack of Republicans in the Press and the social setting they come out of is important, because it shows a lack of diversity of intellectual/political views that ends up challenging assumptions and preventing groupthink.
Example: Dan Rather is not a partisan monster. However he "knew" as all his staff did that the TANG documents were "genuine" because it fit with the groupthink assumptions of everyone in his circle. Heck his Daughter is a staffer in the Texas Democratic Party. If his Producer or some other folks on his staff had been Republicans and Bush supporters, they might have cast critical eyes on the evidence and prevented Rather from making a fool out of himself and throwing away thirty years of generally solid reporting.
Sy Hersh has in the New Yorker done some very good, solid reporting, and helped publicize My Lai (the story was not one he dug out, he was essentially handed it but had the courage to go forward and for that deserves accolades). Nevertheless his groupthink assumption was that the US shortly before Kabul fell was mired in a "quagmire" that would cost thousands of American lives. That the Taliban was some unstoppable force that drove the Russians out and would do the same for us. Hersh is not a bad person, and probably does not think himself hostile to Republicans. But his assumptions never got challenged because he does not work, socialize, or interact with folks who say, have military experience.
Reporters simply don't KNOW anything about the military, have never served, and view military folk as either brutal, blood crazed killers or mindless simpletons who are exploited. The reporting on the F-22, Crusader, Osprey, LandWarrior, and other weapons systems is abysmal since reporters don't even know what the systems are supposed to DO and the advantages promised versus delivered.
Unfortunately there is too much J-School certainty (the same socially isolated groupthink) and too little diverse experiences (military reporters should have ... military experience).
Your average football broadcast has one or two ex players or coaches who know the game because they played it; I find it astonishing that no correspondent in the media has any first hand knowledge of combat operations as a soldier.
Christiane Amanpour may know many things, but combat operations is not one of them.
"First it was weapons of mass destruction and intimations of mushroom clouds and poison gas."
Well I was being charitable in not associating poison gas with WMD's -- it is, of course, and many on the left would do a tire-squealing bootleg 180 to embrace nerve gas as a WMD if the U.S. military started using it, but it isn't on the same level as nuclear weapons.
However, since you brought it up, we not only found terrorists in Iraq but poison gas as well -- bona fide WMD's, by your own definition.
I think you've just shot yourself in the foot.
The head shot, though, is the presence of terrorists, not WMD's. Fighting terrorists has always been a stated objective of President Bush, in every speech, television appearance, and written word, both in the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq.
"In violation of Security Council Resolution 1373, Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations ... [a]nd al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq."
President George W. Bush, September 2002
Given what terrorists can do with simple box
cutters, let alone nerve gas, the Bush Doctrine's focus on defeating them shows a profound wisdom far deeper than the left's quibbles over whether or not nerve gas qualifies as a WMD.
Austin's "Kick Me" sign first:
When Roger Ailes gets dissed for running Fox News (Why, he’s a Republican!) mention the news presence of George Stephanopoulos and Tim Russert and Chris Matthews and Bill Moyers in the very next exhalation.
Austin Bay is a military guy. He's familiar with the chain of command. He knows that Roger Ailes is a former Republican media strategist who now runs the news division of Fox. If he wants to compare someone with Ailes, he needs to come up with a former Democratic media strategist who runs a network or cable news operation. Russert and Stephanopolous are talking heads, not top executives. If Matthews at MSNBC looks liberal to Bay, he can take heart in Joe Scarborough.
Jay’s post quotes an unidentified Bush Administration minion who says:
We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, judiciously, as you will, we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.I think Jay includes this story for several reasons. The man’s arrogance is supposed to indict the administration, and to a degree it does. His demeanor reminds me of the snooty, brat presumptiveness of George Stephanopoulos during his stint at the Clinton White House. (And for that matter, his continued brat act at ABC.) If America is an empire it is an empire without precedent, which suggests the word is at best an inadequate description. America is a creative idea that defies geography, but I doubt this Bush minion understands that.
I also doubt our minion has ever served in the military; certainly he never served under fire. His are the words of a third-order actor.
I doubt our minion is actually a minion; he's probably one of the top ten White House officials. Bay is no doubt correct in thinking El Minion never served under fire because, well, almost no one in the White House has done. Surely Bay can't be firing the chickenhawk charge at the administration.
I'm cherrypicking here, and the reason I'm doing so is that there is no coherent theme to Bay's essay. If you boil it down, what you're left with is that the press are generally harder on Republican administrations than on Democratic ones, are always hard on the military and refuse to adopt and promulgate the strategic vision of, in this instance, the Bush administration, across generations.
The subtext seems to be that when an administration have as their goal the implementation of a grand strategy centered upon democratizing the Middle East, the press are obliged to articulate and market that strategy even if the administration neglect to do so and even if succeeding administrations have different tactics for achieving that goal or have different goals.
They should, in other words, make themselves part of a process in which the administration can say, "Look, we want to invade Iraq and pursue the greatest social engineering project in the history of the planet, but if we tell Americans and the rest of the world about it they won't let us, so would you mind playing along?"
And the funny thing, which gets lost in all the fulminating, is that for the most part the press did play along.
Neoconservatives are often and mostly inaccurately called Straussians, but Bay actually seems to be one — a Straussian, that is; I have no idea what his politics are — and wants the press to abandon its own sense of elitism in favor of the governing class's one.
Bay uses the Newsweek Koran story as an example of how the press misunderstand the nature of information in a global environment, but that story had nowhere near the impact of Abu Ghraib or Bush's reference to the "war on terror" as a crusade. He seems to either entirely miss the point that what the government say and do has considerably more impact on the world than what the press say and do, or to believe that the press should censor itself in reporting on government statements and actions that will redound to our country's detriment. The more practical approach would be for the government to avoid saying and doing those things.
Bay's is a lost cause. The press are not capable of making a committment to a particular ideology and realizing that commitment across administrations and years even if that were a wise thing to do. There's an advertisement for the Animal Planet cable channel that pretty well summarizes the press as an entity. It shows a goldfish swimming in a bowl with a voiceover saying, "Imagine a planet where your memory only lasts three seconds. [3-second pause] Imagine a planet where your memory only lasts three seconds."
That there is your national press.
And finally, Ronald Reagan didn't win the Cold War and the Euromissile crisis wasn't the last big battle of it: that would be Charlie Wilson and Afghanistan, respectively.
Mr. Rosen is to be congratulated for opening up his blog to Mr. Austin, and to the the present debate. Thank you, Mr. Rosen.
Perhaps one thing Mr. Rosen has found "depressing," is how quickly this string has devolved into a discussion of the merits and probity of the present war. If so, I agree with Mr. Rosen. That is not the topic. The topic is whether the Bush administration is attempting to "rollback" and diminish the power of the press, and if so, whether that policy is justified:
"My questions for you. Do you think rollback has been happening to the press under Bush, 2001-05? Or is my description off? And if there is press rollback, is it a wise policy, a necessary one?"
1. In my own mind, there is no question that Bush is "rolling back" the press. I think it would be fair to say that Bush and his administration view the mainstream press as objectively hostile, objectively Pro-Democratic Party and objectively opposed to our war in Iraq.
Is Bush justified in his opinion? If he is, he would be justified in his attempt to rollback and diminish the power of the press, on the grounds that the press has forefited the right to its own legitimacy, by claiming to be non-partisan and non-ideological, while being partisan and ideological to the hilt.
At this point I fear that I am going to dissapoint and depress our cordial and genuinely liberal, as opposed to "liberal" host. I am willing to grant that this war might be ill-advised and that we might lose it. But that's as far as I can go. Speaking as a lifelong Liberal and Democrat who voted straight Republican in 2004 on a single issue, I am unaware of any evidence that suggests the MSM is making a good-faith effort to be non-idealogical and non-partisan.
If I want to read about Islamists and Islamist terrror organizations I have to read the right-wing press and blogs. If I want to read about indices of progress in Iraq, beyond the number of deaths, I have to read the right-wing press and blogs. If I want to read about military strategy, military tactics, military capabilities, I have to read the right-wing press and blogs.
With all of that said, I'm not convinced that we are going to win this war or that that this war was politic. I am utterly convinced, however, that the the MSM is partisan, ideological and dishonest to the core, and that the MSM hopes that we lose it.
Rollaway, President Bush.
"And his contention al Quaeda was in Iraq prior to 9-11 proved as elusive ..."
As elusive as Google and the name Abdul Rahman Yasin. Give it a whirl. Then there are Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There's also Abu Abbas, although he wasn't Al Qaeda. Saddam had a host of terrorists operating from Iraq, training in Iraq, and given safe harbor in Iraq.
"... the Sept. 11 Commission's report found no al Qaeda connection."
You're playing word games here. Just as the criminal running the safe house might well be "innocent" of planning the bank heists, Saddam Hussein harbored terrorists but had "no connection" to planning 9/11. Harboring terrorists is the issue, and you've chosen to ignore it in favor of playing games with semantics.
"If we were out to get the guys behind 9-11, why didn't we continue operations in Afghanistan?"
We're still in Afghanistan.
"The staff report said that bin Laden ..."
Al Qaeda is bigger than bin Laden, and bin Laden was not the only member of Al Qaeda to bomb the WTC. He was just the first to do it successfully.
Perhaps if Bin Laden were leader of a band of regional outlaws such as Pancho Villa an obsession with a single manhunt for a single individual would be appropriate. In the context of the Al Qaeda global terror network it would be dangerously myopic.
"You want to believe that Osama and Saddam planned world domination over coffee and pastries, feel free."
What I believe is that your grasp of the English language is insufficient for you to apprehend the difference between "planning" and "harboring". Until you gain the ability to distinguish between the two, meaningful communication between us is impossible.
There is more than one crisis that could precipitate the nightmare scenario of a premature American withdrawal from Iraq. A Nixon-like President making a Watergate-level mistake is one such crisis. A pacifist President is another. These very different situations resolve to the same catastrophic end state. As for your "Fantasy Express" comments, they would apply to all attempts to project the future -- although you seem to have mistakenly interpreted a conjecture on the future as a reminiscence on the past.
Jay -- The comments here are the same as the comments on any blog. A few people are making honest efforts to discuss some of the issues. Some others are not. The latter group always dominates the discussion because (A) they post frequently and (B) they're prone to ludicrous statements that tempt others to respond. That's especially difficult on sites that attract journalists -- inaccuracies cause us pain, and it's hard not to get sucked into a pointless discussion in which people will try to tell you things about yourself and your profession that simply aren't true.
That's because blogs and blog comments, to an extent, mirror the media. Venom draws attention; rational arguments in good faith do not. And the only points of view that draw attention are the extremists, those who consider it their sacred duty to defend their party no matter how much blood and idiocy is on their parties' hands.
That's why I find s.watson's comment so interesting. He raises the point that the media have decided that their role (and by the way, folks, "media" is a plural word -- the singular use only reinforces the myth that the media are one monolitic entity) is to be adversarial. There's a lot of truth to that. And didn't Karl Rove say something similar?
The history behind the adversarial relationship dates back at least to the days of McCarthy, who was a master at exploiting the news cycles of the day with well-timed press releases. Murrow changed the rules and asked more pointed questions. Since then, political spin doctors have grown ever more sophisticated. Many journalists have since succumbed to the temptation to believe that everything they're being fed is swill. They've shed healthy skepticism in favor of unabashed cynicism.
And yet, a lot of the adversarial relationship is itself a myth. It's a dog-and-pony show. It's a game of "gotcha," but in the end, it's just a game. As is the case with a lot of sports, it means more to the fans than it does to the participants. A lot of the rhetoric is just a show for the rest of us. If the Bush administration didn't care what reporters thought of them, they wouldn't have their operatives running around during a Bush-Kerry debate tossing rebuttals in reporters' laps and firing off instant messages and e-mails to them so that the reporters were overwhelmed. (Yes, the Kerry folks absolutely did the same thing.)
There is, of course, some substance beneath all of this. But the substance can't fill a 24-hour news cycle without devoting a lot of research to it. Talk is cheaper.
That's why Fox, CNN and MSNBC are the same garbage on three networks. If you honestly think Fox is somehow redeemed because it's some sort of right-wing counterweight (even though MSNBC has given platforms to every GOP fringe-dweller from Pat Buchanan to Alan Keyes to Joe Scarborough), watch all three at the same time as journalists these days unfortunately do. (Or take a more amusing approach and let Jon Stewart do it for you.) CNN is occasionally redeemed because it sometimes remembers that it, unlike Fox, has an actual news-gathering staff that is capable of impressive work such as their coverage of the papal transition. But without an intriguing event such as that, it's the same dreck as the others.
There are a number of journalists who still do honest, valuable work. It's just getting harder and harder for their voices to stand out, just as it's tougher for the people arguing in good faith to stand out in the typical comments thread of a blog.
What's the answer? Jay won't like this, but deep down, I think he knows I'm right.
Back off the supposedly "serious" news a bit. Give us something useful or fun -- preferably both. Newspapers aren't terrified of bloggers -- they're terrified of Craigslist and Yahoo's local guides.
Ramp up the health news. Do some colorful features that show different parts of the country as something other than red states and blue states. Get serious about technology coverage. Talk to your Vatican correspondents sometime when the Pope is NOT dying.
In other words, get out of Washington from time to time. The Nationals are falling out of the pennant race, D.C. United only has a handful of home games left this season and the Redskins are looking anemic, so you won't miss much.
Because the thought that we're somehow getting anything useful in all this blather over politics is itself a myth.
M. Simon -- Interesting points. And yes, actually, the adversarial position on windmills probably would be NIMBYs. There's a development project near my home that is being covered in a simple "developer vs. NIMBY" frame, when it's really much more complicated than that.
I think lawyers make popular bloggers because they're persuasive, not because they have special insight. Others could probably find good counterexamples, but from what I've seen, lawyer-bloggers are simply arguing one side, just as they're paid to do in court. I frankly find Powerline far more insular than the journalists I know and read. (To be fair, I don't read most op-ed columnists, and I don't listen to TV pundits. I'd imagine they're all pretty much the same.)
(BTW, my wife is a lawyer, so no bias accusations, please!)
I also disagree with the David Duke note. There are some reprehensible people in this country, and they're bound to support somebody. A lot of racists vote Republican even though today's Republicans are decidedly not racist themselves, as a quick look at Bush's Cabinet shows. I'm sure you'll see some lefty bloggers dig up some racist endorsements for GOP candidates, and it's just as irrelevant when they do it -- unless the candidates embrace that support, of course.
But I don't mean to dismiss your main point -- journalists need to be able to see the other side of the argument and be equally skeptical of both -- actually, ALL -- sides. I'm happy to see someone else believes this is possible.
And frankly, I think the MSM have shown more capacity to do this than most bloggers. I cringe a little at some of the features I see and hear in which a reporter goes to an unfamiliar (to them) destination and reports as if he or she has just discovered a new tribe in the Serengeti. But they're making the effort. I've seen time and time again that when journalists and their supposed enemies actually meet in a forum other than an online discussion, they understand each other a bit better. That's all the more reason we should all be spending more time in our local communities and a little less time playing national-politics "gotcha" in the blogosphere.
You're not going to see any attempts to forge understandings on typical cable news shows. Fox is popular because Fox figured out that cable news isn't really "news" -- it's entertainment. They didn't need to invest in reporters. They needed some people who could fire off zingers in the course of pointless discussions that reinforced everyone's stereotypes of each other, thereby making them more comfortable. They actually took the worst parts of CNN's coverage and blew them up large.
As entertainment, it's not really fair to say Fox has blown away the competition. Sure, they're beating CNN. But they're getting crushed by Family Guy, let alone American Idol.
Meanwhile, NPR -- with little fanfare -- now claims its weekly listenership has grown from 11.5 million in 1994 to nearly 22 million in 2004 (taken from an NPR press release announcing that it was raising the budgets for its news coverage). In an era of media proliferation, in which we have hundreds of choices, that's amazing.
I do think NPR trends leftward. It appeals to an academic audience, and academics of all political stripes aren't likely to agree with some of the current GOP thought on evolution, the environment, etc. But I don't think its audience is looking for comfortable reinforcement of stereotypes. According to the latest "State of the News Media" report, one-quarter of NPR's listeners identify themselves as Republican and less than half claim "Democrat" (24% GOP, 41% Dem). The people I know who listen to NPR -- of all persuasions -- simply want to be informed. It can't be for entertainment purposes -- I don't know about you, but I find a lot of NPR programming as tedious as the yard work I'm currently ignoring.
So again, I don't think tens of millions of people are looking for right-wing alternatives. Fox grabbed the largest slice of a small pie -- those of us who are cranky enough to watch news-based entertainment in prime time instead of something else. (And imagine how much smaller that would be if we weren't at war at the moment. We'd need to impeach someone or put a celebrity on trial just to feed the monster.) They're looking for alternatives for all sorts of reasons, "bias" being just one and not necessarily the biggest.
For decades the press demanded accountability from government, and envisioned itself as a watchdog of the powerful. Those are noble goals, but what the press failed to realize is that it had become the monster it believed it was hunting. It had little if any accountability for its own work, and it wielded an ENORMOUS amount of power while doing it. Well, we all know what absolute power does, right?
Could the Bush administration have handled things better on there end? Perhaps. Sure. In an imperfect world, things could always be improved.
But the record of these last few decades, and of the last 5 years in particular, shows that the press is the one needing to reform its ways. I cannot blame the White House for not engaging with the press when every, single freaking thing ends up twisted, distorted or outright ignored if does not fit into the press' worldview.
The press is never happy. It complained about the lack of information and battlefield access prior to OIF, but when they were allowed to embed and actually be there, they still were upset because too many reporters were identifying with the troops. It was all a Pentagon ploy to seduce the media. Oh, and when they started getting killed, it wasn't because there was a war on, but because the US military wanted them dead.
The majority of the press is equivalent to a banana republic. It deserves not respect until it reforms itself.
Maybe when I see Krugman fired, or at least corrected daily to the point he quits, or when Dowd is bounced to the Enquirer, or the war in Iraq covered as more than a body and bomb count, I'll think they are making progress. Until then, what really can the President do with a group that is so vicious, partisan and contemptful? Austin or Jay, I'd love to hear how that is supposed to work. I agree that the WOT needs a combined effort, but with a press-corp that can't even agree who the enemy is, or who qualifies as a terrorist, you have got your work cut out for you.
BTW, I work in the media, at a large network. I see some of this crap on the part of the press first hand, so don't tell me I am exaggerating.
Gabriel Chapman's view (at 01:06pm) is right on the money, as far as it goes.
For decades, Republicans have had virtually no outlet to promote their story, or to get anything resembling balance in their treatment by a press corp that has too often sucked up to Democrats like Ted Kennedy, who simply had with no other discernable intent than to demagogue about issues, or to engage in personal destruction.
Our retorts, though, had to be largly amongst ourselves.
As thorough as we might be on any issue, we were simply dismissed as irrelevant or controversial.
Today, my sense is that it is not as bad, but it is still very heavily canted. My own view is that with the collapse of Communism, people seriously began to question the prevailing liberal view of the question, "Where are we headed?"
On the national level, Republicans now recognize that there is another effective outlet for their views . . . through weblogs, and on-line publications. And we rightly feel energized that these efforts, and our legitimate viewpoints, are getting to a receptive audience.
The predominence of hate speech and vitrol in so many of the left-leaning blogs, is yet another sign that we are having an effect.
And other forms of frustration over election returns on the far left, are signs of positive movement.
Not only that, we feel can take on the "establishment" media, and especially where it miserably falls down, we can win. The old saw that "you never take on anyone who buys ink by the barrel," no longer has the sting it once had.
We also know that news circulations are down, bigtime. Newspapers are struggling with how to respond. I wonder what the demographics of the decline show?
So, maybe it will prove to be short-sighted in the long term -- but why should Republicans and conservatives be so eager for an accomodation with an institution that they feel has belittled and shortchanged them for so long?
Why shouldn't we see an accomodation as a come-on, or a sucker bet?
Why shouldn't we instead say, "We're from Missouri -- show us."
I'm always at a loss to understand conservative complaints about media bias. Much of it seems to be based on the failure of, say, the NY Times to sufficiently contribute to the war effort, as if a major newspaper has a patriotic duty to advance what the administration has defined as America's mission in the world. I don't believe this is true, and if Austin thinks the press was easier on Clinton (which it seems he implicitly does), he shows a breathtaking historical amnesia.
For years, we were numbed with front-page stories about blow jobs and constant blasts from Ken Starr's ultimately worthless investigation into long-ago crimes that turned out not to exist. After that, the media conservatives so decry (including Maureen Dowd) spent almost two years assassinating Al Gore's character by reporting over and over again things he never said in order to fit a narrative of Gore as a "serial exaggerater" (He never claimed to have invented the Internet, folks, not even close).
More recently, there was the press' failure to push for evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs or even to compare the administration's public statements (about nuclear bombs and mushroom clouds, for example, which NOBODY at CIA or the UN believed Iraq was remotely close to actually possessing) with what evidence was already in the public record. The fact that the United States went to war for reasons that turned out to be false is a very serious thing, and the fact that the press, including the hated NY Times, published many articles based on false information that sped the rush to war is a massive failure of journalism's most basic responsibility and belies all accusations of some deep-seated bias.
The press has many problems, and I don't think the general tone of gotcha! journalism practiced against all administrations serves the public very well; but the root of conservative complaints rests exclusively in the failure of most media outlets to parrot their own assumptions and beliefs about the world and thus to aid a specific ideological agenda. Many posts, including Austin's, more or less explicitly say this much. It is not the role of the press to help out in the War on Terror or any other war, no matter how necessary or justified that war is. Contributing to the war effort is the responsibility of citizens, not journalists, and the media should be judged on the factual accuracy of the stories they break not on how much they agree with what you already think. There are enough factual errors (see Dan Rather, WMD, etc.) to keep the axes grinding on both left and right, but getting hysterical about bias only makes the work of democracy, which is based on rational discussion, more difficult.
The Republicans/conservatives can't get a break in the media,we're told. No one listens or reports conservative views. The media don't support the adminstration's war goals.
Sweet Mother of God, where the hell have you people been?
If the media locks out Republican thought, how in hell did the GOP win the House in the mid-'90s, start the Gingrich Revolution, take over both Legislative houses and a significant number of governors and elect George Bush twice?
We have spent much time and typing energy in particular blog discussing the questionable merits of media bias. I see no real reason to continue a discussion that begins, "All reporters are leftist and hate Bush." It just ain't so. And all the heartfelt whining from the right doesn't make it so.
Mr. Bay posits that the media are insufficiently behind Bush's agenda, particularly the war in Iraq and that he shojuld 'roll forward' with the media to get them onboard.
But the authority to send American kids to war is an awesome power and one, I hope, we pray a president doesn't invoke without thoughtful consideration.
I'm still looking for an answer to my earlier question: If the media, in whatever form, doesn't hold the president - this or any president - accountable on wars started and the goals accomplished, who will?
Are we as a people simply supposed to let government send our kids to war and hope it comes out OK? How do people know what's going on.
If you want to answer by giving some variation on the theme that the media are liberal syncophants who hate the military, conservatives and God in roughly that order, I'll gladly concede that you don't know your ass from an I-beam about the American news media.
What no one wants to confront here is the fact that it is no longer possible to have a "national media". It may have been possible back in the Walter Cronkite days when we only had three networks and they all copied from the Times-Democrat, but not today.
You raise a good and valid point, Kilgore. The media, particularly the print side, hasn't caught on to the rapidity of change.
I'm in favor of more voices as well. I just fear that too much is drowned out in the chatter. And that the speed of reporting outstrips our understanding and analysis (I mean 'our' as in all of us.)
News gathering/reporting is clearly in transition, but what it is transitioning too? More information? Or more noise?
antimedia: yes, people do so make grotesque generalizations about the media. If you haven't seen them, even in this thread, you haven't been paying attention.
Well, of course the people make the decisions. And the people hold government accountable. And they do so, with great extent, with the assistance of the news media.
I still hold to the old-school belief that we stand-in for the public. Their eyes and ears in the courthouse, City Hall and elsewhere.
There are clearly more venues for information, not all of them with the peoples' interest in mind. In that case, more voices just means more noise.
How do the people know on what to hold government acccountable? Osmosis?
Well, the thread degenerated again into differing perceptions of reality.
A lot of the bias hounds need to realize something -- while there are legitimate concerns about the lack of perspective in today's media (for an essential rundown, look up Andrew Cline's primer on bias at Rhetorica), some of the conspiracy theories dredged up here simply are. not. true.
What's most frustrating for journalists is when outright lies are spread about the business as a whole -- not just rash generalizations, but lies. It's like arguing with me about the color of the carpet in my basement. You can scream at me and tell me it's blue until you're blue in the face. I know, quite definitively, that it's not. That's why I'm not answering antimedia, Vietnam template and some of the other people who've bought into a pack of lies. They're not worth the effort -- I'll never convince them my basement carpet is actually some sort of beige. I've responded to people like m.simon who've raised legitimate points and interesting discussion topics.
To answer the questions on government accountability vs. voter accountability -- no, you don't need journalists telling you what to **think**, which is why I'm surprised so many of the people in here dwell on the op-ed pages. (Krugman? What does he have to do with anything?) But unless you happen to have time to read every paper the government produces AND discuss it with specialist lawyers, people with detailed military knowledge (detailed -- not just anyone who can tell the difference between a couple of guns) and a lot of people who'll be affected, you need to read some news coverage.
(I'll toss out a quick hypothetical -- some folks appear to think it's unpatriotic to question a president's war effort. Was it unpatriotic when images of dead soldiers in Somalia -- the inspiration for the movie Blackhawk Down, which itself was taken from a Philly Inquirer series -- ratcheted up the pressure on Clinton?)
By all means, get more than one source, or do as Ralph Phelan advises above and check it out. (FWIW, Ralph, I guarantee you there are a lot of people in the MSM -- me included -- who don't respect Rather and haven't for about 20 years. I admire your approach, but you've fallen for a stereotype on the Rather worship.) You CAN get the other sources. In addition to the NYT, read about it in the Wall Street Journal -- which, despite its edit page, isn't really "conservative" as an institution but still offers a different perspective. Read opinion magazines. Go to the BBC's Web site, which a lot of Americans happen to do. Read some Web site from someplace you never heard of. Read The Economist. Find some reputable bloggers who haven't been blinded by partisan loyalties (that rules out the big guns like Kos, Instapundit, Powerline, etc.) You actually have a fair amount of choice even before this supposed upcoming revolution in which half of the journalists who voted Kerry are magically replaced by thousands of Bush voters who desired the low pay and general frustration of a journalism job all along but were denied by some sort of sinister conspiracy.
And you had those choices before the Internet, even if met you could be misled. See my point about 1994 above.
Two final unrelated points:
- Ralph: I have read about the oil-for-food scandal in the MSM, though I'll grant that there always could be more coverage of it.
- Pixy Misa: Well-played. The funny thing is that there are indeed a lot of reporters doing honest work out there, but the people who populate the blogosphere seem to prefer (and yet screech about) the pundits.
OK, I think I'm done here. Resume macho posturing.
Steve L, you're so busy in denial ... it is really sad.
Try asking this 1972 question: Do you really believe that anti-war folk want the US to leave Vietnam, and allow the evil commies to plunge into genocidal darkness? [short answer: yes]
Such a question is a dual item package: "leave Vietnam", "plunge into darkness". What the anti-war folk WANTED was to "leave Vietnam", and allow "more or less shades of human rights".
But the "human rights" item was only available with the "stay in Vietnam" package.
A: Leave and allow darkness.
B: Stay and allow (shades) of human rights.
Lots of Liberals know that Bush is pro-life, even though they, personally, are pro-choice. (Totten, Simon, etc.) They voted for: pro-war AND pro-life over the Kerry alternative, anti-war AND pro-choice.
In Vietnam, the anti-war package meant accepting genocide, the worst and greatest mistake the USA has made in my life. The fact that the press assisted in this mistake, supported leaving Vietnam, and has never been held accountable, has been a source of anger at justice denied.
Most political choices include multi- items, but the press is lousy at describing tradeoffs.
Jay, you're prolly disappointed in wanting some conclusion, which you can't support yourself, and the others here are also not supporting. Why you're disappointed is not really clear, and you should try to make it more clear. It would be enlightening. (even if it's ... not more Tom Grey & Vietnam as the source of moral rot in the media...)
But I think the press non-coverage, non-responsibility for their role in the post-Vietnam genocide is the most important media story in my life.
Since you are into trying to demean people:
"stand up on your hind legs and bark"?
You should be banned for comparing people to dogs. But, let me tell you why I think of you the way I do.
"timid network employee"
Actually, I ain't timid. I have been called on the carpet by management for responding to an email regarding our Oil for Food scandal coverage with which I disagreed. Even though I raised several good points, what I was cautioned on was "not appearing to be biased" because I had the temerity to call Saddam Hussein a crook, among other things.
"who piped up here under the safety of a self-selected faux-macho identity:"
Hey, Steve, you apparently being a lib in the news business, or at least NOT being a conservative in the news business, you feeling all safe and secure speaking up and talking like a big man? How very, very shocking, that. Very audacious of you. Now, let me explain it to you from the perspective of someone who does not follow the herd.
See, people who do not subscribe to the liberal orthodoxy are often shunned and ridiculed in the news business. If you attend church, you're a religious nut. If you even KNOW an M-16 from an AR-15 you are a gun nut. If you suggest calling a person or government evil is appropriate based on their mass murders, you are childish in your view of the world.
Another reason why I don't speak up more is because I am in the technical side of the business. That means my opinion does not count. I work in a business where if you point out to a producer that they got the capital of Turkey wrong, they say thank you to your face, and then say "blow me' under their breath. (True! Really happened!)
The reason why I have a screen name is partly due to the potential liability of speaking out in a work environment where my views are not welcome, and part of it has to due with the attitude and mental state of people on threads. There are some very freaking insane people on these boards, and I am not about to announce my name to them. The last time I was on the Drum website, some nut job somehow convinced himself I was gay, and then proceeded to throw every stereotype and epithet at me except "faggot". When I pointed this out to him as homophobic, he denied he was, then did it again repeatedly. Finally, this guy threatened to kill me. So, having to face nutjobs like that, I should be advertising my name? Sure, Steve.
"Join the debate, engage the opposition; don't disappear like early-morning fog struck by sunlight; and don't put a towel over your head (or name) before you step up to the plate.
We've had quite enough of tough-talking patriots swathed in anonymity. Do you guys show up at community hearings wearing Hallo'ween masks and using voice-distortion technology?
Kilgore Trout ... Trained Auditor ... neo-neocon ...antimedia ... enough already! Is this junior high ?
Put your money where your mouth is.
Then we can begin.
Until then, it's all posturing."
Uhhh, Steve, talk about posturing. I am in the debate, and your response is to try to demean me as a dog, and then to question my manhood? I notice you are not really dealing with the facts or arguments, but with the puerile veneer of screen names. How exactly is that an adult take on the discussion, Steve? Hint; it ain't.
So, thanks for helping to illustrate some of the dismissive and elitist attitudes which help make up our modern mass media. You've been a big help.
Trained Auditor, You sound as if you are looking for a serious answer, so I will venture one. Here's why I'm dismissive of the "liberal bias" argument:
1. It's all been said. Over and over. And over and over. I could read it or hear it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if I wanted. Whole sites and whole books are devoted to nothing but bias. I'd rather read about Madonna.
2. So much of it is so far off base that it isn't worth wading through the garbage to get to legitimate criticism. When people start talking about reporters as pro-Osama, there really is no room for serious discussion. Even your reasonable post puts us in "ivory towers" and "perfumed salons." Come on. I'm the son of a mailman and a school teacher. I went to a small, state-supported college on the G.I. Bill. I run a small business and teach college courses to scrape by. My resume is more typical than not. I've never even seen an ivory tower, much less lived in one.
3. I don't disagree that the typical journalist leans a bit more left than the average American, but it's easy to overstate the significance of that. Most bankers lean right. So what? In my experience, journalists are a bit to the right of voters on economic issues, tend toward libertarian on social issues and lean a bit left on government spending. They haven't much use for either political party, and they generally choose their preferred politicians on the basis of who treats them well and returns their calls, not on the basis of ideology. Ideologues tend not to become journalists, and they tend not to last. It's not a business that rewards true believers of any stripe. Conservatives are probably right that journalists aren't too sympathetic to the military; I did my duty, but I hated wearing a uniform.
4. Even if I accepted your entire argument, what difference would it make? I know of absolutely no evidence, not even anecdotal evidence, that reporters are hired on the basis of their political beliefs. In my long career, I have never once been asked in a job interview about my politics, and I have never heard of anyone who has been. If you're asking for some sort of affirmative action program for conservative journalists, then you're barking up the wrong tree.
5. In light of all that's going on in journalism, to spend such a disproportionate amount of time on such a tiny issue seems like a pitiful waste. People ask me all the time what I think about Fox News. I think Fox News is fine. I probably watch Fox more than I read the NYT. Sure, Fox leans a bit right. Why should I care? I don't go to the news for philosophical guidance; I go to find out what happened today.
6. I'm a busy guy. I shouldn't even be doing this. I avoid commenting on blogs, but Jay writes a blog that covers issues of personal and professional interest to me. I would love to be part of a rational, ongoing discussion here about the very real and significant issues facing my business. Instead, I just get worn out.
Aside to M. Simon: I not ready to buy into the million free stringers model. For my paper, I can find opinion writers hanging from every tree. People willing to do reporting, even for money, are far, far tougher to find. Nothing I've seen in the blogosphere makes it look any different. But I am cutting the hell out of expenses.
Crisp, I'm afraid that some of what you think you know is not true:
"It’s one of the great political myths, about press bias. Most reporters are interested in a story. Most reporters don’t know whether they’re Republican or Democrat, and vote every which way. Now, a lot of politicians would like you to believe otherwise, but that’s the truth of the matter. I’ve worked around journalism all of my life, Tom Snyder has as well, and I think he’ll agree with this, that most reporters, when you get to know them, would fall in the general category of kind of common-sense moderates. And also, let me say that I don’t think that ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ means very much any more, except to those kind of inside-the-Beltway people who want to use it for their own partisan political advantage. I don’t think it holds up." — Dan Rather answering a caller’s question about liberal bias on CBS’s Late Late Show with Tom Snyder, February 8, 1995.
"The idea that we would set out, consciously or unconsciously, to put some kind of an ideological framework over what we’re doing is nonsense." — NBC’s Tom Brokaw, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, May 24, 2001.
"I think there is a mainstream media. CNN is mainstream media, and the main, ABC, CBS, NBC are mainstream media. And I think it’s just essentially to make the point that we are largely in the center without particular axes to grind, without ideologies which are represented in our daily coverage, at least certainly not on purpose." — ABC’s Peter Jennings, CNN’s Larry King Live, May 15, 2001.
When you’re talking about pure journalists, I mean reporters, when you’re talking about reporters, not columnists, I don’t think there’s any liberal bias. I don’t think there really ever has been." — Los Angeles Times Senior Washington correspondent Jack Nelson on CNBC’s Politics ‘96, March 9, 1996.
Question: "I don’t think it’s your personal liberal bias that’s well-known, but the liberal bias of your network is obvious."
ABC News anchor Carole Simpson: "I challenge you to give me examples of that. I disagree wholeheartedly. I think it’s again, an example of the mean-spiritedness that is these days also directed at the media." — January 5, 1995 AOL auditorium session.
"I have yet to see a body of evidence that suggests the reporting that gets on the air reflects any political bias." — Former CNN and CBS reporter, now Executive Director of NewsLab, Deborah Potter as reported in "Leaning on the Media" by Mark Jurkowitz, The Boston Globe, January 17, 2002.
Sigh ... I'm sorry, but it's necessary to address antimedia ...
You state: You would think that if, as journalists constantly assure us, there is no bias, there would be no sites or books wholly dedicated to it.
Restated: There are sites or books dedicated to bias; therefore, it must exist.
There are books and sites devoted to the notion that the media have a pro-corporate bias that aids and abets those in power, including the Bush White House. Therefore, by your logic, it must be true.
David -- I'll raise two quibbles with your thoughtful posts. First, you probably could find a couple of "journalists" who claim there's no bias problem. (For the record, I simply think it's more complicated that is usually discussed, and "liberal" bias is but a small part of it. Yet people focus on it, say, the way journalists focus on one missing girl in Aruba.)
Second, I think journalists are sympathetic to the rank and file in the military, but perhaps not the leaders.
But everything else you've mentioned here is excellent. When people tell me we journalists are all in "perfumed salons," well, we're back to people telling me the carpet in my basement is blue. One funny story from my first job: A reporter covering social services came across a financial questionnaire to determine if applicants qualified for assistance. You can probably guess what happened next.
M.Simon: Have you tried The Economist? You might want to play down the "Green" angle, but they often say they're looking for people who know science first and journalism second. Other than that, you'll either want to try a specialty publication or convince editors that energy issues matter. The latter will be difficult. We're biased against ... um ... energy? Or maybe for energy? In any case, if the missing girl from Aruba turns up at a nuclear reactor, there's your break.
You don't have to ask about political beliefs to find out which way a reporter leans.
I think the movie "Front Page" shows the hay day of reporting. What is the undelying theme? Competition of views. Fighting for a story. Controversy. Excitement. (of course the ethics are a bit tainted - that can be fixed - point of view is inherent).
Why doesn't the media cover drug prohibition as a prohibition story? When it covers drug prohibition as a drug story it follows the party line "drugs cause addiction". So why doesn't every one who tries drugs get addicted? The question is never asked. When abortion is covered you never see the black market aspects covered. In fact in any story where black markets are a feature that aspect is ignored. When the Soviet Union was still functioning black market stories were quite common. Yet when they happen in the USA they are invisible.
The fact that black markets always arise no matter what the prohibition is never discussed.
We do get the occasional cigarette smuggling story but it is never seen as an inherent part of human nature: the desire for profit. Buy low, sell high.
Enron was a great story. However, I saw very little about how Enron was going to get out of its financial bind: CO2 emissions trading forced by law. i.e. rent seeking. Yet the consensus is among the news media is that global warmingis real. So was Enron a white hat that went too far too fast or a black hat.
Then we get the greenhouse gas/global warming story. I see very few skeptical stories. Following the winter of '79 the big story was global cooling and the coming ice age. I have a book published from that era. I keep it to remind me that a lot of what happens in the press re: science is fashion rather that a serious study of opposing views. At this point the press assumes that the science is settled when in fact it is not.
Take wind - an energy system I favor. I have seen no one ask questions of utility systems about why they are buying wind. Future orientation (it is coming down in cost), customer demand, government regulation, the desire for operational experience. What? Reporters mostly ignorant of energy systems don't even know what questions to ask. Instead of skepticism we get cheer leading. Or the opposite - it will never amopunt to anything serious. Nothing wrong with either point of view if the facts support it. Where are the facts?
In some areas (politics especially) the press is very oppositional. In other areas the press is asleep. I see this also as a function of bias. If as some say the press is supposed to be a watchdog why are they so asleep in areas which I actually know something (and awake in areas where opinion matters more than facts - like war and peace).
I think what you fail to recognize is that all reporting is a matter of opinion. Opinion colors the questions asked. It is a lack of rigor in training in the scientific method. i.e. What fact or facts would invalidate a theory.
The problem with bias is not bias per se. The problem is the questions that don't get asked when assumptions are not challenged. Take my bit on wind where I admit my bias. My bias did not stop me from posing questions that might challenge my world view. I am willing to have my assumptions undermined. I think that is based on my engineering training and experience. Did I mention I am an aerospace engineer whith training in design and test of aircraft power systems? The testing part was most valuble. I learned how to test not just functions but also assumptions.
Lawyer get similar training. What question will destroy an argument?
I think you alluded to the core of the problem. People with the talents you need can make more money in other fields.
I have a suggestion to make this debate more palatable to Jay, and more in the spirit of Austin's original post: perhaps we can look at the historical evolution of the role of the press in wartime?
However we describe the MSM's current biases (structural, adversarial, or liberal), they are certainly different from those that prevailed during WWII. Austin hinges his argument on the continuity of containment policy during the early phases the Cold War from Truman to Ike:
Ike knew the Cold War would be a long, tedious test of wills, and he agreed with the Truman Administration’s assessment that the social, political, and economic vitality of the U.S. would be very effective tools in that struggle.
In that contest of wills, Ike could count on a press that, broadly speaking
, shared a similar Cold War worldview to that of the administration, as well as a sense of collegiality that is now completely gone. A perusal of JFK's press conference transcripts
reveals a stark contrast to today's, not only in tone, but in the content: Kennedy is challenged for being too soft, just as Kennedy had challenged Nixon from the right on the Cold War.
And yet, less than 5 years after Kennedy's assassination, the press has completely turned against the Vietnam War. These articles (linked at Austin Bay's comments section) demonstrate how the press not only was biased in its presentation of Tet, but how that bias turned the tide of war by breaking the American will to conduct the war.
Most of the right-of-center blogs I encounter are concerned that the current press bias, however labelled, may have the net effect of demoralizing the American public and lead to both tactical and strategic victories for the enemy. This may occur even if nobody in the MSM would prefer to live under Sharia law, just as they probably would not have preferred that a tens of thousands South Vietnamese and a million or two Cambodians be slaughtered at the hands of Communists after American troops left Southeast Asia.
I would be sincerely interested in Jay's (and Steve's) thoughts on these observations.
Trained Auditor: This may be the last time I reply to anything you write because I am starting to think you are here specifically to waste my time.
Here's you: "Clearly any complaint, such as a conservative's complaint about our dominant media's perceived liberal bias, can look to an apathetic observer like unwarrated, gratuitous whining... especially if you overstate the claims of those you observe."
You have a lot of nerve. Every claim I mentioned has been mentioned in this thread. I did not overstate. I stated.
Here: "This current period is largely a one-sided affair with the media in open attack and doing everything possible to hamper the war effort."
Did you hear that? The press is doing everything in its power to undermine the war effort.
Here: "the goal of such a press is Public Relations against Bush, implicitly supporting the death squad terrorists in Iraq."
Did you hear that? The press, in effect, supports the death squads who are murdering innocent Iraqis-- and journalists!
Here: "Everything the left, and the MSM, gets interested in is seen only as a tactical issue. 'Can we attack Republicans with this ?'..."
Did you hear that? The only interest the press has is to find more ways to attack the Republican party.
Here: "...the media is, right now, the primary voice of defeatism, as well as the most effective provider of enemy propaganda, a discounted press is clearly a national security win."
Did you hear that? The press is a propagandist for the enemy side.
Here: "I am utterly convinced, however, that the the MSM is partisan, ideological and dishonest to the core, and that the MSM hopes that we lose it.
Did you hear that? The press desires the defeat of the U.S.
Every one of these statements is a fantasia. It isn't possible to argue with them.
Wanna know what this thread is about? It's this...
"Bush can't get a fair shake from the MSM no matter what he does, because the MSM is controlled by leftist geeks who hate him."
... followed by anti-media with this:
No one has ever said 'all reporters are leftists and hate Bush'. You said that."
"... those fears are more are a breathtaking measure of your own sense of victimhood than they are anything else."
Right Steve, my personal exposure to bias in the newsroom is all sort of a victim complex fantasy I have concocted. I see that now.
And when CBS News ran with a story on Bush's National Guard service based on blatently false documents which even their own experts expressed grave doubts over, obtained from a man with a history of mental instability and an axe to grind, it was Bush's sense of victimhood that was the real problem. When CBS news tried to stick its story for 11 days, despite mounting evidence that it was a huge fraud, it was all Bush's fault for "not getting over it".
It all makes sense, now. Thank you.
"I used to characterize myself as "slightly to the right of center,"
I am sure you did, and in the world of the MSM, you probably were right of center THERE. But, in the real world, had you bothered to really examine it, you might have found yourself in a relatively different place, no?
How do I know that for a fact? I don't, but you also don't know I am a "right-winder" either. All I have been saying is that I see a bias in the media and its obvious which side it leans. So, we apparently are equally incisive, or we are equally presumptious. You pick.
"In fact, the only time I get called anything like "a jerk" is from petulant right-wingers oozing sound and fury from the safety of pen names."
And the only time I get insults like I am a dog, and I have "macho issues" seems to be from the left which finds it a convenient way to deflect from the points I make.
And Steve, are you STILL upset over my screen name? Well, don't think of me as a screen or pen name. Tell you what, think of me as an "unnamed source". You know, the kind some reporters so love to utilize to further stories which are there, or you know, not.
As an anonymous source, you can trust what I say is the absolute truth, and that I have no other agenda, and there is no real need to verify what I say with either facts or logic. Presto-chango, Steve! I am no longer some rabid right-winger, but a trusted, highly-placed source in the MSM. Its so easy, even the New York Times does it!
Oh, and Steve, your 40 years of working as a journalist seems to track with the overall tanking of journalistic credibility. Coicidence? I'll let others decide.
This thread offers a vivid demonstration of something press people don't talk about often enough: How the wheels come off our pretty ideals about civic discourse and fairness when the bully boys stomp into the room.
What's the typical newsroom response? We treat them like they're just another citizen with a point to be made. We offer them a forum. And while they stomp around, we pretend that we're agreeing to disagree, that we're encouraging discourse, that we're being fair. It's a sort of smug, "We're above the fray" paternalism, and it drives people nuts, because it's a fundamentally untrue. We're afraid we'll lose readers if we stand up and start drawing lines.
Meanwhile, letting the bully boys have the run of the shop just heightens their disdain for the press. For all their victimized self-righteousness, they know full well that when they call up a city editor or berate an ombudsman, they're talking to someone who is expected, as a professional, to be polite and respectful. Unless they're talking to a columnist or an editorial writer, they're fighting someone whose job depends on not fighting back.
So press criticism is like bear baiting in a sense: It looks big and scary, but it's chained to a post.
Instead of counterpunching against the cheap shots, we try to make the cheap-shotters happy. And this never works. As Ferris Bueller said of his friend Cameron's doomed future marriage: "She won't respect him because you can't respect someone who kisses your ass. It just doesn't work."
I'd say the majority of the complaint callers (left and right) in my old desk days were operating on the assumption that I was a contemptable, bow-tie-wearing, corporate appeaser. Someone they could push around for fun. Demonstrating that I was a working guy with a temper was a necessary step in having a meaningful discussion. If we want respect, we have to earn it, individually, and that includes standing up to bullies.
If we value civic discourse (and we should) and we value the good things that we do (and we should), then we need to show some cojones. Thugs on the left and right shouting across barricades is not civic discourse, and if we want to create it, we have to make a place where it may safely occur. What's the point in believing in something if you're not willing to fight for it?
These days it's the right wing producing most of the bullies. Ten years from now it might well be the left again. Whatever. The point isn't that the press should choose an ideological side, but that the press should choose to value truth, intellectual honesty and meaningful discussion.
And someone will say "truth, intellectual honesty and meaningful discussion! HA! Here are 25 obscure examples of how The Media is none of those things! But you cover that up! And none of you people know the first thing about an M-16!" And so on.
To which I say: Judging by the comments here, I think I know considerably more about assault rifles, military operations, conservative political ideology, economic theory, etc., than this crowd knows about how the press works.
Someone here made the point that a reporter who can't tell the diffence between a Bradley and an Abrams loses all credibility. I say that a press critic who doesn't understand how a newsroom works yet ascribes all sorts of dire, conspiratorial motives to every point of contention has exactly the same problem.
By the way, if you guys ever read PressThink before now, you'd know that the people who post here tend to be press critics, not press apologists.
There's no good war reporting this war? Is that what you're saying M. Simon? Then you haven't been looking.
Dexter Filkin of the New York Times, for example, has written some riveting strories. A sample below:
In Falluja, Young Marines Saw the Savagery of an Urban War
By DEXTER FILKINS
ALLUJA, Iraq, Nov. 18 - Eight days after the Americans entered the city on foot, a pair of marines wound their way up the darkened innards of a minaret, shot through with holes by an American tank.
As the marines inched upward, a burst of gunfire rang down, fired by an insurgent hiding in the top of the tower. The bullets hit the first marine in the face, his blood spattering the marine behind him. The marine in the rear tumbled backward down the stairwell, while Lance Cpl. William Miller, age 22, lay in silence halfway up, mortally wounded.
"Miller!" the marines called from below. "Miller!"
With that, the marines' near mystical commandment against leaving a comrade behind seized the group. One after another, the young marines dashed into the minaret, into darkness and into gunfire, and wound their way up the stairs.
Google it, read it and tell me there is no good war reporting.
In the conventional stage of the war, there were any number of excellent reports about soldiers in combat. There still are, though the fighting has transformed to an insurgency/terrorist action. But you have to put away your blinders and look.
I get so bored of the refain, "The press doesn't report (fill in the blank)" The 'positive' stories about school rebuildings, getting the electricity on and the businesses going, etc., ARE BEING REPORTED. But they have to be reported with the horrible toll of daily car-bombings, IEDs and assassinations on GIs and civilians.
It's what reporters in Iraq do. Report so that the folks back home will know, at incredible risks to their own safety. But the critics, right-wing and otherwise, don't see that as journalism.
"I say that a press critic who doesn't understand how a newsroom works yet ascribes all sorts of dire, conspiratorial motives to every point of contention has exactly the same problem."
How about having a basic understanding of fairness? I am sorry, you seem to be treating the newsroom as some mystical place beyond people's comprehension. It really is not, but that is not the point.
The point is people can see what results come from the newsroom on a regular basis, and then can come to conclusions about the process. If the results seem to consistently come out in a certain way, do they not have the ability to question it, including the motivations or mindsets of those involved? When the results are regularly tainted, should they not begin to get suspicious?
There are basic tenets to reporting and fairness that I learned, no joke, in second grade. Yet people see those violated in all manner of ways today, and what they get for their displeasure are cries that they are "bullyboys" for pointing it out.
Bullyboys? Who is wielding the power to be a bully here? A reporter, editor or producer has the ability to DESTROY a person or an institution, do they not? When a news outfit sets its sights on somebody, and goes after them, what recourse does the average person have to defend against the onslaught? As my original post pointed out, the press wielded an enormous amount of power before, and only recently have that power been challenged.
The public has seen galling displays of journalistic malfeasance in the last few years, and they are PISSED, not to put to fine a point on it. Their outrage has only grown as they have come to realize that this behaviour might not be a new development, but one that has only recently been exposed.
The public are not the bullboys, Daniel. They are pushing back against the bullyboys who had the power without the responsibility. The public has started asking who will watch the watchers, and they now realize they will have to do so.
But, go ahead. Keep denying it yourself, keep imagining that its all a delusion on the part of the public. They are moving on, and if they do not continue to fact-check and criticize you, they will simply ignore you. You decide which fate is worse.
I generally like my job, but the way my network, and the others, conduct themselves, who knows how long either one will be around?