February 16, 2006
Dick Cheney Did Not Make a Mistake By Not Telling the Press He Shot a Guy
"The public visibility of the presidency itself is under revision. More of it lies in shadow all the time. Non-communication has become the standard procedure, not a breakdown in practice but the essence of it... With these changes, executive power has grown more illegible under Bush."
Among the angry, amused and jaded reactions to Dick Cheney’s methods for informing the nation about his hunting accident, the views of Marlin Fitzwater were of special interest to me. Fitzwater—former press secretary to both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, a loyal Republican—knows how things used to work.
He was livid. “It is all Cheney,” he told Editor & Publisher. “He is the key that has to start all this.” Fitzwater explained what is supposed to happen. The Vice President’s press secretary acts as a kind of journalist within the Cheney camp.
“What he should have done was call his press secretary and tell her what happened and she then would have gotten a hold of the doctor and asked him what happened. Then interview [ranch owner] Katharine Armstrong to get her side of events and then put out a statement to inform the public.
“They could have done all of that in about two hours on Saturday. It is beyond me why it was not done this way.”
Well, it’s not beyond me. The way I look at it, Cheney took the opportunity to show the White House press corps that it is not the natural conduit to the nation-at-large; and it has no special place in the information chain. Cheney does not grant legitimacy to the large news organizations with brand names who think of themselves as proxies for the public and its right to know. Nor does he think the press should know where he is, what he’s doing, or who he’s doing it with.
Fitzwater said he was “appalled by the whole handling of this,” which is refreshing. But he seems to think the Vice President erred somehow. I’m not sure that’s right. Howard Kurtz said it too. “Seriously: What were they thinking?”
The vice president of the United States shoots a man—accidentally, to be sure, this was no Aaron Burr situation—and White House officials wait a whole day and don’t tell the press? Did they think it wouldn’t get out? No one would care? It would remain secret as a matter of national security?
“This is going to ricochet for days,” Kurtz said on Tuesday. The title of his column that day: Monumental Misfire. I’m not sure that’s right, either.
How does it hurt Bush if for three days this week reporters are pummeling Scott McClellan over the details of when they were informed about Cheney’s hunting accident? That’s three days this week they won’t be pummeling Scott McClellan over the details of this article from Foreign Affairs by Paul R. Pillar, the ex-CIA man who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year.
Here’s what the article says: “During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq… the Bush administration disregarded the community’s expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case.” Pillar was there; if anyone would know he would.
The handling of the news that Cheney shot someone is consistent with many things we know about the Vice President— and about the Bush Administration’s policies toward the press. Though I admire his professionalism, I wish Fitzwater were a little less appalled and a little more attuned to the new set of rules put in place by the Bush White House, especially the rules for Dick Cheney.
The public visibility of the presidency itself is under revision, Marvin. More of it lies in shadow all the time. Non-communication has become the standard procedure, not a breakdown in practice but the essence of it. What Dan Froomkin calls the Bush Bubble is designed to keep more of the world out. Cheney himself is almost a shadow figure in the executive branch. His whereabouts are often not known. With these changes, executive power has grown more illegible under Bush the Younger— a sign of the times in Washington.
This week David Sanger of the New York Times described “Mr. Cheney’s habit of living in his own world in the Bush White House — surrounded by his own staff, relying on his own instincts, saying as little as possible.”
And at the same time expanding the reach of his office. “In the past five years, Mr. Cheney has grown accustomed to having a power center of his own, with his own miniature version of a national security council staff,” writes Sanger. “President Bush has allowed Cheney to become perhaps the most powerful vice president in history and has provided him with unparalleled autonomy,” say Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker in the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, the reclamation of powers lost to the executive branch after Vietnam and Watergate goes on; Cheney is known to be the driver. When this project reaches the press it turns into what I have called rollback— “Back ‘em up, starve ‘em down, and drive up their negatives.” Cheney’s methods after the hunting accident were classics in rollback thinking.
Listen to Fitzwater explain what should have happened, pre-rollback:
“If [Cheney’s] press secretary had any sense about it at all, she would have gotten the story together and put it out. Calling AP, UPI, and all of the press services. That would have gotten the story out and it would have been the right thing to do, recognizing his responsibility to the people as a nationally elected official, to tell the country what happened.”
But Cheney figures he told the country “what happened.” What he did not do is tell the national press, which he does not trust to inform the country anyway. Making sense yet? Ranch owner Katharine Armstrong is someone he trusts. He treated the shooting as a private matter between private persons on private land that should be disclosed at the property owner’s discretion to the townsfolk (who understand hunting accidents, and who know the Armstrongs) via their local newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
“I thought that made good sense because you can get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting,” he told Britt Hume of Fox News.
From the Caller-Times it got to the Web, then the AP and CNN. And there you are: The American people were informed of the basic facts (though not at the speed journalists want) and Cheney did not have to meet questions from the press, an institution without power or standing in his world. “I thought that was the right call,” Cheney said yesterday on Fox. “I still do.” He also said the furor among reporters is just jealousy at being scooped by the Caller-Times. (See this reply to that.)
Press thinkers, Dick Cheney did not make a mistake. He followed procedure— his procedure. As Bill Plante, White House reporter for CBS News said at Public Eye, “No other vice president in the White Houses I’ve covered has had the ability to write his own rules the way this one has. He operates in his own sphere, with the apparent acceptance of the president.”
Cheney has long held the view that the powers of the presidency were dangerously eroded in the 1970s and 80s. The executive “lost” perogatives it needed to gain back for the global struggle with Islamic terror. “Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam both during the 70’s served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area,” he said in December.
Some of that space was lost to the news media, and its demand to be informed about all aspects of the presidency, plus its sense of entitlement to the star interlocutor’s role. Cheney opposes all that, whereas Fitzwater accepted most of it. That’s why Fitz is appalled and Cheney is rather pleased with himself.
The people yelling questions at Scott McClellan in the briefing room, like the reporters in the Washington bureaus who cover the president, are in Cheney’s calculations neither a necessary evil, nor a public good. They are an unnecessary evil and a public bad— ex-influentials who can be disrespected without penalty.
I thought I would be featuring at PressThink this week a long and (I thought) very interesting Q and A with John Harris, the political editor of the Washington Post. It was completed over the weekend, but at the last minute Harris pulled the plug and decided against publishing the interview, which we had worked on for several weeks. (I’d tell you the reason, but I don’t know the reason.)
Unfortunately, I cannot bring you his replies, but I can show you one of the questions I asked Harris. It was my attempt to lay out what has happened to the press under Bush, and Cheney. This, I think, is the proper background for events after Saturday’s shooting…
You wrote a book about Clinton, and you have covered junior Bush, and so you are more than qualified to dispute my thesis in this next question, which is a little long (but then this is PressThink.)
I think the Bush years have been a disaster for the Washington press. In my view, the White House withdrew from a consensus understanding of how the executive branch had to deal with journalists. It correctly guessed that if it changed the game on you, you wouldn’t develop a new game of your own, or be able to react. I believe this strategy is still working, too.
The old understanding, which lasted from Kennedy to Gore, was that the White House has a right to get its message out, and the press has a right to probe and question, and so there will always be tensions in the relationship. There will always be spin. There will always be stonewalling. There will always be attempts to manipulate the press.
Likewise, there will always be pack journalism. The press will always exploit internal conflict and make juicy stories from it. Because of its appetite for anything it regards as the “inside” story, the press will always be vulnerable to manipulation by leak. It will always seize on miscues and call them missteps.
But despite all this, and the struggles and complaints, the parties would end up cooperating most of the time because presidents “need to get their message out” (that was the phrase) and communicate with the country, while journalists need stories, pictures, quotes, drama— news from the power center of the world.
And so a rough balance of power existed during that era; people could even imagine that the press had a semi-permanent or quasi-official “place” in the political order. It was known that White Houses tried to manage the news, which was part of governing. It was also known that there were limits on its ability to do so.
But where, John, is it written that these limits will always be observed? What prevents a new understanding from coming into power in the White House, one that withdraws from the earlier consensus? In fact, there is nothing to prevent it; and I would argue that the Bush forces have done exactly that. They sensed that the old press system was weakened and they changed the game on you. They knew you wouldn’t react because to do so would look “too political.”
Other White Houses had a “line of the day” they wanted to push. None had a spokesman like Scott McClellan who, no matter what the question, will mindlessly repeat the line of the day as a way of showing journalists that they have no rights to an answer. That isn’t “spin,” although it may superficially look like spin. That’s shutting down the podium and emptying out the briefing room without saying you’re doing it.
Armstrong Williams isn’t business-as-usual, it’s changing the game. Not meet the press— be the press! But at least the contract that paid Williams $240,000 was undisclosed. Look at the disclosed picture: The Bush team has openly said they don’t believe in the fourth estate role for the press. They have openly said: big journalism is a special interest. Bush has openly denied that journalists represent Americans’ interest in anything, including the public’s right to know. Bush is openly hostile to questions that aren’t from friendlies.
Dick Cheney will look into the eyes of a journalist on television and deny saying what he’s on tape saying! And when the first tape is played on the air, then the second, it doesn’t prompt any revision from his office. That too suggests a new game, in which flagrant factual contradiction is not a problem, but itself a form of cultural politics. Different game.
On top of that, the Republican party gains political traction and excites its base through the act of discrediting journalists as the liberal media. I don’t recall the Democratic Party developing any coalition like that. The liberal media charge is part of the way the GOP operates today— routinely. On top of that secrecy by the executive branch has reached levels beyond anything you have dealt with in your career.
Aside from the coverage of weapons of mass destruction, which is seen to have failed, my sense is that you and your colleagues think you have handled the challenge of covering this government pretty darn well. (Correct me if I am wrong.) The game hasn’t changed, you contend. We’re still in a recognizable, fourth-estate, meet-the-press, rather than beat-the-press universe. Those—like me—who accuse Bush of taking extraordinary measures to marginalize, discredit, refute (and pollute) the press are said to be exaggerating the cravenness of this Adminstration and ignoring the parallels and precedents in other White Houses, including the Democratic ones.
Actually, I may have understated the magnitude of the change Bush and company have brought to your world, because I didn’t connect the pattern we can find in journalism to the Bush Administration’s treatment of science, its mistreatment of career professionals and other experts in government, and of course its use and misuse of intelligence. All have to be downgraded, distorted, deterred because they’re a drag—also called a check—on executive power and the Bush team’s freedom from fact.
To offer one more example, there’s no precedent that I’m aware of for what’s happened to public information officers under this Bush. These are the government’s own flaks who have to be brought to heel by the political people, who want to erode any trace of professionalism. That’s changing the game; and to say in response, “well, there have always been flaks, Clinton had flaks, Carter had flaks” is just pointless and dumb.
[You’ve said you believe in a] mainstream press that is detached from the fight for power, and I would like to believe in that too. I think it’s noble. I think it’s necessary. How can you have an independent press without that kind of distance? But power—the executive power under Bush—hasn’t “detached” itself from the press, John. Not at all. It is actively trying to weaken journalism, so that it can over-ride what the newspapers say, and act like they don’t exist.
Finally, then, here are my questions for you: Do you ever worry that Bush might have changed the game on you, and put in practice a different set of rules? And if you don’t worry about that, why the hell not? And why shouldn’t you guys—the Post and the press corps at large— change the game on Bush and company?
I found something disingenuous about the performance of the White House press this week. Like when David Gregory of NBC News asked McClellan, “Does the President think it’s appropriate for the Vice President to essentially make decisions at odds with the public disclosure process of this White House?” This was an attempt to exploit the tensions between McClellan’s office and Cheney’s office after McClellan said he would have handled the news differently.
Tensions in the White House staff are fun to cover, but when that story dies down in a day or two journalists will be back where they were— pretending that we’re still in a recognizable universe, where to meet the press is to face the nation, and the White House sooner or later has to disclose.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
Hilarious. This post made it into one of Bill O’Reilly’s rants. Apparently, I am just some “far left” blogger to him peddling “an idiot conspiracy theory.” Sad because I feel I have written some nuanced things about O’Reilly.
Brit Hume of Fox also got into the act, paraphrasing this post on his show, Special Report, and telling people I wrote it. Hume also misquoted it by leaving out the word “not” in “… not the natural conduit to the nation-at-large.” Too funny.
AP: Story of Cheney shooting doesn’t remain the same.
Take a look at what Metafilter did with this post. A Presidency in Shadow.
Newspaper journalist, PressThink reader and comment wizard Daniel Conover goes for the fences in Journalism from a software perspective. It’s about how facts once established might stay established, and lots else.
Good Cheney analysis by Garance Franke-Ruta at Tapped:
The vice president has not held a press conference in three-and-a-half years and did not have press staff with him at the Armstrong Ranch; the idea that he would have, on his own, drafted and released a press statement or called a reporter about what happened is preposterous. He is a man who is used to having other people do things for him, and the question on Saturday night was, as he said on Fox, “Well, who is going to do that?”
Thomas Sowell at Real Clear Politics:
NBC White House correspondent David Gregory was shouting at White House press secretary Scott McClellan, as if Mr. Gregory’s Constitutional rights were being violated. It was a classic example of a special interest demanding special privileges — as if they were rights.
There is nothing in the Constitution or the laws that says that the media have a right to be in the White House at all, much less to have press conferences.
This has become a customary courtesy over the years, but courtesy is a two-way street, except for those in the media who act like spoiled brats…
Stephen Sprueill at National Review compares Sowell’s post to this one. “What I didn’t get from reading Jay’s post, however, is how he thinks the press should change…”
Not entirely sure at the moment. I will say this: Mark Glaser and I discuss CBS, Wisconsin Newspaper Let Audience Vote at Mark’s new blog for PBS: Media Shift.
Transcript: Cheney on FOX News. See Howard Kurtz about meeting the press vs. going on Fox. And Ron Brynaert on the quality of Brit Hume’s question-asking.
Cheney on Fox:
I had a bit of the feeling that the press corps was upset because, to some extent, it was about them — they didn’t like the idea that we called the Corpus Christi Caller-Times instead of The New York Times. But it strikes me that the Corpus Christi Caller-Times is just as valid a news outlet as The New York Times is, especially for covering a major story in south Texas.
Key phrase of his… “as valid a news outlet as…”
Rich Lowry follows-up in National Review. The Imperial Press: Sanctimony and frenzy.
…They had to wait until Sunday afternoon, and that ignited their rage. Worse, the story broke in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Wrong Times. The Corpus Christi paper doesn’t belong to The Club and doesn’t, like the other Times, employ a host of reporters reflexively hostile to the Bush administration and obsessed with the latest Beltway minutia.
The media need to clue into the fact that no one cares about press management as much as they do.
Which leads to new frontiers in press management.
“Takes five minutes.” Time’s Mike Allen on how alerting the press works. “A Bush communications official picks up the phone anywhere in the world and says to the White House operator, ‘I need to make a wire call.’ A few minutes later, the operator calls back with Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg reporters on the line, ready to flash the news around the world.”
Kevin Drum, the Political Animal, on Cheney’s “okay, I’ll explain— once!” interview with Brit Hume:
Cheney acknowledged that the White House wanted him to issue a statement Saturday night, but he refused. “That was my call, all the way,” he said. Translation: he doesn’t take guidance from the White House. They take guidance from him.
Hotline, Media To Ramp Up Efforts To Track Cheney. But Brian Montopoli at Public Eye is skeptical.
David Gregory of NBC News at the Daily Nightly:
My view is, as elected officials with unparalleled influence over the lives of the American people, the President and Vice President owe the public information about their activities. I see myself as a proxy for the public that has raised questions about what happened and why the Vice President did not immediately disclose it.
Mark Tapscott in reacting to this post writes: “The MSM is no longer the mainstream or national.” That’s how Cheney thinks too. Tapscott says the national press is more “regional” than it thinks.
Here’s something to chew on, Mark. The Bush team cares less for weakening the national media than it does for weakening the notion of the national fact.
When you really want to know, go Joe. Gandelman, that is. He rounds up opinion on Cheney and whether he damaged himself. Blogometer (here and here) also does range-of-views well.
Paul Janensch has a wonderful list of unanswered questions. Of special note was this:
The first rule of public relations is that when something bad happens, release all relevant facts and do it fast, or it will keep making news. Didn’t his staff know that?
Paul: consider the possibility that public relations in “disclose” mode is not the policy anymore. New rules for a new game.
The Economist said it in March, 2005:
If there is nothing special about the press, then there is nothing special about what it does. News can be anything—including dressed-up government video footage. And anyone can provide it, including the White House, which, through local networks, can become a news distributor in its own right…
Behind all this lies a shift in the balance of power in the news business. 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. Eventually, perhaps, the new world of blogs will provide as much public scrutiny as newspapers and broadcasters once did. But for the moment the shifting balance of power is helping the government behemoth.
And there are new rules emerging for this new balance of power. I’ve been trying to trace them in a series of posts over three years. In the Press Room of the White House that is Post Press (Feb. 25, 2005)
From Rollback (PressThink, July 16, 2005): “This White House doesn’t settle for managing the news—what used to be called “feeding the beast”—because it has a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country, but also less of a wild card in fighting enemies of the state in the permanent war on terror.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at February 16, 2006 10:07 AM
The meta story is the story of why it is possible to bury the police blotter story without real repercussion.
Both are relevant, at different levels, and for different reasons.
The police blotter story is valid, because it remains a distinct possibility that the Vice President did something not worthy of his office -- or perhaps negligent or even illegal.
The meta-story is that on this level, as well as on the national policy-making level, it remains a distinct possibility that the Vice President (and the President) has made a habit of doing something not worthy of his office -- or perhaps negligent or even illegal ... and that because of the Administration's purposeful emasculation of the press, it is no longer possible for the public to determine whether or not that is so.
That is why I said back in the Blue Plate Special post that this story is synechdoche for the larger story -- the part representing itself, as well as the whole.
Gary Wasserman expands this ito the foreign policy arena in looking at the war on leaks:
One argument for why autocratic regimes such as pre-World War II Germany and Japan have engaged in risky foreign adventures is that these narrow elites are not subject to the kind of outside review by knowledgeable people that exists in democracies. The run-up to the Iraq war has raised questions about whether America's marketplace of ideas in foreign policy is still viable. Did the Bush administration's success in gaining public approval for its invasion of Iraq have something to do with its ability to control secret information in a way that muted doubts about inflated claims of Iraqi threats?
In other words, by limiting itself to engaging the public only in venues "at a time and place of our own choosing", as the Administration is wont to say, they shield their policies from scrutiny.
You have to wonder why the Administration shies away from scrutiny. I think it's sound logic to say if you're hiding something, then you probably have something to hide.
This points to a government that is so unsure of its own policies that it is afraid to subject them to scrutiny; or that is so certain that its policies will be unpalatable to the public that they must be hidden.
Democracy's greatest strength is sunlight -- you expose your ideas and policies to the scrutiny of everyone else in this "marketplace of ideas." Like poor products -- or inefficient features -- the weak parts are scrutinized out of the market.
That this systematically and purposefully does not happen anymore in Bush's America goes a long way toward explaining the abundance of apparent policy disasters we've witnessed over the last five years.
The infuriating part is, yes, there they go creating the next reality, and here we are studying the last one.
It's the hallmark of people who were raised to leave messes for others to clean up rather than taking responsibility for cleaning them up themselves.
David Gregory, quoted above: I view the White House press corps as a proxy for the public.
Mr. Gregory, speaking as a member of the public: you're fired.
Whether it was, or is, true or false, the "narrative" presented by Cheney and co. regarding the events of the Great Bird Hunt is cohesive and plausible to anyone who has ever been bird hunting, or who lives in Texas and has neighbors who regularly go bird hunting. The supposedly-substantive objections -- why didn't he report it to law enforcement? -- fall down in fundamental ways. The Secret Service is law enforcement. It was the very first Federal law enforcement agency, in fact. County Mounties are redundant, at best.
Most of the rest of the objections fall down because they are plainly made by people who have no idea, no tiniest glimmer, of how a quail hunt is conducted or of the likely events and risks involved with one. If misbehavior occurred, the only people who are ever going to figure it out and present it in any believable fashion will have to be people who understand quail hunting. It's abundantly clear that nobody in the White House Press Corps qualifies, nor do at least most of the commenters here.
As a forinstance: a commenter, above, noted that Cheney had originally blamed the victim, then recanted by taking responsibility. As a bald representation of events that's tolerably justifiable if the person so noting doesn't understand quail hunting.. The original statements were to the effect that Mr. Whittington violated a safety rule regarding where he would be, and that this was the proximate cause of the accident. This is not "blaming the victim" in the context of bird hunting; the person holding the gun has responsibility for what gets shot with it, and no hunter could plausibly deny that or expect to get away with the denial if he did. It is a perfectly plausible explanation of how the accident occurred, without containing one shred of blame for the person who got shot. So making that comment does not cause anyone knowledgeable to question Mr. Cheney's character; it instead constitutes a confession of cluelessness, and therefore valuelessness, on the part of the commenter.
So if there is truth to be discovered, the White House Press Corps will not be the one to discover it; they haven't the equipment. That being the case, it's trivial to dismiss their insistence on being notified as childish petulance, because that's a large part of what's actually happening, and even if it were not, they clearly could not do anything about it if they were notified. The truth, if different from what's been presented, might possibly be discovered by a writer for Guns&Ammo or possibly Field&Stream -- and, on present evidence, Mr. Gregory and many of the commenters here would dismiss it with prejudice as not being a product of those reporters with credentials they respect, a qualification journalists from local or small organizations clearly do not have.
This seems to me an instance of a larger trend, that of declaring that anyone knowledgeable about a subject is inherently subject to conflict of interest when the subject is addressed. The end result of that is having lawyers and accountants inspecting airplanes for safe condition, because the engineers have a conflict of interest. Ultimately, accepting the principle means that a journalist declares total impartiality by demonstrating total ignorance of the subject involved. As a Utopian principle it might be valid, but since the result is utterly implausible "news" the impartiality of the "reporter" is moot.
So, yeah, George Bush (and, even more, Dick Cheney) would like to eliminate the national Press from the news-stream. They are in a fair way to succeed, largely because the national Press seems not merely willing, but anxious, to hand them their heads on demand. I'm a Bush supporter, at least in some respects, and even I don't find that a good thing, but it isn't going to change until some fundamental changes are made in the way the Press does business.
Mr. Gregory, you're fired. My proxy is withdrawn. You aren't qualified to determine the truth or falsity of statments made on subjects you know nothing whatever about, and demonstrating that you know nothing about them is not a suitable way of demonstrating your good faith.
What do I mean by this bizarre and allegedly impenetrable phrase, "freedom from fact?" Here's an example, from one of the links I gave you. Robert Cox's The National Debate blog.
On CNBC's Capital Report last Thursday has generated a good deal of controversy. When confronted by Borger with comments he had made on Meet The Press in 2001, Cheney denied saying it was "pretty well confirmed" that Mohamed Atta went to Prague in April 2001 and met with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia. Transcripts from Meet The Press show that Borger accurately quoted the Vice President.
Some may find this incident trivial and essentially meaningless. I do not. And if I were a Cheney believer (in his power to do good) it would unsettle me. So I put it in the "small but telling" category.
It tells us how far Cheney will go--far past the point of embarrassment--to preserve his freedom from fact. He didn't want it to be so, so it was not so. The fact that it was so was so... irrelevant. And he saw political sense in playing it that way.
No big philosophical or post-modern point about the meaning of "fact," Neuro. In this case the fact I mean is that Dick Cheney once said on national TV it was "pretty well confirmed" that Mohamed Atta went to Prague in April 2001 and met with an Iraqi intelligence officer. He did say it. I remember watching it myself. For some reason, he wants history to have happened differently. Who can say in the end why a man wants something like that?
Cheney claimed a right to deny the transcript, and the tape-- and he did just that. To me it is an accurate and reasonably precise thing to say, in that incident on CNBC, that Dick Cheney wanted freedom from a particular fact. Even more intriguing is that he felt entitled to it.
And one step beyond that, where no one wants to go, including Republicans, probably including you, Neuro, as well as the Washington press... Dick Cheney has actually been experiencing a kind of radical and unccountable-to-anyone freedom to make up his own facts, or pressure others to do it for him, as well as playing by his own rules, owing to decisions by his boss to create a vice presidency that is essentially the "stealth" side of W. Bush.
With that kind of permission come many consequences, Neuro. Obviously we are 98 percent in the dark about most of them.
I'm telling you what I think one of the consequences is, and being of sound mind, and a quick study, you are free to reject my description as implausible or cracked.
I'm telling you the people you support, who are in power, running the government, fighting terror around the globe and solving problems at home, have been screwing the epistemological pooch for some time now, and ordering up the constructions of the world they need for political purposes, purposes always declared in advance of close study, and never as a result of it. It's a dangerous way of operating, but it is also a political style with great advantages.
The Bush government needs to be able to dictate what the facts on the ground are. And it goes out and does it. That is why you see conflicts with every profession and position in the verification chain. Not just in journalism. That is my whole point, lately. Let's enlarge the discussion to take in all the means by which modern governments try to get an accurate handle and independently verify the world.
In each case we find "wars" with the Bush people. Think about it. Why is this happening? What sort of pattern is that? Those things interest me, so I keep writing about them.
All in all, a pretty dark picture. Because I don't really understand it myself I keep trying to describe it. Must be 20 posts by now.
To enlarge the picture even more, Daniel Conover's newest is to be read by anyone who has followed the comments portion of PressThink.
Journalism from a software perspective. (In there he writes: "Rollback is the implementation of de-certification." Exactly. I never thought of it.)
Finally, while every government around the world might want freedom from fact sometimes, it takes one with imagination to actually try it. You know the common phrase, I might use it myself, "I think you're taking liberty with the facts when you say..."
Philosophical question-- not a knock on Bush, ok? Can you imagine a government founded on reckless extremes of that kind of liberty?
Jay, the problem is "one bad apple spoils the barrel." The Press's credo, short as it is, has two words too many -- and it has led them astray, because the surplus words have become the emphasis.
Let us take one example from many, diverting ourselves for a moment from Dick Cheney's shooting skills.
"George Bush killed Kyoto."
That's a damnable, palpable, flat, stinking, baldfaced lie. It is quite true that George Bush pronounced last rites and gave it a decent burial, but the United States Senate killed Kyoto (and did so in a very revealing way, beyond the scope of my thesis at the moment) long before George Bush held any office of national influence.
So when a clique of Greenies gets up and makes that pronouncement, the question has to be what else are they lying about? Sure enough, other things come to one's attention if one looks around. And when the Press sees only a challenge to "power" in the person(s) of George Bush and the members of his administration, and (in its chosen role as interpreters of events, rather than simple reporters of them) supports the attack without any analysis that might point up contrary opinions or data, the result is not that the Administration is damaged, it is that the Press's credibility is diminished. If they support that lie, what other lies do they support?
After enough such episodes we arrive at the present-day situation. Your interpretation of it is plausible from the point of view of someone who begins as an opponent; from the point of view of a proponent, it can be stated as it isn't worth my while to tell the Press anything, and may be counterproductive from both my viewpoint and from that of the health of the Republic, because they'll just get it wrong anyway and make the situation worse. That is, after all,the experience, the "objective conditions".
"Speak truth to power." All in all a good credo, but you always have to watch for human frailty. Including the last two words has led the Press into hubris -- the belief that if something is spoken to power, in opposition to that power, it is necessarily somehow true, and that they are uniquely qualified to point that out. They forgot, first, that the first two words are the strong point -- if truth is spoken it will get to power, and discomfit it appropriately without extra effort; and, second, that adopting that attitude is arrogating power to themselves and thereby making themselves subject to the same slogan. The White House Press Corps, like the Press in general, clearly believes that it has, or should have, power. It equally clearly doesn't care to have Truth spoken to it, especially in the contrarian terms it seems (from here) to regard as the only valid expression of the credo when it is applied to The Administration.
My advice: concentrate on speaking truth as completely as possible. If the truth is discomfiting to Power, power will be discomfited.
From a philosophical point of view, not directly on point: Unanimity of opposition may be suggestive, but it is not probative. The near-unanimous opinion of Americans a century and a half ago was that black people were inherently inferior, unsuitable either to participate directly in the politics of the Republic or, indeed, in society in general; one can easily find quotations from the likes of A. Lincoln to support that. That opinion was wrong, and only the very, very few voices contradicting it (and sneered at, or worse, as a result) were correct. This principle is one of the major reasons societies which are tolerant of views contrary to that of the majority are more successful than those which are not. When the majority is wrong, the minority who are correct are generally in for a tough time -- but they're still correct, and if their views are suppressed everyone suffers in the long run.
Calm, Jay. I'm agreeing with you -- just trying to go one step farther, OK?
Stipulated: The Bush Administration is trying to cut the national Press "out of the loop".
Agreed for purposes of argument: that their motives are basically obfuscatory, that they don't want accountability.
The question is, then, what to do about it, both from the point of view of maintaining a role for the press and the meta-issue of maintaining (or forcing) accountability on the Administration.
In order to do that, in order to formulate a tactic that will restore or create the situation we want, we need to know what's happening now. It is an axiom of conflict that you cannot counter an opponent's tactics unless you know what they are, unless it is simply by dumb luck. We need to know, to analyze, what Bush's tactics are and why they work, in order to create, promulgate, and deploy a set of tactics to counteract them.
I keep bringing up matters from what you quite correctly call the "culture war" because the Bush Administration is using the culture war, and doing so quite brilliantly, to achieve its ends. In military terms, the culture war is the terrain upon which the battle with the Press is being fought. Like terrain, it extends far beyond the bounds of the present battle; and, like terrain, it provides (or not) footing, advantage, cover, and points of observation to the forces involved.
When I first began commenting here I made the mistake of doing so from the standpoint of one of the battlers in the culture war. That irritated you, with justification, and you are still interpreting my comments in that light. I'm sorry for that because I have changed my mind. The culture war, important as it may be, is not the subject here; the subject here is the Press, its motives, methods, and justifications. But we cannot discuss that subject in the light of the conflict with the Bush Administration without taking note of the culture war, any more than an infantry captain could plan a battle without taking note of the streams, ditches, copses of wood, and hills in the area where the battle will take place.
In the specific instance of my previous post I brought up the Bush vs. Kyoto matter. For purposes of discussion here it doesn't matter whether or not the Kyoto Protocols are a good idea, or whether or not they were issued in good faith. What does matter, here, is that Bush & Co. are using a mistake on the part of the Press as a way to push their agenda. When the Press asserts, or presents without criticism the assertion of another, that Bush killed Kyoto, Bush can then point to that falsehood and say, This is part of a pattern. What else are they full of s*t about? A single such incident doesn't matter much, but each such incident is a chip out of the Press's credibility, and therefore out of its ability to criticize in such a way that its audience will find the criticism credible. This is an example of a Bush tactic against the Press, and one that has succeeded repeatedly. A tactic must be found to counter it, or it will sweep the field.
The point about the slogans is that they, and the way they are applied, represent ground chosen in the culture war upon which to do battle. My point is that the ground so chosen is not defensible; demonstrably, as the Administration repeatedly attacks the position and succeeds in the attacks. The Press needs to choose another point on which to stand. What it thought was walls and bulwarks turn out to be marshmallows and balloons.
I am, in general, an admirer and proponent of George Bush and of his Administration. (This does not mean I find no fault in it.) More importantly, I am a member of the culture which George Bush adopted in preference to his natal one, and from that standpoint I can point out deficiencies in your (or the Press's) assumptions that cause wrong tactics to be adopted. From that point of view I urge you to a mental exercise, based on adopting for purposes of argument something you do not appear to believe:
Assume, for argument's sake, that George Bush does not wish to escape accountability, but feels that the existing Press is not interested in forcing accountability; it is, rather, interested in forcing its own partisan agenda and building its own power. What, then, would be his proper course of action? How would the tactics he might adopt differ from those logical under your "avoiding accountability" hypothesis?
Kristen, your everyone-does-it naivete is charming.
John: I think you are very thoroughly in denial about an Administration you support, and it will take years for you realize it. But then you must think I'm a crackpot, so we're even. Still I cannot tell you how complacent you are being about this group in power.
Ric: I agree completely that the culture war is basic to the Bush coalition. I agree that the goal is to escape accountability. Culture war is also basic to the unprecedented--that's right, there are no parallels--attack on science, civil service, the press, professionalism in government, and intellectually honest Republicans who, for whatever reason, recoil from cooking the books.
All must be assaulted, pressured, ridiculed, shamed, discredited, driven out. The hate for them that radiates from the White House is extreme and palpable. Culture war provides "the reason" that they deserve it.
If it were simply Bush concluding that he faces an unfair and partisan press then we would not see this broader assault on all the instruments of factuality and accountability. For example, bringing career information officers in the government to heel under Bush's political people.
It isn't the press, Ric. It's way way beyond that. It's anyone, and any group that might stand in the way of government's drive to order the world the way Bush and company say it must be. It's a "first the verdict, then the trial" ethic, and it's pervasive among the group in charge.
John: I agree that my dismissal above is not refutable, and that a man in denial can hardly be expected to see the light issuing from that which he is denying.
Nonetheless, sometimes people are in denial.
If you disagree strongly with the Administration on federal spending and size of the government then you must appreciate the intellectual honesty of the Bush people on that particular subject. They really take responsibility for their actions, don't they?
Kristen: "Just because something is printed in the NYTimes, doesn't make it The Truth for me." Me neither. But what does that have to do with anything? I didn't argue that if it's in the New York Times it must be true, end-of-story. Nor do I believe that. Nor do I behave, as a critic, like I believe that.
What I said was naive is your breezy "everyone does it" attitude. Though one can't prove anything with anecdote, you don't have any Clinton anecdote that is actually like the Cheney on CNBC anecdote. Why suggest you do?
This might be a good time to acknowledge that while I have presented a kind of theory to explain conduct in the Bush Administration, and offered examples and evidence for it, I do not think I have proven the case, or even come close to that.
Neuro: "governed by the faculty of Harvard?" Good god, where did you get that? And to repeat myself: what does that have to do with anything? I'm talking about a galling and intellectually corrupt pattern in the Bush Administration in which it goes to war with every group, profession, institution or counter-vailing force--regardless of party, position or political philosophy--that could offer an independent account of reality, and possibly show how the Bushies cook the books.
It could be the General Accounting Office. It could be a NASA scientist. It could be career State Department people. It could be the CIA. It could be the press. It could be a Pentagon public information officer. It could be a Treasury Secretary.
The alternative to that pattern is not government by college professors, which would be a disaster. The alternative is less hubris in the White House. A less radical Adminstration that does not operate in a "first the verdict, then the trial" fashion because it realizes how corrupt and reckless such conduct is.
You're very wrong in leaping to your conclusion that I have some deep faith in experts, or believe in the general wisdom of my fellow academics, or imagine there's some unimpeachable fact dispensary somewhere that will give us truth. All these cartoons come from your imagination alone, and having nothing to do with me or my writing. Play on with them if you like.
Buckely's phone book image is good. I prefer the original, from Jefferson: "State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules."
I agree with Tom on that.
Jay, I see we have a number of people fighting the Culture War regarding the issue I brought up. I must say that, having had you criticize me (with perfect justification, I agree) for culture warring, it's a bit disappointing to see you stake out a position in the battle and start defending it.
I say again: the question is not the culture war; the question is not whether or not Bush wants to cut the Press (and those you view as credible advisors) "out of the loop". I, as a rightist, agree that that's what's happening. It isn't a question any more, and debating Glowball Worming is a waste of your bandwidth.
The question is what to do about it, and the question that has to be answered before that one can be addressed is why is Bush successful at doing that? If all the right (in the sense of correctness), not to mention truth, beauty, mother-love, and the astral conjunctions are on your side, why are you losing? And if the second Flood is imminent if something isn't done, it would seem to me there would be some urgency in figuring it out, rather than wasting time battting minutiae back and forth or engaging in Calvin-eyed denial.
The correct antidote to such machinations would be a strong, respected, credible authority that could speak out to correct misstatements. In the ideal, that's what the Press is for -- but at present the Press is neither credible nor respected, and as a result it is not strong and its opposition is ineffective. How did that circumstance come to be, and how can it be reversed? It is crystal clear that the presently employed tactics to gain credibility and respect are not working; there are many on my side of the aisle who are crowing in triumph about it, and the tone of desperation in the Culture War posts, above, is clear to me if not to you. What to do?
One of the first principles a green Lieutenant learns about "battlespace management" (the military being not at all immune to buzzspeak) is to think like the enemy -- put yourself in the opponent's place, imagine yourself with the opponent's knowledge and motivations, and build a plan based on that. With that plan clear in your mind, shake your head, resume your normal persona, and build a counterplan to frustrate the one you just made. If you are truly able to think like the enemy, your counterplans will always work. Doubling the effort for a near-guarantee of success is a good trade.
Clearly the Bush Administration has you figured out with virtual completeness. Just this week they took a chance occurrence that should have been a fairly severe loss for their side, gathered a scratch force, and executed an impromptu flanking attack that drove their enemies back in weeping disarray. David Gregory might as well resign; he is and forever will be tarred as a petulant elitist whining about loss of privilege, the equivalent of the self-important rich asshole expecting to jump the line at the restaurant -- "Don't you know who I am?" The Press lost big. Isn't it time you figured out how to fight back?
From News Max: "After being told that his remarks were on tape, however, the ex-president changed his story, saying instead that he had 'misspoken' during the 2002 speech."
After being told his remarks were on tape, Cheney stuck with his story. That is the remarkable thing I am trying to point out to you, Neuro. Those who would understand Cheney should understand that. He could have said he had misspoken. He went for infallabilty instead.
I'll go a step further: I believe it is part of the strategic thinking of the Bush Administration that in order to fight Al Queda executive power not only has to be enlarged; it has to be made more opaque. Cheney is in charge of that, and the first sphere in which he executed that policy was himself. See this post for the details on it. Cheney is famous within the government for not saying what he thinks while wielding enormous influence. What do I mean by more opauqe? I mean that.
Government power, executive action, made more opaque for strategic reasons, in order to increase uncertainty for Al Queda, and gain back some of the edge they have because they don't operate in an open society, where there are (were) accountability demands, unavoidable disclosures, a belief in transparency, a free and inquisitive press that screws up your plans. We do have those handicaps. Unless we change our society (or at least the executive branch) and re-write the rules on what is permitted.
And this is why we see wars between the Bush people and the verification troops. They are necessary wars if executive power is to be expanded by being made more opaque, so that executive power can use stealth to keep us safe from an enemy unlike others. (My post used a different word: "With these changes, executive power has grown more illegible under Bush.")
I listen carefully to what might be called the "national security right" when it starts talking about what how we need to change things to fight an enemy like Al Queda. If you're looking for why the Bush administration is being accused of being... different...like, going beyond what was tenable before, what's wrong with starting with Al Queda? Isn't that where national security conservatives start?
Unless there's a working climate scientist in this thread, nobody here is really qualified to critique the science behind the global warming debate. And this is the root of the problem that science faces in 2006: Science works by its own rules, and those rules really just don't give a damn how you feel about that.
Science doesn't ask your opinion about pentaquarks. It doesn't stroke your wounded little ego when it comes to evolution. Science loses politically because it just doesn't make nice.
Science makes some people feel really small. Makes them feel bullied by reason and academic titles. What's more, science has a habit of telling people that what they desperately wish to be true isn't, and some of us simply cannot exist without our most cherished illusions.
I was raised on the same anti-intellecutalism, but I was lucky: When I was 17 a teacher asked me if all opinions were equal. Being a good little anti-intellectual American boy I said yes, they were.
So the teacher asked, "If your doctor told you you had cancer and your bus driver told you you didn't, would you say that both opinions were equal?"
We're not going to settle global warming by taking a poll of lay people, but here's the situation, and you can like it or dislike it: The vast majority of working climate scientists agree on the following basic statements: 1. The world is heating up; 2. Greenhouse gases generated by human civilization are contributing to this trend; 3. Even if we stopped producing those gases tomorrow, this this warming trend would continue for decades.
And no, I don't agree that we can agree to disagree on this topic. You can either accept these circumstances and join the conversation (which, by the way, includes all SORTS of interesting discussions on flawed data, radically different outcomes, competing theories, etc.), or you can stay in denial and talk amongst yourselves about how arrogant I am because I won't let you pretend that your non-qualified opinion matters. I don't care, because science doesn't care.
And here's the blunt, non-scientific part: We're not going to "fix" global warming. We can't solve this problem because we are the problem, and despite all our advancements, human beings as a species haven't changed all that much in 5,000 years. We can't save ourselves because that would require cooperating, and we won't cooperate because, deep down, the majority of us are driven by fear, not love or reason.
Which is why global warming has become an issue in the culture war. People who couldn't recite Newton's Laws of Thermodynamics talk about hard science as if it's some contestant on American Idol. "Oh, I don't believe that." They're not talking about climate science -- climate science is just another proxy for the way they feel about themselves and the world around them.
To wit (close eyes, click heels together, repeat in unison): "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home."
I watched Meet the Press in the re-run last night. Mary Matalin was on representing Cheney, with David Gregory of NBC News, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, and Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal.
Matalin was given most of the time to defend the VP (probably in a deal with Russert to get her to come on his show, rather than ABC, or CBS.) The other panelists mostly sat there and listened to her hold the floor.
Sneering, eye-rolling, contemptuous of the questions she was asked, ridiculing the press corps at every turn, acting like it pained her to be there, laying it on thick as her eyeliner with the culture of South Texas vs. the "parallel universe" of the Washington press, and stonewalling to the hilt (no one ever said it was Harry's fault!...) she completely dominated the proceedings.
Gregory started out apologizing for his very testy exchanges with Scott McClellan (good example of Rollback working perfectly) and it was downhill from there. Representing the White House press, he was inarticulate, unsure of his ground, on-the-run, unable to make good arguments. Here's a sample:
GREGORY: The vice president's office doesn't feel an obligation to disclose that to the American people directly. You do it through a ranch owner in Texas? It just -- it just strikes me as odd.
MATALIN: It strikes you as odd because you live in a parallel universe....
GREGORY: If you thought he did everything right... why did you do a big national interview this week?
MATALIN: Because you went on a jihad, David. For four days you went on a Jihad.
GREGORY: And that's an unfortunate use of that word, by the way. This is not what that was.
MATALIN: "Oh, OK. All right. How -- were you saving up for that line?"
"Saving up," as if Gregory knew ahead of time that Matalin would be bringing jihad into it. But that's the way she played it.
Maureen Dowd ("diva of the smart set," according to Mary) was starved for time by Russert, but she did get a few cuts in when allowed. ("We don't know his schedule. We don't always know where he is. We don't know what democratic institution he's blowing off at any given minute...") Paul Gigot chuckled about how there were more important things in the world. Aren't there more important things in the world? There must be more important things in the world.
Bottom line-- a wipe-out, no contest. Matalin began as the aggressor, stayed aggressive, practically spat at her opponents, spoke as much as the other guests put together, and did "let's play culture war" like a total pro.
Transcript here. Some of the video here.
On the lighter side, I have to present this summary from Rob Cordry, the guy who interviewed me when I was on the Daily Show:
“The Vice President is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. Now, according to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be a 78-year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he still would have shot Mr.Whittington in the face.”
I really don't think that arguing the science of global warming is going to get us anywhere in a PressThink way, which is why I have not been participating.
I respect that, and it is your blog Jay, but I like the using global warming debate as an example because it can actually progress independently of politics.
As lay people, we're not independently qualified to render a meaningful opinion on global warming, and that's not a slam on the intelligence of lay people. And yet we're asked, politically, to make decisions based on scientific claims related to global warming. So how do we connect these two realities? As journalists? Citizens? Voters?
How do we make intelligent decisions based on incomplete information? How do we evaluate claims? Which facts are most meaningful?
Science coverage is a great laboratory for press ideas, because the field has standards to which you can apply your comparisons. You can't say the same thing about politics, so politics is -- to me -- a poor choice for studying the principles of journalistic practice. Science may be a flawed human endeavor, but at least it doesn't suffer from "truthiness." Not for long, anyway.
Why do you view science as a monolithic entity that operates utterly independently of petty human foibles?
Great question, neuro, but wrong assumption. Science is famously subject to all the weakness of humanity. What separates science from journalism, though, is that science -- as a process -- operates based on transparent, published standards that are self-defining. What makes something scientific isn't whether it's ultimately proven correct or incorrect, but whether the people who created it followed the process correctly. On the other hand, what makes something journalism?
climate science is just another proxy for the way they feel about themselves and the world around them.
And you are immune from any such projection, Mr. Science guy?
Absolutely not! Bingo! None of us are. Which is why we need some process that accounts for these flaws in our communications, or eventually we all wind up just choosing our echo chambers. The PressThink of the White House says that's what we should do. I think Jay is wrestling with an alternative.
But whether the warming is actually statistically significant--that is, outside the bounds of normal temperature variation within a 100 or more year period--is not yet known, I think.
It may interest you that scientists working within the field of global climate studies debate these issues constantly. As I tried to indicate, global climate researchers are far from monolithic -- for example, there is no consensus on whether the effect of this warming will lead to a prolonged warming trend or a sudden cooling event. Pretty big deal, but they really just don't know.
So "GW is real" does not equal "Vote for Kyoto," and I never said it did (and personally I couldn't care less about Kyoto, since I don't think we have a chance in hell of reversing the CO2 problem).
The reality is that the vast majority of climate scientists agree on the most basic premises of global warming, but a plurality of the public doesn't know or believe that. Why? Might it have something to do with the press coverage?
If the subject is Cheney, then you line up the partisans and everybody's opinion is equal and you choose sides and squabble. Fair enough. But do you need another kind of journalism when a fair representation of the field would look like 97 scientists in agreement on the basics and three scientists (one or two of whom is funded by oil industry) calling the work of the other 97 "junk science?"
I think you do. And I think people will probably hate it.
The reality is that the vast majority of climate scientists agree on the most basic premises of global warming, but a plurality of the public doesn't know or believe that. Why? Might it have something to do with the press coverage?
Great point, Dan Conover, and I had been thinking about the cancer example, too -- and it can be extended to press coverage.
You go to the doctor, and he tells you you have cancer and must begin treatment.
So you go to another doctor -- an oncologist -- who tells you the same thing.
You go to another and another and another, until the eleventh doctor tells you he's uncertain if you have cancer, that it may be something else, and that you should not begin treatment because it will be financially dangerous.
You take the eleventh doctor's advice, disregarding his religious affiliation with a sect that does not believe in medicinal treatment.
You go with him, because it means you don't have cancer.
You shop for verdicts until you don't have to hear what you don't want to hear, which is that you have cancer and could very well die.
So you have ten doctors telling you you have cancer and one telling you he doesn't know if you have cancer, and you decide to believe that you don't have cancer.
In effect, what you have done is to elevate to equal status the opinions of the ten and the opinion of the one.
Unfortunately, this is what the American press has done with global warming BECAUSE of the he-said, she-said culture that has arisen to some degree because of this appeasement of the conservative movement who want to hear what they want to hear (their worldview, regardless of reality) reflected in the press.
So the 90%+ of climate scientists who believe that GW is real, human caused, and likely disastrous are counterbalanced by one guy who believes that the science is inconclusive (but who happens to be in the employ of Exxon.)
And the politicians in the employ of the same interests work to convince their consitutents that this "balanced" view reflects the reality of climate science.
This has allowed lay Americans to believe that global warming is an issue of liberals vs. conservatives, when it is largely an issue of climate scientists vs. climate scientists who work for oil companies.
Yes, it is true that scientists are people, too, with biases. That's why their work is peer-reviewed. It must pass muster by being replicated by third parties who are often in competition. That's where credebility comes from in science.
Now, the press is beginning to treat global warming as news-section news, rather than
Top Scientists Predict Global Disaster (Science Times: p.D6)
But "50%" of the American people have been led by their chosen political leadership to believe that global warming a. does not exist; b. may exist but if it does it is not caused by humans; c. may exist and be caused by humans, but it may be good for us.
Conflicting triplethink position chosen depending on the expediency of the political moment.
I believe that it is not out of line with decertification and rollback to note that this does have to do with the rollback of all knowledge professionals by politicians:
(communist) college professors
(disgruntled) former administration officials
(agenda-driven) geologists and climate scientists
Note that the biggest opponent to the theory of global warming, in our government, in James Inhofe, Senator from Oklahoma. Guess what industries are Inhofe's biggest political contributors ...
And off goes Inhofe, comparing climate change to Bigfoot and Nessie.
I agree with Jay 100% that there is a pattern of de-credentialing anyone who opposes the Administration and its policies, which at current include doing very little about global warming.
The common argument from conservatives is that all these people are so raging with Bush-hatred that they are blind to anything the Bush Administration does right.
But I think that many conservatives are still so blind with Clinton-hatred that they cannot see what the Bush Administration is doing that is dangerous for the health of our country -- and at this point the planet.
Here's my buddy Matt Stoller at My DD:
- Jay Rosen has a fascinating post, in which he mentions that John Harris, editor of the WaPost, refused to allow Jay to put up a Q&A Jay had done with him earlier. I don't know why Harris didn't let him; I do wish Jay would describe the ground rules by which he did an on-the-record interview and then allowed Harris to retroactively make it off-the-record. Unless I'm missing something?
As I said in my post, I don't know why he changed his mind, either.
The only thing Matt's missing is that my Q and A's have different ground rules. I define them as co-authored blog posts; and anything co-authored has to be approved by both. The way I do them requires collaborative editing.
The goal is to make it say exactly what we--the interviewee and I--want it to say; and to give the person I'm doing the interview with a chance to go into depth, make complex but careful arguments, and achieve fine distinctions with their words. After all, it's writing, not talking. And it's writing that is broken up and done over a period of weeks, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes at a time.
A telephone interview or an interview in the Oval Office is an event, though staged, and the article made from the interview ought to reflect what happened during that event. Here, the "event" is the entire process of crafting the Q and A to say exactly what Jim Brady or Bill Grueskin have to say.
I send you some questions, you send back the answers. I read what you wrote, think about it, send some follow-up questions; you send some more answers. I think about it some more and ask another round of questions, you send some more answers. If I have to I will ask a final Q.
Then I put it all together into one Q and A. Of course the person who put all that work into the exchange--10, 15 e-mails--will want to see it; and the agreement I make beforehand is that they will see it, and they can change it, too. If the whole point is to make it say exactly what they want it to say, this creates maximum accountability for their words.
Thus one of the goals is to make "I was misquoted!" or "out of context, out of context!" not applicable. That's an advantage. There are disadvantages. The spontaneous outburst, the unguarded moment don't happen. The last minute sinking that my Q and A with Harris suffered shows another disadvantage. (First time that's happened, and it was pretty disappointing.)
Nonetheless, for my purposes--exploring in detail the press think of key journalists--this is a sound method. It creates not an adversarial situation but a "we're doing this together" situation. There are other interviews of this type; PressThink didn't invent the form by any means. The Paris Review Writers-at-Work interviews available online, are the most well-known.
I'm an old guy -- not as old as Steve Lovelady, but getting up there.
I remember when the Scientific Consensus™ was that the continents were eternal and stationary. One of my profs, back in the Sixties, was a geologist who was positively scathing about the crackpot notions of continental drift.
I remember when the Scientific Consensus was that ulcers were caused by stomach acids. My brother had to eat bland food and drink lots of milk, which he grew to hate, to "treat" his ulcer. Viral infection? Lunacy!
And I don't remember, but have studied, times when the Scientific Consensus were that atoms were solid, unbreakable balls, when the Luminiferous Ether filled space, when heat was escaping phlogiston... science reporters and those who read them should recall Arthur C. Clarke's observation: When a distinguished and elderly scientist says something is possible, he may well be right. When a distinguished and elderly scientist says something is impossible, he is almost certainly wrong. The same is true of the Scientific Consensus. Ask Paul Dirac and Wolfgang Pauli.
I'm also a dilettante of a lot of things. I read about space and space science, for instance, so I know that evidence for global warming on Mars is solid, evidence for warming on Pluto is good but can't be called firm yet, and there are tantalizing clues of warming in the cloud tops of the gas giant planets. Anthropogenesis seems a bit unlikely in most of those places. The Mars rovers run on batteries and solar cells; if that's the cause of Martian warming you really shouldn't buy that Prius, should you?
I know a guy who programmed the Mann equations into Excel (computers have moved on). I watched as he got "hockey sticks" out of the random number generators in C++, Excel itself, FORTRAN (version 6), and an old copy of Turbo Pascal. The best one, though, was from entering the last four digits of the numbers on a randomly-selected page of the Cleveland phone directory. Those folks in Ohio are f*ed, let me tell you.
And I like to look sometimes at ancient history. Up until the Climate Scientists took hold it was the Consensus of Historians (actually it still is) that there was such a thing as the Medieval Climactic Optimum, an unusually warm period beginning around 800 AD or a bit before. In the year 1000 people were farming in Greenland where glaciers are now; how cool is that? :-) And before that, it was warmer than usual between 500 BCE and 100 AD, so people grew wine-grapes in Thuringia and Britain for the entertainment of their Roman overlords. In general, there appears to be an historical record of climate change consistent with alternate warming and cooling with a period of around 1200 years. The neatest one is the Harappans, where Pakistan and Kashmir are now. If the twelve-century period is about right the Harappan civilization grew up in one warm period, survived the following cold one, expanded enormously in the next warm, then were wiped out at the beginning of the following cool time by invaders from the North, who had (funny thing) expanded their population and economic base and were(?) looking for someplace warm to live. Oh, and the intervening cool period featured remarkable amounts of vulcanism pumping carbon dioxide (and water vapor) into the atmosphere. All just coincidence, of course. If it gets warmer we're all gonna die. Daniel Conover says so, and he believes in science.
I also remember disasters. Remember in the Fifties (Steve does, I'm sure) when we were all turned into Pod People in gray flannel suits by the voracious growth of the megacorps? The only way out of that, according to the vocal consensus, was for the United States to abandon its economic expansion, turn all its affairs over to Socialist management (i.e. the Soviet Union), don sackcloth and ashes, and apologize for vileness and wrongdoing.
Later in the Fifties, of course, we all got blown up by the A-Bomb, with pitiful remnants left On the Beach. The solution to that, according to Consensus, was for the United States to abandon its economic expansion, turn all its affairs over to Socialist management (i.e. the Soviet Union), don sackcloth and ashes, and apologize for vileness and wrongdoing.
In the Sixties it was the Ice Age, remember that? We all froze to death. The only way for any remnant of humanity to survive, according to the Consensus, was for the United States to abandon its economic expansion, turn all its affairs over to Socialist management (i.e. the Soviet Union), don sackcloth and ashes, and apologize for vileness and wrongdoing.
Later in the Sixties we all choked to death on Pollution, if you remember. All that industrial activity was poisoning everything, and the firm, unbreakable consensus was that the only solution was for the United States to abandon its economic expansion, turn all its affairs over to Socialist management (i.e. the Soviet Union), don sackcloth and ashes, and apologize for vileness and wrongdoing.
In the Seventies, first, we all starved to death. The damned Americans were porking all the food, and the growing world population didn't have anything to eat, and the clear consensus was that the only possible way out of the problem was for the United States to abandon its economic expansion, turn all its affairs over to Socialist management (i.e. the Soviet Union), don sackcloth and ashes, and apologize for vileness and wrongdoing.
After that was the Second Ice Age, a.k.a. Nuclear Winter. The Soviet Union was gonna rule the world, anybody who said different was an Imperialist, and any defense against it raised a dust pall that cut off the Sun and froze everybody, and the clear consensus was that the United States had to abandon its economic expansion, turn all its affairs over to Socialist management (i.e. the Soviet Union), don sackcloth and ashes, and apologize for vileness and wrongdoing.
Starting to get a little repetitious? Betcher ass. We're up to the point where 'most everybody on thread should be able to add in the next couple, though.
Climate science, a.k.a. Global Warming, got pushed 'way behind start because it was immediately siezed upon as the latest disaster to which the only possible solution is for the United States to abandon its economic expansion, turn all its affairs over to Socialist management, don sackcloth and ashes, and apologize for vileness and wrongdoing. There isn't a Soviet Union any more, of course, but the Usual Suspects are happy to make do. The scientists, like any human beings, are flattered by the attention <FX::homer simpson voice: Mmm, groupies!> and the politics (and the money) follows the shouting, as usual.
A free, honest, alert, and informed Press would be telling us some of those things. It might even remind us (in its role as advisor about what's important) that there's a lot of commonality between the Current Consensus and the Conventional Wisdom. Instead a lazy, self-indulgent Press has taken the one loudest "narrative" and promoted it as the only one, and people get sore about it. Whether or not any or all of those factors are relevant will play out over the next few years, and (as in all previous disasters) there will be winners, losers, people who break even, croupiers taking tips, and a house percentage. Meanwhile, the Press loses another one. Getting almost boring, isn't it?
Jay. Ref Norse et al.
Book review. Op ed. Not news. The function of an op ed is to dissent from the paper's prevailing wisdom, hence "op" ed instead of merely "ed".
The review was of Diamond's book and the op-ed was by Diamond, the mention buried. That the NYT considered it news as in facts it would be nice to know in conjunction with us all burning up in an unprecedented heatwave....nothing.
Nice try. Scratch that. Lousy try.
BTW, I read "Guns, Germs, and Steel", and even reviewed it for Amazon. I didn't think much of it, spotting several cases of special pleading, planted axioms, and logical bullstuffs.
So I'd be interested in a news or analysis piece where the NYT actually looked at the Medieval Warm Period as a matter of some import in the current discussion.
P. S. The Medieval Warm Period is also known as the Little Climactic Optimum. It appears to have been a world-wide phenomenon, contrary to the wishes of those for whom it is so inconvenient that the fallback position is that it only affected the North Atlantic.
Of course, the Holocene Maximum was warmer still, the Roman Warm Period was kind of copacetic, while the Dark Ages Cold Period and the Little Ice Age were pretty grim.
You have to think....Aubrey got a modest GPA at Enormous State University so he could get a degree for OCS, was a grunt and now sells....
If he knows this stuff, how about all the smart people, which is practically everybody else? Think about that. The press is telling people stuff they know better than. What do you think the effect is?
Maybe somebody's busted.
I don't find any "scandal" in what Cheney did. I find the elements of a political style that can and should be criticized. I have tons of questions about it.
Making a "gate" out of this is, I think, a bad idea. To a certain extent I agree with our friends calling themselves conservatives who say the press hands overplayed the incident, blew up so they could vent frustration, not because there's so much to get to the bottom of here.
Maybe something nefarious went on after the shooting; can't say I know. Could be the story changes, and bad stuff comes out. Right now I think moving on is the best idea for everyone, but it won't happen for all.
I'm struck by McClellan's role. In my view he's the key to it all. One thing: He keeps the old rituals running so that the picture looks familiar enough to disguise the new logic that's in place and working.
The press doesn't grasp it yet: they closed the briefing room by putting McClellan up there. He's the angel of death, information-wise. The dead podium has a live person "manning" it, and so the press is tricked into thinking its world is basically entact. But it has to exist in a constant state of rage at a system designed to frustrate the search for information.
McClellan tells unbelievable stories on purpose, stoking the rage. He insults the press corps non-stop, and refuses legitimate and not legitmate requests for information on the same basic principle of always saying no deal.
The strangest part to me, and the part where the novelists ought to take over, is that all the regulars--David Gregory, for example--say Scott is such a "nice guy." They say how much they like him.
There stands the angel of information death at the White House podium: a nice person!
Okay, thanks for halting, Roger and Steve.
Yes, conservatives, so-called, agree with me on this one up to a point. And it makes sense that they would: they support Rollback. As I said in the original Rollback post: "Back ‘em up, starve ‘em down, and drive up their negatives: this policy toward the press has many strengths as a working piece of politics, and supporters of it abound within the Bush coalition."
I should have said earlier that, while I don't agree with Thomas Sowell on many things at all, I think--well, as a student of this history I know--he was completely correct when he said:
There is nothing in the Constitution or the laws that says that the media have a right to be in the White House at all, much less to have press conferences.
This has become a customary courtesy over the years, but courtesy is a two-way street.
What he calls a two-way street I called a "consensus understanding," which only works if both sides understand it. Conservatives believe there was no reason to remain in that consensus. The real genius of Rollback, however, is not that.
It's what I said to Harris. The White House correctly guessed that "if it changed the game on you, you wouldn’t develop a new game of your own, or be able to react."
Many people have asked me since this post was posted: "what do you think the new game should be?" I do not have a good idea of that yet, so I tend to say nothing. But I know where I'd start.
First, the press has to realize that Sowell is right: "There is nothing in the Constitution or the laws that says that the media have a right to be in the White House at all." There is nothing that says they have to be there either.
Let's try this.
In a Utopian or perfect system, the Press is not a participant in the political discussion. It is the medium by which political actors transmit their messages to one another and to the public. Network engineers talk about "the cloud". The wire on the back of your computer disappears into the cloud; so does the one on the back of mine. When I post, the message disappears into the cloud and reappears on your screen. None of us gives a hoot what the details inside the cloud are so long as it transmits our messages faithfully.
If the messages aren't transmitted faithfully the system falls down. You may not lose much if you don't see my blatherings accurately transcribed, but if the different parts of the political system can't accurately communicate with one another they can't reach accommodations, can't adjust their actions to conform to the reality created by the existence of the others.
There are other channels of communications, but the nice thing about the Press (in this ideal) is its cloudiness. A free Press turns out to be Hell for useful as a mutual communications medium. It's easy and available to everyone in the system; dump a message into it, and it gets to the desired recipients with no further action. Highly efficient from the point of view of the actors.
Unfortunately the existing Press not merely fails in that respect, it rejects the role in disgust. Stenography. We've just gotten over a couple of examples; Judith Miller has been effectively drummed out of the Corps for the vile crime of transmitting The Administration's views unaltered. The Press insists on being an actor, a participant in the political process. It asserts the right to insert its own views, its own messages, into the system.
Why? Status. A faithful transmitter of messages is no more than an Ethernet switch, $49.95 at Fry's, set on the sideboard and forgotten until it fails, then replaced without emotion. Participants in the process have power. They're important.
For the others involved it's frustrating. At this point, neither you, nor I, nor Solomon Grundy has any real notion of what George Bush thinks about anything. What we have is what some editor left in of some reporter's interpretation of what some Press secretary said about it, and the sure knowledge that everybody in the chain has an agenda -- the editor trying to keep it consistent and conformal with (his organization's view of) the Press's vision; the reporter "speaking truth to power" by assuming contrarian nihilism; the secretary trying to phrase it artfully enough that some of what he wants to say gets through. The result is pellucid as a brick. The channel is corrupt.
What do you do with a corrupt channel? Several things. Step up the power, trying to improve the ratio of signal to noise. Repeat, repeat, repeat, so comparing multiple versions of the same message may make it possible to discern the original content. Add in error checking, so corrupted messages can be ignored. Send out diagnostics contrived to expose which components are failing, and try to chop them out or repair them. And find other channels.
It's worse when the channel has volition and insists that it isn't corrupt, that it's just doing what it's always done and should do. To a certain extent it's even true, but here we run into an environmental problem. There used to be multiple subchannels through the Press; each was corrupt in a different way, and by comparing the messages as received via each subchannel it was possible to discern the original content. Business consolidation combined with social factors have taken away the multiple subchannels; we no longer have two morning papers and one evening one, plus the Daily Worker, to compare and contrast, and the rise of journalism as a profession, with training and certification (ad hoc, but real), has to a large extent homogenized the viewpoints and attitudes of the people who make up the Press. It's inevitable that people who've spent large chunks of their formative years together will think more alike than not.
George Bush knows for sure that the channel is corrupt, that messages he sends will not be received unaltered. He knows because the channel -- the Press -- has said so, loudly, repeatedly, and insultingly; has in fact defined it as villainy, and disciplined several of its members for doing so. Do you really wonder that he takes steps to overcome that?
But he lies, and we have to show that, it's News. Bullshit. Prevarication is a normal and expected part of the political process, a tactic used by all participants and allowed for by the normal and usual process. Thomas Edison's first invention was an electric tally-system for voting in a legislature. A politician explained to him why it went nowhere: the pols needed the time of the roll-call for logrolling. This is the same thing. The political process allows for, expects, lies. Even if the Press were evenhanded, exposing all lies promptly and equally, that would distort the process because working out what the lie is and what makes it plausible tells more about the subject than straight discourse ever can. When the Press assumes that the Administration has Power and others do not, and preferentially exposes its lies ("speaking truth to power") while allowing other lies to pass unchallenged because the tellers are not "in power", it distorts the process out of recognition. When it injects false data of its own ("false, but accurate") it destroys the process almost completely.
There's a simple solution; unfortunately like most simple solutions it's very hard, likely impossible in this case. Stenography. The Press needs to commit itself to faithfully transmitting the messages, reserving its own opinion to separate commentary. Ain't gonna happen. It isn't power. It's subservient -- the very word has been used.
A more complex solution, but more nearly feasible, is establishing alternate channels, with the goal of replicating the multiple-subchannel system in a new form. Bloggers see themselves as an important part of that, but bloggers correspond not to the "journalist" part of the Press but to the "pamphleteer" section. Like the pamphleteers and handbill-distributors they're just too many and too various, and they aren't stable enough. Talk radio -- taking over a channel abandoned as having too little cachet for the cognoscenti to use -- helps a bit for one faction; the other has been lured into complacency by the fact that the Press's notions run parallel to theirs for the moment, and hasn't worked to establish anything. There are exceptions; Howard Stern, anyone?
George Bush has opted for the anarchist solution: the channel is corrupt, it is therefore useless and takes up resources that need to be put elsewhere. Destroy it, sweep up the pieces, and start over. From a partisan point of view, Go George! From the point of view of someone wanting to see the political process work for the health of the Republic, that solution doesn't look so nice. But frankly I haven't a better one.
1) Improve the immediacy of print reporting. Link the online and print editions of news reporting. For every print article, there is the corresponding article in the online edition, with the addition of something like what Jay does here: Notes, After-thoughts, and Corrections. This allows a report to have more than a snapshot-in-time feel to it, but a more immediate sense of what the story/news is at the time of reading.
2) On major issues, strengthen the editors’ functions to have series or complementary pieces to adequately portray the more complex stories. The reader is intelligent enough to understand the complex issues, but a single report is insufficient to portray the story, and comes across as incompetent reporting.
A war, for example, is more than explosions. There are combat operations (units involved, objectives, difficulties faced, progress,) political issues (in-theater, not here at home, although there is that as well), civilian affairs (again in-theater,) infrastructure issues, financial, economic, and market issues, and on and on. Each of these might require the relevant experts, not merely cited, but actually contributing and shaping each portion of the overall story.
While an individual journalist may be competent at his or her job, the reporting cannot be competent unless the more complex stories are adequately covered. This is not to imply any sort of false relativism and "get both sides of the story" type of line, merely that the story is complex and needs adequate coverage to be understood; otherwise it will be dismissed.
These complex issues include global economy issues, long-term entitlement issues, global warming issues, war, Islamic and Western clashes, and others.
Fine papers, with fine reporters simply have not competently put together coverage that is sufficiently rich in complexity to address the major issues. It makes the individual reporter, the paper in question, and the industry look inadequate. The art of interwoven, editor-directed articles each addressing portions of the more complex story has been missing, but is required for these types of stories. Alternatively, the approach of a series might address such stories.
Thank you for the response a bit ago, Jay. I can agree with much of what you stated. Checks and balances, for example. I marvel at the processes, the system, laid out in our Constitution. Were the founders thinking specifically of a Bush and Cheney, or Roosevelt, or Lincoln, or all of them collectively? Did they agonize over particular administration characteristics, or were they working off their general understanding of human nature, which stays pretty much the same, unfortunately, through the years?
Their system works, still, to this day. Again, my point, the more time spent analyzing Bush and Cheney, and deflecting the issues, the less time spent where I’d prefer to see it spent. (Unfortunately, I haven’t yet figured out how to control the universe, though.)
I want the press to be more focused on the Press, so it can develop the remedies it needs. In the meantime, and ultimately, in addition to, regular citizens like me will ask the questions, do the research, and report our findings.
I thought the exchange between John Lynch and Steve Lovelady was illustrative of what I see with the current “process improvement strategy,” or lack of, actually, deployed by the Press. John states weaknesses and throws out ideas , Steve says “we’re already doing that,” and the circle continues. Not a slam personally against your view, Steve, just an overall observation that professional problem solvers would say is fairly typical of how people react to critical analyses that highlight problems. I thought John’s #1 idea was pretty good, too. I like talking about possible solutions, not just reasons why things won’t work.
BTW, did RogerA., a while back, competently paraphrase you? Do you believe that Bush and Cheney are damaging the free press as an institution? I actually think it’s the reverse; they’re saving it, no?
Okay. Your rules.
You didn't learn anything new by watching embeds who hadn't a clue. I learned several things, many things, because I have a background--your tax dollars at work--as a grunt.
But, nobody NOBODY expects to get the overview--which is what context is, from an embed. So not getting it from an embed proves squat.
So your explanation that you didn't get context from an embed is meaningless. I find it hard to believe in the honest intentions of somebody who professes to believe that embeds were all there were. As I say, it seems so odd a thing for a grownup to claim that I give you more credit for intelligence than for honesty. As in, nobody's that dumb. But I'll play along.
The answer to your problem: You weren't paying attention.
You look at embeds for one thing. You can get context if you get enough embed reports, but you can get it elsewhere. If you restrict yourself to embeds, which nobody else on this earth did, you might be short of the bigger view.
If you didn't restrict yourself to embeds, you have a problem, and it isn't with the military's control, or, for that matter, the media. For all their faults, the aggregate volume of reporting provided the context.
As it happened, I was on a cruise in the Caribbean during Thanksgiving week of 1990. Our ship picked up raw feed from the Gulf--due to its position and that of the satellites--and that went out on the ship's internal television.
For all the stumbling of the embeds you saw on the network news, there was ten times as much stumbling, tripping, noisy vehicles passing that, fortunately, didn't get broadcast. These poor guys would try, over and over, to get a couple of minutes straight. And that was before anybody was shooting at them.
Still, there was much to be learned.
Anyway, the context was available from other sources. Unless you have a new and different definition of context. Maybe we should explore that.
But, nobody NOBODY expects to get the overview--which is what context is, from an embed. So not getting it from an embed proves squat.
So your explanation that you didn't get context from an embed is meaningless.
First of all, thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt, R.A. (thanks, too, T.A. We get farther this way, I think).
I didn't mean to imply that I expected context from embeds. In fact, I meant the opposite -- that by saturating television with embedded coverage, we got what looked to be a big picture -- but not THE big picture. I'd say that was on purpose -- otherwise you show the enemy the big picture, which is not what DOD would have wanted to do.
In other words, in my estimation, allowing embeds was a tactic meant to:
1. get favorable coverage of the war -- all those reporters thinking of the soldiers as "my unit", rather than reporting as disinterested third parties.
2. Throw sand in the face of anyone trying to get the big picture -- by providing an excessive amount of information, but leaving the perception of the "big picture" to briefings in the high-tech Qatar approximation of the Pentagon briefing room.
I think this is pretty expert press management. And I think its use today by the Pentagon and the Administration is the result of lessons learned during Vietnam and the Nixon and Ford administrations. These are the same people running the show, after all.
And perhaps it fits in with rollback, in that the press become unnecessary until they become necessary. They you roll them out, use them, and roll em back into the closet again. They are only credible when you say they are. Then you are in control of the message, always -- rather than the press being in control of the message.
Which I imagine is what political leaders would want.
It raises "because I said so" to a governing philosophy.
"That's where Kinsley really nails it."
I think so too.
There is no question that wise reporters learn to say, "I really don't know anything about this, can you fill me in? Can you help me write a good story?" Sometimes, they are reporters who know a great deal, but not necessarily what you know. Sometimes they know a great deal, period, but they have a method.
In fact, they guy who wrote this article started that way in his first phone call to me. "I don't know anything about Craig or this world." I said: that's an advantage, actually. He said: I know.
But it also makes me think: "well, I'll just explain Craig's site to this guy," and I had more of an interest in helping him with his story, trying harder in my explanations, e-mailing him tips. It works, in other words! And by the time his piece came he had Grokked it pretty well.
So. I guess what some people are saying is, if you take this reporter ("I don't know anything about Craig or this world") and you put him on TV and watch him ask the questions that follow from that not-knowing, you might get the wrong impression of what's going on. There can be many reasons for asking what looks to us at home like a "terrible" question.
You don't have to believe it. But that's what they're saying.
The televised press conference may just be a net loser for journalists. In deference they are mocked. In aggression they are mocked. In civility they can be safely ignored. And even when they know what they are doing it looks like they may not.
Neuro, the point you see to wish to avoid on the media's self-correction is that the New Orleans Times-Picayune wasn't the only news outlet that reported extensively on the reporting errors made during Hurricane Katrina. The LA Times, the Baltimore paper, the Times and NBC News, both made similar reports as the New Orleans' paper at roughly the same time.
I understand that doesn't fit into the simplistic frame you try to fit around the media. But that's not really my problem.
Of course there were mistakes -- horrendous mistakes. The bigger the disaster, the more likely communication lines will be broken, the command structure dislocated and a populace that is frightened and unsure of what's happening. It's a recipe for misinformation.
The point isn't that the media didn't get it right the first time - but that the media continued reporting as the facts began to be corrected. The story continued to be refined by fact and detail. In the early days of the storm, they reported the facts as they knew them.
The story is still being reported by accounts from the government's own after-action study that
But I don't think that's your concern. A faulty, perhaps intentionally bad media is a much tidier fit to your world view than the complexities of reality. Again, that's not my problem.
I find the belief that a reporter's emotional involvement in a story is, somehow, suspect. The emotionalish of CNN's Cooper, aside, I can assure you that every photograph, every word written that attempted to convey the scope of a disaster that covered a part of the Gulf Coast the size of Great Britain was etched in emotional response to the human suffering observed.
The alchemist's work of journalism involves combining that emotional response to the human story with the facts observed. If there isn't some emotional response, you get a flat, sterile view of the world -- one that lets some people approve of torture because it meets the some narrowly defined legalisms.
(Neurocon, sorry if I offended your sense of political correctness and self-righteous indignation. I have been alerted to several posts during this discussion which were intended to explain to me why conservatives look at the major news outlets and see "liberal bias" and "culture war". The one word I noticed in common, among most of them, was "multiculturalism." This was defined as the problem with "the media" and with "Liberals."
The opposite of multiculturalism would be monoculturalism. You can use all the euphemism you want, but it is pretty clear that monoculturalism is no different from "white supremacy."
[As to the gender part -- see Richard Aubrey's underhand complaint above, about the ink awarded to a dispute over a national golf tournament being played at a men-only golf club.]
As I now understand the "bias war", it will continue until the New York Times portrays a world in which "all men are created equal" does not extend to non-caucasians or non-Christians who do not conform or convert to match the dominant culture of Fargo, North Dakota. How else do you explain the common bias warrior complaint of "multiculturalism"?
From the article YOU LINKED TO:
The American mainstream upholds the American cultural tradition. The liberal-Left shills for multiculturalism.
To go on topic, for a moment, is the Vice President, when he supports his daughter, undermining the traditional American family as the "American Thinker" purports, when it accuses Liberals of undermining
-the natural complementarity of the two human sexes;
Or is he holding true to his belief in
-the centrality of the traditional family unit to American civilization;
by supporting his daughter and whomever she choses to love?
(I'll tell you, fellow American. I teach at a public college in which caucasian faces are rare. Students here are from Afghanistan, Japan, China, Mexico, Russia, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and on and on. Many are not citizens. They are Muslim, Christian, atheist, Buddhist, you name it. Some of them are gay.
You know how they refer to the America that is fighting in Iraq?
Not exactly OT, but backing up for a better look:
There are many journalists who, if we hear of them at all, it is only through their work product.
It would be silly to say, "journalists seem to think" or "journalism thinks", so I won't.
I will say that the journalists who have been most outspoken--that I have heard of--missed the big, big story.
It wasn't the rigged-to-explode pickup truck. Most viewers know that the TV magazine shows merchandise outrage and expect to find, charitably, little nuance. This was just more of the same except they got caught this time.
You don't seem to realize what a big hit journalism took over the fake memos. Not only did somebody forge miltary documents--generally considered a no-no--but they did so in a transparent effort to throw an election in a time of war. And CBS, after availing itself of the freedom to fire the consultants who tried to tell them the stuff was dicey, ran it.
Somebody suggested that, had the story not been caught until after the election, and had Gore won--whether or not it would be pinned on the forgery--CBS would swap its opening theme music for a gotcha-scornful laughtrack.
You can tell yourselves and each other whatever you wish, between yourselves.
On the outside, guys, this is huge, and ruinous.
You can't say a single thing that bothers a viewer or reader without having Rathergate come to mind. "They're putting us on again." You're so far down the well....
What Anderson Cooper did or didn't do in NOLA is just chocolate sprinkles on the Titanic.
Whether the NYT deliberately or only accidentally cuts soldiers' letters to make them look bad and at one-eighty from their obvious intent is practically meaningless. Getting caught at this stuff no longer elicits surprise from the general population.
Back to mixing metaphors, when things get really, really scary, being concerned about how the deck chairs are arranged can be comforting. But you're still going down.
Thanks, TA. At least we're trying!
My read is that this is exactly what is happening -- that these ideas ARE competing on the field of ideas, and that the ideals of multiculturalism -- that America is strongest when it is a melting pot, and absorbs and reflects the flavors of the many disparate cultures that its immigrants bring -- is winning.
Culturally speaking, that is.
And that that is why cultural conservatives are upset. They are used to (culturally) being the only game in town. It was not too long ago that every face on tv was white, and every family on tv was understood to be Christian.
That's not so anymore, and it's not reflected in "the media" -- whether you're talking about film, tv, or the news -- or music.
Still, that any "one group's ideals" are being "elevated" to the exception of conservative values sounds very bizarre at a time when the White House, the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court are controlled by conservative majorities.
I guess the conservative read is that someone has taken control of the culture and jiggered the discourse in favor of "multiculturalism." But if "multiculturalism" is opposed to "conservative values", then my question is what are conservative values?
Come to think of it, a real multiculturalism would include conservative culture as one of those disparate cultures. And, in fact, it does.
So, again, I'm not sure how competition of ideas in a melting pot is the opposite of multiculturalism. It sounds to me like the exact same thing, actually.
Interesting, TA. Here's my response.
1. You do see the irony of linking to a Washington Post article here, right?
2. re: shortage of conservatives in academia. The James Miller article is a refutation of Krugman's piece. Krugman's argument is that the current anti-science trend in Republican Party politics may have alienated scientists. I would have to agree. This hearkens back to the core message of this post -- the Rollback not of the press -- and also of all the traditional American fields of reality verification. The press, science, academia, and the judiciary stand out as the targets of the current crop of Republican leaders. Not conservatives, mind you. Republicans.
If I were a Republican climate scientist, and I found that my party had become the party of naysaying and donothingism on climate, I would defect. I think that's Krugman's point. Just like if I were (say) a Republican counterterrorism chief, and my party had become the party of using terrorism for political advantage, rather than fighting it smartly, I might defect.
3. As to WHY there is an overall political imbalance on campuses, I have not seen any objective, empirical research done to answer the question.
My guess (as a poorly-paid adjunct professor at two colleges, one public and one parochial) is that it may have to do with economics. My read is that economic conservatives are not going to go into fields that pay poorly after spending serious time and fortune on advanced degrees.
That's not an accusation of greed, but an acknowledgement that fiscal conservatives do what makes fiscal sense. And I'll tell you from first-hand experience, going into teaching does not make good fiscal sense. Especially not if you have educational loans to pay off.
I'll tell you that in my (public school) division, some of the people I know to be conservatives teach speech. In that field, there are no papers to grade, so you can teach a 6-course load, rather than maxing out at a 4-course load. That makes fiscal sense. That's fiscal conservatism.
3. re: menorah vs. creche, I see and understand the court's decision -- and I understand how people could take this the wrong way. The court held that the Christmas TREE -- as a non-religious holiday symbol -- could stay, while the creche -- a religious holiday symbol -- had to go. The menorah -- really the only symbol of Hanukah -- could stay.
That's because Hanukah is NOT A RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY. It IS a Jewish cultural holiday that celebrates a minor military victory, elevated to central status so that minority Jews would have something to do on their state-mandated Christmas vacations.
I absolutely understand how Christians could take this the wrong way. But what I am understanding is their misunderstanding of what a menorah is, and what Hanukah is.
A Hanukah menorah is not a religious symbol, because Hanukah is not a religious holiday.
Glad you said "apparent" religious discrimination. Apparent, yes. Discrimination, not quite.
This was only an issue because it was being paid for with muncipal tax dollars -- hence triggering the establishment clause.
regarding eyewitness reporting: let's not confuse being on the ground, away from the press briefing room, seeing things with your own eyes, as being the same thing as being "embedded."
to wit: an embedded reporter in the IraqWar 2.0 sense was someone who was assigned to a unit. that unit was responsible for providing that reporter with the basic necessities of life in the field, including transport and security. An embedded reporter in IW 2.0 was, in essence, beholden to his/her unit.
a reporter covering Katrina might be up close to the suffering, but he/she had independent freedom of movement and action. different animal.
There's a great tradition of frontline war correspondents, and it didn't stop with Ernie Pyle. There was some great reporting from Vietnam, and I think John Sack's IW 1.0 book "Company C" rang incredibly true.
But as Robert Young Pelton said in Danny Schecter's movie, the problem with the 2003 embed program was that in many cases we got Stockholm Syndrome reporting, or thrill-seeking reporting, or career-building reporting, or cheerleading reporting. It was great TV, great newspaper storytelling, but was the end result a pointilistic portrait or a distortion?
I really don't have a problem with embedding. But you can't stop at embedding, and if you're making too many deals for access, you've got a problem.
Do reporters sometimes identify emotionally with the people they're covering? Of course. They're human, and we want them to be. To me the issue isn't what occurs at the embed level, it's what happens at the decision-maker level. How do you draw from the various info sources at your command to produce the best, most meaningful, real-time picture of what's going on?
The press got hoodwinked by the military in IW 2.0, but it wasn't embedded reporters who bought the Jessica Lynch propaganda.
Good Old Shoe.
Village. Ref Minions, etc. True enough. And there seems to be no particular felt need to be sensitive to the offended. Some reports are that they are insulted as being---racist, homophobe, misogynist, the usual litany, for the crime of being offended while white, straight, and male. All this in the midst of sessions supposely designed to reduce the general level of offensiveness. Actually, it's a sign of too many buttheads in positions of power.
I know that Hannukah is not originally a religious holiday. It celebrates a military triumph. Which is why a common Hannukah present could be an embossed, leather-bound volume of "The Rifle Company in The Night Attack", or "Battalion Defense of A Riverline and Related Operations". Or plastic swords and little bows. Whatever its origin, it seems to have morphed in the way it's treated. When I was going to an elementary school in near northwest Detroit in the Fifties, the admin would take a count to see how many kids would be gone for the next Jewish Holiday(s). There were so many that the school would have a holiday--so to speak. We gentiles, in solidarity with our Hebraic brethren, raised our hands for the count, as well. That way, the Jewish kids would be assured of the required time off. Nice of us, I thought. And Hannukah seemed to be treated as if it were a religious holiday. I suppose we could change that....?
Back to journalism: When discussing various stories with reporters and being thanked for the input, I have been asked if I minded being contacted again in case of a story in the same general area. I presume this is the standard ego-stroking put-off. You journos can let us in on that, I expect.
However, if a paper really was interested in avoiding some of the howlers that affect daily reporting, they could certainly, in this day of instant retrieval and so forth, have a list of sources who could be contacted by robot phone to look at their e-mail for a story on which they might like to provide input, if only to point out potential pitfalls.
Bigger papers could even pay the folks. Fifty bucks a pop for comments, more for a bit of research.
That way, the NYT wouldn't have to sully itself by having, say, veterans on the premises, but could still find ways to avoid what they continually claim are mistakes.
If I can figure this out, so can these hard-nosed, seen-it-all editors who are constantly striving to improve and all that jazz.
The very profitability of newspapers appear to play an essential role in their decline. Profits trump information gathering everytime.
From the State of the Media 2005 report:
"As businesses, newspapers are strong, highly profitable and resilient. In good times and mediocre, the industry now boasts operating margins in the low-to-mid-20% range, a bit less than Microsoft and Dell but higher even than pharmaceuticals."
The report makes clear that to bolster those profits, media operations have cut back drastically on newsroom staffs and budgets.
* Between the recession of 1991-2000, newspaper advertising revenues climbed 60 percent with profits rising 207 percent. Increases in newsroom personnel were about 3 percent, “most of which then got wiped away during the 2001 downturn.”
* Newspapers have about 2,200 fewer newsroom employees today than in 1990 with “work once done by printers and composing room workers” migrating to the newsroom, adding more jobs “related to production rather than news gathering.”
It's no prettier on the electronic side. A study by Joe Foote, Gaylord chairman at the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism, indicates the number of network correspondents “since the 1980s has been cut by a third,” with workload increasing by 30 percent during the same period.
* In local television, “average workload increased 20 percent between 1998 and 2002,” and “59 percent of news directors reported either budget cuts or staff cuts in 2002.”
Newsroom staffs are doing more with much less while the respective boards of directors can brag to Wall Street that it continues to meet the 20 percent profit margin they love.
Just how much longer the profits can last while managers undercut the people producing the news is, of course, another question.