April 28, 2006
Snow at the Podium, Rollback on the Rocks
"The White House evacuated spaces where the president can legitimately be questioned because it was Adminstration policy in general that Bush's authority went unchallenged, his descriptions of the world uncontested. This made him more brittle, but they felt strong doing it."
“President Bush appointed Fox News commentator Tony Snow as his press secretary Wednesday,” said the report in the Los Angeles Times, “signaling that in its final 1,000 days, his White House plans significant changes in the way it reaches the American people.”
Actually we don’t know if the changes will be significant. All we know is that the White House is trying to signal new times in the briefing room; and a lapse back into a more conventional press strategy is being predicted. (Text of Bush’s announcement.)
But as Michelle Cottle said at the New Republic site, maybe the White House is just “replacing the plodding, never-quite-up-to-the-job McClellan with a charming, fast-on-his-feet media pro who will appear smoother, more genial, and infinitely better coiffed as he feeds the media (and public) their daily serving of bologna.”
Signs of regret
During all of Scott McLellan’s time as press secretary, the Bush team charted an historically new course, which I have called Rollback, the decision to starve rather than feed the news beast, and wherever possible disengage from the press, treating it as either hostile or irrelevant, not a conduit to the nation but a special interest group begging for goodies it doesn’t deserve.
Back ‘em off, starve ‘em down and drive up their negatives. That was the policy. But in the news about Tony Snow there were signs of regret.
- From Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times: “Mr. Snow’s appointment has been described by Democrats and Republicans as an acknowledgment by the White House that it needs, among other things, a whole new approach to dealing with the national press corps after years of trying to keep it at a distance.” A whole new approach, huh?
- From Jim VandeHei and Michael A. Fletcher in the Washington Post: “White House aides said there is now broad agreement that the first-term strategy of largely ignoring the mainstream Washington media was a mistake… The strategy worked well for a long while, but aides said it eventually undercut their credibility with reporters and impeded the administration’s ability to receive fair treatment from the media when Bush’s popularity began to fade.” A mistake? Hmmmm.
- From Mike Allen, Time: “A Republican official familiar with the selection process said Snow, 50, was chosen because Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and Counselor Dan Bartlett want ‘an informed and successful advocate’ who can spar with reporters and make the White House case more aggressively — both off-camera and on.” If they want an informed and successful advocate now, what did they want before?
The White House evacuated spaces where the president can legitimately be questioned because it was Adminstration policy in general that Bush’s authority went unchallenged, his descriptions of the world uncontested. This made him more brittle, but they felt strong doing it.
In this sense press rollback had a single customer: it’s what Bush wanted. Being questioned by non-believers who knew stuff… he definitely did not want that. The staff got the message, the message became a style and they never realized the impression they left: that Bush wasn’t up to taking questions, except from friendlies in very controlled situations.
Doing away with the interlocutor
Thus we saw—during the same years as back ‘em off, starve ‘em down and drive up their negatives—the amazing rise of the Bush Bubble. By which I mean not the general insularity that all White Houses seem to develop, but the brazen practice of screening the crowd when George W. Bush came to town so that only supporters could come to the microphone should there be question time.
Elisabeth Bumiller, White House correspondent for the New York Times, wrote about it when Bush went to Germany and tried to take the bubble with him. The Germans would not play.
The proposed town-hall meeting raised the inevitable issue, said Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to Washington, of “Do you know what kinds of folks you are going to have at that meeting and what kinds of questions they might ask?” Ischinger said the Germans told the Americans that the guests could not be screened, as White House officials do at similar events in the United States, and so “don’t be mad at us if some nasty question comes up.”
In the end the White House abandoned the event, rather than take the risk of an unfriendly European at the mike. As with Rollback, the bubble policy does away with the interlocutor’s position in the ceremony of presidential power. It cuts down on question time itself, which everyone knew the boss wanted. In my previous post, The Jerk at the Podium, I described “a machine for making the executive power more opaque, and the presidency itself less dialogic.”
- Meanwhile, you still leak to reporters to damage enemies and intervene in politics without being held accountable. (With the president as leaker-in-chief.)
- Meanwhile, you start to re-classify the public record, expanding the class of secrets not by birthing new ones, but by changing public knowledge back into classified data.
Battle for world opinion
Rollback “worked” in the sense that Bush and company pulled it off and made it stick for almost three years. (They also won an election in the middle of this period.) But what a gamble! They put a Bush loyalist who was weak, under-qualified and ill-prepared—Scott McClellan—into a strong position facing the cameras and the international, as well as the American, press. They then let this pathetic figure defend Bush’s policies before the eyes and ears of the world.
He had no fluency, no humor, no gift for making sense of politics, no ease in front of the cameras, no gravitas, no air of authority— and most of the time no information because his job was not to “release” but to withhold. (This is the White House, kid, so get up there and give nothing.) And yet according to team Bush we’re in a war on terror and a battle for world opinion with Islamic fundamentalism, much of which takes place in the media. How do those things square?
I asked that of conservative radio host and uber-blogger Hugh Hewitt when I went on his program last week. McClellan “didn’t care that the biggest collection of horses’ asses in the world assembled in front of him,” Hewitt suggested. David Gregory of NBC News could “yell at him all day long, and he just didn’t flinch. That’s why he was there. That’s his talent.”
I agreed on the talent part (taking abuse was McClellan’s one skill.) “But does it bother you that he was so inept at explaining Bush policy?” Incredibly, Hewitt said it didn’t bother him. Press secretaries are “not there to disseminate information.” Old think, Jay. “They’re there to feed that particular group of very high strung primadonnas.”
But wait a minute. “Aren’t we engaged in a Global War On Terror in which the media itself is a battleground?” Hewitt agreed: we are so engaged. “The image that goes out from the White House briefing room all around the world of an inept, inarticulate, bumbling fool in front of the world— doesn’t that have consequences for America’s prestige?”
Hewitt didn’t think so. McClellan was plenty good at his job, which came down to babysitting the by-passed press. That room is just not an important room, he said.
In from the cold
I doubt that historians would agree, Hugh. In the nineteenth century the center of news in Washington was Congress, which had a big press gallery and a stable pool of correspondents. The White House was inhospitable, opaque most of the time, and barely a beat. The President didn’t make news; he gave speeches. There was no interlocutor.
Newspapers reported what was in the speeches. The few correspondents who tried to cover the White House would stand outside in the street, hoping to grab visitors as they left and get word of what was going on inside.
Theodore Roosevelt changed it all around. When he became president he brought the correspondents in from the cold, one part of a transformation in presidential power. During a 1902 renovation of the White House, which created the new West Wing, Roosevelt made sure there was a room set aside for reporters to work in. So when you think about the absurdity of today’s briefing room follies think about the logic of bringing the correspondents in. It’s still there.
Roosevelt did background interviews, he floated trial balloons, he understood photo ops. He shot the breeze with favored reporters. He told charming tales about his family. (He also controlled who was, and wasn’t allowed in to the press room.) And he made himself the bigfoot in the story of national politics, the man whom Congress would be forced to follow.
In the twentieth century and our own time the White House has been ascendant. Scholars of the presidency attribute a lot of it to the modern media interacting with presidents and the symbols of nationhood. The Constitution says the three branches are co-equal. The media system says not really. In the republic of signs the figure of the president clearly rules.
Congress is the faceless institution, hard to glamorize, televise, quote. It’s so much easier for the country to connect to the president, whose image and voice are instantly recognizable. Congress has power, but can’t plead its case.
Projecting presidential power
Presidential charisma in its modern form had to await the mass distribution of images in newspapers and magazines. The president as national protagonist was an artifact of news stories that cast things that way. The president couldn’t dominate the news until news conquered the nation and became part of nearly everyone’s daily info diet. That began in the mid-19th century but it didn’t complete itself until the 20th. Radio tilted things even more toward the president, and then TV even more.
Although his predecessor, William McKinley, almost got there, Theodore Roosevelt was the first to see what was happening: the modern media system would project executive power outward to the nation and significantly enlarge the stage on which the president strode. He was about to get a way bigger mike (his famous “bully pulpit.”) The larger stage, the bigger daily audience, made presidential character a bigger part of governing.
Roosevelt, the first modern president and the first media savvy one, has often been called a larger-than-life figure, which is our way of registering the same shift. This much he figured out: The presidency itself had been made bigger by media. That’s the real reason he found room for the press in a renovated White House. Bring them in, make them comfortable, feed them information, answer their questions now and then. In the long run you’ll benefit big time.
Congress has been diminishing in relative stature ever since. Today no one questions that the news center—and nerve center—of Washington is the White House, not Capital Hill. How much is that worth to presidential power and prestige, worldwide?
Here’s what David Sanger of the New York Times reported in last Sunday’s New York Times. For the correspondents, things have been going back to the way they were… before Teddy Roosevelt!
In a place this buttoned up, reporting happens from the outside in. The first glimmerings of what is happening come from those whose message the White House cannot control easily: members of Congress who have come in for arm-twisting, former White House staff members and advisers, and diplomats, foreign ministers and world leaders who leave the place confused or angry…
Did the architects of Rollback know what they were doing? I don’t think they did. Doesn’t mean they’re going to stop.
Bush camp media advisor Mark McKinnon explained the coming of Tony Snow this way. “The president’s message and vision are firmly in place and are not going to change. But it still helps to have a new messenger. It helps to wipe the slate clean.”
I’ll bet it does. Communications director Dan Bartlett was doing some retroactive slate wiping. “I know there is a perception that we disdain the media as a whole,” Bartlett said. (Just a perception, probably started by the media.) “I do not believe that. There have been some issues that strained the relationship, particularly when it comes at a time of war.”
This is after-the-fact normalizing. They tried something new, a change in the relationship, that wasn’t thought through. It was Bartlett’s job to do just that— think it through. Now McClellan is gone and a more conventional understanding is being peddled around.
Tony Snow is “good at” media. He’s done newspapers, radio, TV: the tools that created much of the aura we call “presidential.” He has the sculpted look of a television host, and a public identity apart from his job for Bush. His quitting might mean something, whereas with the stooge figure… who cares?
“It’s clear they are bringing in someone to do better marketing,” David Gergen told the Los Angeles Times. He’s the former White House “communications” adviser who worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents. “Whether they are bringing in someone to bring more complete information to the public is very much an open question.”
It’s an open question whether more complete information is the Bush strategy— ever. The regime seems to have concluded that if more of the story is withheld it has increased freedom of maneuver in dealing with the enemies of freedom. That regime could be strengthened with a slicker Tony Snow out front.
Whether actual persuasion will make a comeback in this White House while the bizarre expectation of democracy-by-assent declines… open question.
It’s an open question whether the rollback of open government under Bush and Cheney will continue or meet reversal in his government’s final years.
It’s an open question whether the people in charge leaned anything from the mistake their first-term strategy was kinda sorta said to be. The news is Tony Snow will rectify it, and don’t ask us what we were thinking.
: Notes, reactions & links…
Bag the briefing? New Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten on Fox News Sunday:
Bolten said it may be worth considering whether to end the daily televised press briefings where reporters and the press secretary frequently air disputes in front of the cameras, but he will leave that decision up to Snow.
“I think that will be Tony Snow’s first test — to see what kind of power player he really is and whether he’s able to establish the right kind of relationship with the press that we need going forward,” Bolten said, appearing on the same show that Snow hosted for seven years.
“What kind of power player he really is?” Hmmm. What do you suppose Bolten is saying?
I think David Broder had it right (April 27):
Unless the president comes to understand that it is in his interest —as well as the country’s— to conduct a more open governing process, the new press secretary, Tony Snow, will find himself inevitably as much of a punching bag as McClellan became. Only George Bush can signal to the White House staff and administration that he wants a government ready and eager to explain itself to the people it is trying to lead.
When he has given that signal, there may be fewer Mary McCarthys contemplating the costs — and burdens — of leaking to the press.
I would ask Broder: What if Bush thinks he cannot afford openness, and really, he can’t because of what would come out, especially about the run up to Iraq but other stuff?
Peggy Noonan: “Mr. Snow’s White House press briefings are going to be nice to watch. The press does not want to appear to be ungracious and oppositional. They have an investment in demonstrating that the tensions each day in Scott McClellan’s press briefings, with David Gregory’s rants and Helen Thomas’s free-form animosities, were the fault of Mr. McClellan, not the press.”
Richard Miniter, New York Sun: “Mr. Snow is expected have an unusual amount of access for a White House press secretary. Like other men in his position, he will be able to walk into the Oval Office to talk to the president. More unusually, it is part of his job description to sit in on high-level discussions that shape Bush administration policy, not simply to strategize on how to spin those policies to the press.”
George Stephanopoulos at ABC’s World Newser: “For Snow, the biggest adjustment is psychological. He’s been out of the White House on his own for more than 15 years, voicing his own opinions, building his own audience. Now he’ll have to learn to squelch his private views and deliver the party line with conviction. I went through precisely the opposite process when I left the White House to join ABC. Not sure which move is more difficult, but I do know that neither one is easy or automatic.”
Oliver North pens an open letter to Tony Snow: “It is time to re-claim the podium and put the press in its proper place.”
More Michelle Cottle: “Admittedly, the storyline the White House is feeding journalists is genius in its appeal to their sense of self-importance and wounded pride: We’re so sorry we were mean to you. We know better now. Give us another chance and we’ll be ever so much more open and honest and respectful of your needs. See! We’re even bringing in one of your own to tell us how to make this relationship work.”
Deroy Murdock at National Review: “McClellan, surely a nice man who loves his country and his family, looks pained and frightened at his briefings. Sniffing blood in the water, reporters chomp into him like sharks devouring a walrus. This leaves McClellan with little to do but meekly repeat his lame talking points. My contacts among the president’s conservative base uniformly pity his performance. I shudder to imagine how much McClellan’s haplessness has weakened America’s image overseas during wartime.”
Dan Kennedy at Media Nation takes issue with something I said: I think Rosen’s on to something, although I disagree with his contention that McClellan represented a departure from Fleischer, who, Rosen claims, was unwilling to play the role of being ‘the jerk at the podium’ — and who, besides, had an unacceptable (to the White House) ‘twinkle in his eye’ when dissembling. I don’t see how you can say that McClellan’s act was much different from Fleischer’s, just a whole lot less competent.
Here’s how they’re different, Dan. Some of the things the Bush team forced McClellan to do were unprofessional, not to say embarrassing. They made him go out “with little to do but meekly repeat his lame talking points,” as Deroy Murdock put it. Or their plans were so contrary to good practice that one of the problems higher-ups would have is finding a press secretary who would swallow doubts, shut his mouth, listen well, and go along at the cost of his own reputation.
There’s only a certain number of people willing to do that, Dan. You need a stooge, or as Michael Wolff put it, a “kick me” figure. The yes man times ten. Ari Fleischer was never going to be one of those. I’m not saying Ari was less willing to dissemble for Bush. Like you, I see no differences there. As a flak, he had the normal coating of professional pride. They needed someone they could roll over. The price for getting that was weakness, lameness at the podium. It was a colossal error.
Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times loses his column and blog.
Posted by Jay Rosen at April 28, 2006 12:25 PM
When McClellan's exit was first floated, it occured to me that the Bushies could use the opportunity to further close down the news flow. My first thought was, by not really filling the job -- maybe putting in some functionary as "acting" press secretary, thereby reducing his authority as a spokesman.
The appointment of Tony Snow would seem to show that idea up as a little bit paranoid.
But I wonder if the plan is still to reduce the news, and to catapult the propaganda even more than before. And so, here's my new (paranoid?) idea of what could happen...
The main goal of the Bushies is to have a one-way flow of information, totally controlled by them -- with as few questions asked as possible. Suppose that the big change under Tony Snow is to increase that information flow from his side of the podium -- by changing his presentation from talking head at a podium to TV commentator, with the visual support that goes with that.
It's been suggested that press secretaries incorporate Powerpoint into their announcements. How about going beyond powerpoint, to slick TV-style graphics and video roll-ins? Hey, maybe even the slogan du jour on the curtains!
Far from a rollback, this would steamroll right over the press with their quaint little notebooks and quaint little questions. It would make them even more irrelevant to the Bushies' needs than they are now. The questions can still be deflected, Scotty-style, while the graphics and videos
A multimedia press room is not that wild an idea -- remember the multi-million dollar Shock & Awe media center, which we kept hearing was designed "by a Hollywood set designer?" (I've always wondered who that designer was... A-list, soap opera, game show...?)
Maybe the rollback theory is true. I hope so. But I'll be interested in seeing if there are any big changes in the press room besides the empty suit behind the podium.
The article is an interesting combination of Bush bashing - attacking him for secrecy - which is becoming quite a common thing here, and talking about press issues.
I'll ignore the Bush Bashing, but I do thing the comments on the "double standard" on leaking are poorly reasoned. Of course, friendlies let friendlies leak stuff that is beneficial. As to the congressman who leaked, he has congressional immunity, and furthermore is an elected official. Since this situation is dramatically different from frustrated bureaucrats who have access to sensitive information, the response is of course different.
The Plame leak has been turned into a gigantic issue by the media (and their friends, the Democrats) in hopes that it will become another Watergate. Its significance in terms of harming national security, however, is zero. Nada. Zip.
In fact, by getting out the information that nepotism played a part in Wilson's silly trip to Africa, it may have helped the war effort. No wonder journalists are so miffed.
As stated before, when bureaucrats leak, they are subverting democratic government. But that argument has never been answered here. Instead we hear all sorts of complaints that Bush, an elected official, is doing that - even though his actions are well within his power.
So once again, I see a double standard - on the part of the liberal elite (MSM, etc).
Many conservatives have been after Bush to do a better job of communicating - listening and talking. He is not only at odds with the left (which is almost inevitable if he is to stay true to his principles), but he is at odds with his own base.
If Tony Snow has the access described, that would probably be a very good thing. He may be able to let the president know in a direct way where some of his problems lie.
Whether the strategy of "rollback" (i.e. not cooperating with those who are out to get you) is effective, we shall see.
The "Bush Bubble" complaint is silly. Of course he screens his crowds, as does any politician aware of the power of the media, especially TV, to inflate a few dissenters into the main story.
Conservative politicians have to beware of the press more so than liberals. Sure, the press won't let the libs get away with everything - especially if it salacious (Monica, etc). But the coverage is certainly strongly biased - as shown very strongly during the election year.
Listen, attack duck--whose other fake name is "neuro-conservative"--your attacks are getting more and more idiotic, fact-free, pointless and inane.
Your latest fake charge--claiming that PressThink is "eternally fitting all of reality to the same handful of tired narratives forged between 1968 and 1973"--neglects to consider that the author was 12 years old in '68, and unaware of politics. (I was quite aware of Bob Gibson, however.) When in 1974 I first registered to vote, attack duck, I registered Republican because that was the only way to get a summer job in my town.
My political education began with Watergate, which means it started the year you absurdly, idiotically, ignorantly claim it ended.
Left bad, right good. Why do you come here to deliver such non-thought? There are so many places on the Web where they welcome robotic messages like that. Why PressThink? I will tell you why. Because it's one of the few places you can find where there actually is diversity of thought. The exact opposite of your lame-brain charge.
Your participation here is joke, attack duck, and for precisely for reasons like this. You don't inquire, you don't listen, you collect no facts before hitting the keyboard-- you simply consult the frozen hateful party line in your head and start quacking at your imaginary opponents.
I believe you said at one point that you have an academic job. That's disturbing if true, as you are a role model for demagogues and intellectual quacks everywhere.
Getting the message yet, duck? (Quack, quack.) I have told other people who seem incapable of making a useful contribution that they could start to redeem themselves by at least providing a link that other participants might learn from. I'd offer that advice to you, attack duck, but I'm afraid even your links would be a lie. You quack.
I find your attack on Ollie North's comments to be typical of the left/liberal elite attitude of today's MSM. Ollie suggests that the press should be put "in its proper place."
Well, yeah, that's a reasonable viewpoint from his and my point of view. We believe the MSM operates too much as an echo chamber with a certain viewpoint. We have had a long time to form those opinions, from interactions with the press, watching its actions regarding situations in which we had solid facts, and predicting its response, based on that thesis, to various driving functions.
While you were a kid, I was watching the reporting about Vietnam rapidly get progressively more biased. While you were a kid, I watched the reporting about the USSR become progressively more biased. I had, perhaps, some advantages, having grown up in a community whose primary product was nuclear weapons, having been in the military and subsequently attended anti-war events, and having seen the ravages of Russian imperialism up close - in East Berlin shortly after the wall went up.
I have only once been involved in an activity where the press report was accurate or even close to accurate. Reporting on national issues was usually highly biased/selective. I didn't get my views on the press from knowing conservatives or reading conservative publications (that came later) but from direct experience. Sadly, that view was only re-inforced during my national activist activities in 2004.
As such, the proper place of the MSM is only slightly different from the proper place of the DNC, in the national debate.
Like it or not, agree or not, that is not an illegitimate viewpoint, and in fact is bolstered by activities on this board.
Jay, three questions based on your thoughts from two sources Public Journalism as a Democratic Art, 7-17-2002, and PressThink Basics: The Master Narrative in Journalism, 9-08-2003
1. How could the journalists and reporters covering the White House use the Tony Snow appointment as an opportunity to change the existing “master narrative” and re-frame those “Big Story” choices and emphasis in the coming year? Please forget the White House’s “role” for this exercise…. What specifically could reporters do, what questions could they ask, what citizen inputs could they share, what tone could they use, that would help to create a more productive atmosphere geared towards "cooperative problem-solving"?
2. What would it take to encourage the editors of the nation’s top papers to make a conscious decision to alter the “permanent campaign” master narrative to something that would create a more healthful and cooperative problem-solving environment that would better serve the American public right now.
3. Could the Press take the initiative at this point, with the signals coming from the White House with the replacement of McClellan with Snow, and “renegotiate with sources” -- the White House, politicians, pollsters – and agree to a new master narrative?
Your background quotes that I found helpful in trying to formulate my questions:
In White House coverage, the master narrative is shaped by a tendency first noticed by political reporter Sidney Blumenthal--the notion of a "permanent campaign." As the story gets told and re-told this way, the approval rating takes on magic significance--more significant, at times, than the president's words or deeds, or even the state of the nation.
Clearly, the permanent campaign is a particular way of looking at politics; that is, it's a kind of framing. What I'm emphasizing here is the productive power of the master narrative, the way it generates an almost limitless supply of stories that add up to one Big Story--the story of the president struggling to remain popular.
A master narrative is a dwelling place. We are intended to live in it. (from journalist Robert Fulford, not you)
Because journalists do “live” within their narratives, they often don’t see them. William Woo, former editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “The master narrative is a reason why some stories that should get in, don’t get in.”
Paul Taylor, a former political reporter for the Washington Post who covered presidential campaigns, wrote this in 1992:
Political stories don’t just ‘happen’ the way hailstorms do. They are artifacts of a political universe that journalism itself has helped to construct. They are components of a journalistic master narrative built around two principle story lines: the search for the candidates’ character flaws, and the depiction of the campaign as a horserace, full of ploys and surprises, tenacity and treachery, rising action and falling action, winners and losers.
Taylor’s use of “construct” intrigues me for two reasons. Journalists, he’s saying, help create the universe from which they draw news, which is a truthful but disruptive observation. How to report the news—accurately, fairly, comprehensively—is something we know how to teach in journalism school. How to construct the public arena (accurately, fairly, comprehensively? do these terms even make sense?) is not. It’s pretty clear where the authority to report the news comes from; it’s not clear where the authority to construct the world lies, or could lie.
Kristen: "How could the journalists and reporters covering the White House use the Tony Snow appointment as an opportunity to change the existing 'master narrative' and re-frame those 'Big Story' choices and emphasis in the coming year?"
I don't believe the relationship can be saved, Kristen. It's dead. Maturity lies in recognizing that there is no relationship there, and no mutual respect. There's no point in trying to change the narrative or "get along."
I think journalists covering this White House should not even be at the White House. It does them no good, and it does the Bush forces--perpetually complaining about a biased, unfair press, like Ollie does--no good, either. (Or at least that's the way they see it.)
The real journalists should have quit several years ago and taken the White House at its word-- that they would be treated as special interest group with no public interest role whatsoever. The reason they didn't is simple: they and their organizations are too chickenshit to do something like that. (Which is why John Harris quit on our interview.)
Today they should do all their reporting from the outside in, calling Snow's operation when the story is done and running his comments if he has any.
They should stop trying to develop sources "inside" the Bush operation.
They should run short factual articles from the wire services about what Bush did and said today, and put all of their reportorial energy on finding out from outsiders what's going on, as well as investigative journalism about what's really going down.
They should hang up the phone when offered leaks.
If their thing is TV, they should use video from the pool when they need it.
They should ignore Snow unless he calls and demands to be interviewed.
Then they should wait for the White House to ask them back. Most likely, the White House never would. Win, win.
Ari Fleischer wrote an oped in the Washington Post the other day on the dynamic that exists between the White House Press Secretary - of whatever party - and the White House press corps.
In addition to the televised session, I used to brief the press every morning in something called "the gaggle." It was on the record, but no TV cameras were allowed. The gaggle was more informative and serious than the briefing. Reporters didn't posture as much for their colleagues and editors, since their reporting wasn't on the air. If I ducked a question at the gaggle -- such as the ones I was asked immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, about whether a military strike was "coming within hours, days, weeks or months" (I was asked that actual question) -- the reporters didn't attempt to ask me the same thing 17 different ways, as they did at the televised briefing. They got the point: The White House wasn't answering.
The problem is that reporters spend too much time trying to impress other reporters, and not enough time researching important questions and making sure that their limited face time with principle subjects move the ball forward in a meaningful way.
Instead, they are always trying to impress their colleagues with how aggressive they are, how tough they are, etc. Which is counterproductive.
I noticed this as a reporter myself - and to some extent have been guilty of it (I covered personal finance and the 401(k)/Retirement beat during the fall of Enron and the fall of former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt).
I think I played the 401k story well, but I would have been better off not attending Pitt's press conferences, etc., and just making sure that while everyone else was posturing, I was busy understanding and explaining.
I got some scoops in the retirement world, and was, I think, one of the better diggers out there. But I didn't move the football much at all on Pitt - even though I was one of the more aggressive reporters at an SIA industry press conference he gave. Yeah, I had a reputation among a few ink-stained wretches who care about that beat, but it didn't translate into good stories at all or serving my readers.
To use another analogy - consider a professional interrogator. The most aggressive interrogater is not going to be the guy that gets the information. The best interrogators are the ones that the subject likes and trusts and wants to try to please.
(for more on this art, see "The Interrogator," the story of Luftwaffe interrogator Hans Joachim Scharff, a true master of the art.)
In the intelligence-gathering world, they are the ones who get the scoops. Not the screamers and posturers.
I never got any scoops at a press conference. What's the point of showing up if they're televised anyway?
But when your fellow reporters are concentrating on bush-league rhetorical traps (which are incredibly easy to see through and aren't really that clever) or asking the same question 15 different ways, it's probably a waste of time to even watch it. You can have a well-read intern do that.
Much better to call some other sources and ask real questions, without the posturing, and deliver the definitive story. I don't recall seeing Sy Hersh at too many press conferences - even back in the day, when his reporting was reasonably accurate.
That's what serves the readers. But that's not what gets rewarded in the journalism field.
But journos everywhere ought to remember - when they do go to press conferences, their job is to serve their readers - not to look aggressive or tough or on the ball. The best reporter may not even be present. Or he may be smart enough to just keep his mouth shut, and take better notes.
I'm getting back in the financial journo world myself again, as a freelancer now, and I hope I'll be a better reporter having shed the stupid "six-gun" mentality that I was guilty of a few years back, and which I see in the White House press corps, and elsewhere, all the time.
I have addressed the matter of Jay's histrionics directed toward me previously, with about 10 links that would demonstrate the inaccuracy and unfairness of his screed. To that list I will add yet another, more recent, example.
I am still unsure why Jay singles me out for this vitriol -- I can think of at least one prominent commenter here who is almost always snarky, frequently wrong, rarely intelligent, constitutionally incapable of analytical thinking, and seemingly unaware of the existence of hyperlinks, yet who is never on the receiving end of one of Jay's name-calling rants.
I will acknowledge that, about 6 months ago, on a comments thread at another blog, I made a somewhat nasty comment directed at Jay's participation in the thread. In retrospect, my comment was inappropriate in its tone and for that I apologize. I stayed away from commenting here for several months after that, out of embarrassment for myself and respect for you, Jay. But I hardly think the same can be said of my comments here. While I have certainly been snarky at times, I don't believe I have ever strayed from the general tone and tenor of the thread in which I was commenting.
Jay: If you want to ban me because I am a conservative, please do so openly and honestly. If you want to ban me, or others, from holding certain views or discussing certain topics (as you have on at least two occasions in the past), then please set the groundrules more explicitly, and apply them more evenly. If everyone here were only allowed to make "academic"-level comments, with a 3-link minimum, I would be happy to oblige. Despite your vicious personal attack on my academic integrity, I am probably the only person on these boards to have published extensively in high-impact, peer-reviewed scientific journals (as opposed to the Nation or Tikkun).
Finally, I believe my recent comment about Procrustean PressThink was somewhat misinterpreted. I was referring to PressThink as the unquestioned practices, groupthink, and working assumptions of the Press, as described in your introductory note. I was not referring specifically to this blog. Should I have not have employed the caps, or put the word "pressthink" in quotes? If so, I apologize for my lack of clarity. I thought it was clear from the context that I was responding to the litany of media cliches listed in Ann Kolson's preceding post. As for the dates, I chose 1968 because it was the year of Tet/Cronkite and the My Lai massacre. 1973 was a typo -- I intended to type 1974. My regrets for the confusion, but I hardly think it is fair to say I am "always wrong".
For those who object to my comparison of CBS and Radio Moscow… I owe you more explanation. First, I am talking about the American broadcasting service of Radio Moscow. At some point (I think around 1980) they become much smarter, and much more smooth. Rather than the rank propaganda they had been spewing, they used much more subtle stuff. They stopped using Marxist terminology. CBS, meanwhile was becoming demonstrably more biased. Those are the observations I remember.
Certainly I am not implying that CBS was more Communist or more anti-American. Only that, amazingly, it was a less reliable source on interesting events than RM. This is certainly not to imply that RM was anything other than a tool of the Soviet imperialists, or had the slightest bit of press freedom, or that it was accurate. Nor is it meant to imply that CBS was an organization built for propaganda. It is simply my observation of the product of each at that time. I was surprised at RM’s change, which was dramatic - I had been listening to it since the late ‘50s. I was not surprised at CBS, because the change was gradual and linear.
I should also point out that Radio Havana did not develop the subtlety of Radio Moscow. It continued to be classic Marxist cant, with all of the appropriate Marxist terminology and silliness. For all I know, it may still be that way.
Having listened a bit to communist propaganda since I was a kid, I think it helped me to get a gut feel for propaganda techniques, which affects my views of the press today. My father’s experiences as a visiting scientist in Russia also provided an anecdote to the effectiveness of "the big lie" technique. More interesting was when he was visited in Lawrence, Kansas by a group of Soviet scientists. Other than the usual game of guessing which one was KGB, the fun was when they concluded that my father lived in a Potemkin village, and so he drove them around letting them make all the directions. They just couldn’t find there way out of this America that was dramatically different from what they had learned even though they had known that their news sources were propagandistic..
A variant of that effect, perhaps not consciously employed by the press, exists today. It is simply the near universal adoption of a particular narrative (say, the Bush lied about WMD one. Folks without a varied media diet hear the same thing from all of their sources. In some cases, the narrative is close enough to their personal experience that they know it is wrong. Hence they know that they can’t trust the media (and this is shown strongly in polling). But because they only have one source, they end up believing some of the falsities. That is absolutely characteristic living with only a state dominated propagandistic press, and :"the big lie." That the state doesn’t dominate the MSM doesn’t mean that this phenomenon (which is a result of how humans process information under such circumstances) is not happening anyway.
Dave, you can believe anything you want. I am well aware of confirmation bias, and could accuse you of succumbing to the same. I do, however, have a number of direct experiences which reinforce my view, because the facts were solidly known first hand to me, and the reporting was clearly wrong. Furthermore, it tended to always be wrong in one direction. That isn’t a scientific study, but it’s pretty good starting data and means I’m not just naively ingesting the conservative media I graze on.
Village Idiot Oliver North’s credibility should be judged by his arguments, not just his past (although I could argue some very important differences between his character and that of Susan McDougal, and the nature of his crimes). If Susan McDougal can make cogent and fact based arguments, her past shouldn’t be an issue either.
Kristen On master narrative, all I can say is… I’m deeply impressed by your posting.
Dave, if you choose to mock clarification, that's your right. But mockery doesn't prove anything. As to the "party line" - has it ever occurred to you that I have arrived at some of my opinions before I even knew what the "party line" was - including my opinions on media bias? Are you simply projecting your own way of forming opinions onto me?
How you manage to take the words "bias/spin became worse the Moscow's" as somehow implying that CBS used "communistic techniques" is difficult to fathom. More accurately, RM adopted American MSM tactics. The dramatic change in the style and methods of RM was striking.
On the other hand, the MSM seems to believe that a major part of its job is reading entrails to figure out what a public figure actually "meant" instead of just reporting what he said. I find that "analysis" buried in "straight reporting" all the time.
That the press somewhere reported a fact doesn't mean that the overall coverage, and the impression on people, is somehow accurate. Radio Moscow reported lots of facts. When it became sophisticated, it simply did more cherry picking and spin and much less overt lying and propaganda. We could argue about the differences in total aggregate propagandizinng between the two entities forever.
"Yet you apparently see anything negative about Bush or his war effort as propaganda. Which leads me to believe that your efforts to link CBS - and my extension, other news media - to communist information techniques as a propaganda effort of your own."
That is a ridiculous assertion on the face of it, leading to a silly belief. Your mind reading skills are fading. That I am partisan is obvious. That you and Jay are is equally obvious. That we will never agree on our conclusions is highly probable.
Jay, at least you interpreted my basic statement correctly...
Just because the words "Bush lied" were not asserted by a reporter in a news story doesn't mean make it an inappropriate moniker for the narrative. The media, of course, doesn't have to use the words - it merely gives credence to those who do. The most effective form of propaganda in this environment is cherry picking of facts and sources, selective emphasis, and putting interpretation in the news rather than the opinion pages. I offer the incredibly excessive coverage of Abu Ghraib as one example, and the contrast in coverage of Kerry's and Bush's Vietnam era records.
I'm prepared to argue the first, because it's short. The latter would take forever and drive folks nuts.
As to having specific examples ready to throw into the debate, no, of course not. I do have a few on the coverage of the first Swiftboat conference, but it is copyrighted, I had to pay for it, and cannot put it out here. But many of you have free access to Lexis/Nexis, so you can find it yourselves. Just read the transcript of the CBS news report of that day, and then, with a straight face, tell me it isn't total propaganda and a vicious hit pice.
Trained Auditor, the population has already figured out that the MSM are players, which is why the trustworthiness accorded them is so incredibly low. For those who have actually watched White House press conferences (and remember, most of us have real jobs), they need no further prompting. For those who have been involved in controversial events and read the coverage, they need no further prompting.
From this board, I guess I can expect the press to use term "swift-boating" as a pejorative. I suspec the SBVT folks would find that an honor - evidence that sometimes the little guy with the truth can best against the combined power of the MSM and the billionaire financed left. Err, don't you guys pat yourselves on the back every time you think you have "spoken truth to power?"
I'm sorry that you are not aware of the significance or existence of the narrative. For that matter, I don't believe you meant "I don't understand" - sounds like a rhetorical device to me. But perhaps you really don't.
Perhaps you are so sensitive to being used by the evil Bush that you don't notice how you are being used by the Democrats and the left - at least in the many areas where the American intelligensia is in pretty much agreement, and in disagreement with at least half of the population. But I frankly don't believe that - at least of the smart folks like yourself.
But you do know that in the past I provided a bunch of examples, as they happened. But I don't keep a file around, and you got tired of debate about the election issues, and I have tried to honor that.
As for "Plus, you seem to have forgotten that, when it counted, the press swallowed almost everything Bush and his team said about weapons of mass destruction, nukes, aluminum tubes-- all of it."...
Gee, really? No reports questioning that stuff? Funny, that's not what I heard. BTW, how about when Clinton was making the same allegations? Same coverage?
But there was good reason to believe those assertions - damn near every intelligence agency in the world did, except for some folks in our CIA (an organization not exactly known for its accuracy). Do you think that Colin Powell was knowingly lying when he made his UN presentation? If not, how do you explain it?
How many times did I read new reports that Wilson's statements rebutted Bush's claim that Saddam sought uranium from Africa? Nobody bothered to point out that Africa and Niger are not synonymous. Likewise, the attention paid to the refutation of Wilson's claims or the fact that he contradicted himself was given little attention - yeah, it was reported. Whoopee.
The Wilson leak is another area of great fun. Here we have a proven liar (inconsistent with himself is pretty good proof) who was given a lot of uncritical coverage. Then we have Libby's leak... great focus on that and the investigation of it to this day. But when a similar investigation of the far more significant NSA leak happens, it gets little coverage except here, where we have all sorts of assertions about Bush suppressing the press.
I participated on this blog as the Swift Boaters' credibility was happily questioned by those who obviously didn't want to believe it. I watched statements by Democrat officials claiming they were "Rove operatives" without the reporter mentioning what they well knew - that 527 groups were prohibited by law from that sort of behavior. Yet when I read reports of statements by Bush allies or officials, I often saw "balance" applied - context brought in from an opposing POV - often not even by a spokesman, but as a way of "explanation." Furthermore, I saw remarkably little coverage, none of it critical, about Kerry's after-war behavior, which was exceptionally anti-American, and literally gave exactly the North Vietnamese propaganda position.
I could go on, Jay, but you won't believe me any more than you believed the Swift Boat guys. I remember when one guy changed his affidavit slightly and the reporting was that he had recanted, that the Swift Boat story was falling apart. I had a copy of that updated affidavit and that interpretation would have required a vivid imagination, to put it kindly. That coverage provided a rich mine of examples, as did Abu Ghraib and the difference in reporting of Kerry's and Bush's Vietnam era actions. But we went over that in 2004 until you almost threw me off the blog.
I challenge you to get that Nexis transcript from CBS re: the first Swiftboat press conference. It is just one example, but it happens to be one that is easy to find, and that I can point at even though I don't have access reasonable to Lexis/Nexis, which I'll bet you do.
K know... the press is pure as the driven snow, it appears - or at least it doesn't regularly engage in propaganda from a relatively unified point of view. That is what we are led to believe here. After all, it's "reality based." It has a code of ethics (which is rather amusing, actually) and "professionals" trained in objectivity.
And that is BS.
I could assert that the press was a bunch of conspirators, continuously trying to figure out how to trash Bush.
But that would be BS also.
We need to agree to disagree. I don't think we need to assume the other is a nut or an idiot, which some people seem to imply about me.
Dave... I'll answer the one you just slipped in...
I know the people on this board sophisticated enough to not be fooled by the propagandistic implications of the Radio Moscow comparison. In other words, it was not meant to be propaganda, and furthermore, whether you agree with it or not, nce again you attempt to put words in it was *actually* (you know, like a fact) my observation at a point of time in the past. I was making a point using a fact. Not the point that somehow CBS was tied to the evil commies, but that their credibility in my mind was surpassed, at that point in time, by RM. You seem to be engaged in exactly what I accuse the press of doing - deducing (and reporting) what someone "really" meant rather than taking their words at face value (or in the case of the press, simply reporting them).
Regarding Abu Ghraib... here are my points:
1) It was an absolutely unsurprising event. No army is perfect, and it is hardly a shock that this happened in a unit assigned what, in the military, would be considered a "sh*tty posting." Having served in the Vietnam War, I find the reaction to this event to be either disingenuous or based on surprising naivette and lack of historical knowledge.
The idea that if the press hadn't reported it, the army would have been "further corrupted" is laughably arrogant, and very, very wrong. Furthermore, the assertion that the behavior was systematic is not true.
2) The incident was under investigation (by a high level investigator) and had been for months before the storm broke. Furthermore, that investigation had been disclosed to the press at the time. There was no coverup. The soldiers involved were going to be punished.
3) Some sensational coverage was to be expected given the shocking and salacious nature of the photographs. However, the extended coverage was not necessary, nor appropriate. The story told nothing that should have been surprising - a tiny fraction of the army engaged in improper treatment of prisoners. Intelligence people used some minor (and I think, quite permissible) stressors on to-be subjects of interrogation.
The mistreatment was not typical of the American soldier - far from it. It said nothing about the nature of our soldiers, and in fact, because of the significance attached to it, insulted our soldiers badly. It also reminded Vietnam Veterans of how our reputation had been similarly tarnished by overblown reporting and John Kerry's in his Senate testimony at the time.
Because of this sort of nonsense, much of the world, and even America, believe that our soldiers, once again, must be monsters. But the American soldier is unusual in his training, his kindness, and his deadliness. That we have jumped through hoops to minimize civilian casualties is a story lost in the noise, to the detriment of our troops. For example, how many people know that, as a result of a clever idea by someone in theater, we started used bombs filled only with concrete to destroy tanks and other equipment when it was too close to civilian structures - simply to reduce civilian casualties. Did you know that? Does that get much press?
4) The widespread publication of the photographs was the best thing any terrorist organization could want. It was a terrible thing.
However, the press can be somewhat exonerated because the photos were sent to more than one news outlet and undoubtedly, in this modern irresponsible world, would have gotten out anyway. The person who had the photographs was determine to see them published, and apparently the late Col. David Hackworth, a well known Pentagon hater with many press connections was also involved in this.
5) The Democrats, of course during the election year, wanted to and did make use of Abu Ghraib to attack Bush, and in fact worked to keep it in the news for a long time. The press seemed a mighty helpful tool in that, which didn't surprise me for a second. These attacks, however, clearly harmed the US reputation in the world, embarrassed our allies, helped our various enemies to expect our internal politics to cause our defeat, and as I mentioned before, provided great recruiting propaganda.
In my opinion, Abu Ghraib warranted a few stories. The pictures themselves, merely because of their uniqueness and salacious nature, were something I would not expect the press to resist, any more than Fox News can resist boring me with "true crime" nonsense. The fact that this had happened was news, even though it shouldn't have been big news given its lack of significance in the overall picture and the historical certainty that things like always happen, even with the best military. That the Democrats made a circus out of it likewise required some reporting. But the press was on this story like Fox on Natalie Holloway - for no *good* reason whatsoever.
One thing that I find striking about the American intelligencia is their ignorance, or feigned ignorance, about military matters. The press constantly shows this in the mistaken assumptions clearly apparent in many stories. Of course, some in the press know lots about the subject, and some have served. But overall, the shock and surprise and horror shown by some in the press is either disingenuous or shows a terrible standard of education for our press corps.
Once again, you try to put words in my mouth, imagining that I want a government controlled press. How pathetic. I must conclude that you are trolling.
When the media reports that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq (and please, let's not fight THAT particular round again)
Why shouldn't we fight that particular round again (no pun intended) when it is so easily demonstrated to be an outright falsehood?
In fact, since May 2004, Since May 2004, ISG has recovered dozens of additional chemical munitions, including artillery rounds, rockets, a binary Sarin artillery projectile, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Granted, the munitions found thus far do not demonstrate that Iraq had an ongoing chemical weapons production program after about 1991. But the media's ignorant lie that "no WMDs have been found," droolingly repeated by factually-challenged pundits everywhere, has been falsified dozens of times over. To wit: The Washington Post:
U.S. troops raiding a warehouse in the northern city of Mosul uncovered a suspected chemical weapons factory containing 1,500 gallons of chemicals believed destined for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians, military officials said Saturday.
Monday's early morning raid found 11 precursor agents, "some of them quite dangerous by themselves," a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, said in Baghdad.
I mean, how many different ways does this pernicious little meme have to be falsified , and falsified again, and falsified again, until you guys stop mindlessly repeating it?
There are lots of questions over degree. But the meme "no WMDs have been found" is utterly unsustainable in the face of facts.
It occurs to me that what the pressies think of as "rollback" is really simply the natural consequence of "Google" becoming a household name.
It used to be that primary sources were not reasonably available on the Web. Even if you were inclined to do some digging, you had to go to the library. And even then, only a few urban libraries and university libraries had full collections.
So when some reporter reported X, and X was false, the news consumer had no recourse, no way of efficiently fact-checking the reporter.
Reporters, on the other hand, often had access to clipping services (old school) and more recently, the Nexis/Lexis or Factiva databases, or their own in-house research departments to track things down. As a result, newsies got used to being thought of as authorities. As credible.
Unfortunately, there's little evidence to suggest that such a reputation was EVER warranted. With the advent of Google, the playing field was suddenly leveled.
Lexis/Nexis catches some things that Google doesn't (Dave McLemore came over to my blog recently with some stories on a wounded female veteran that I had missed without Lexis/Nexis, and quite rightly busted me for it). But Google is more than sufficient for the consumer to reasonably evaluate lots of claims made by the ink-stained wretches in the high-gloss media.
And what do we find?
Well, we uncovered a bunch of serial plagiarists (from the left and the right), and loads of just plain awful reporting.
It is my opinion as an expert on operations at the small unit level and as one with first hand knowledge of much of the inner game of operations in a small little corner of Iraq called Ramadi in 2003 - 2004, that reporting on the Iraq war is particularly bad. But journalists haven't exactly distinguished themselves on the financial journalism front, either (witness Howie Kurtz's book, "The Fortunetellers").
But it is only now, when the masses have access to Google, and the masses have an efficient way to conduct computer-based hobby reporting AND have an efficient way to distribute their findings to a small group of influential people (blog readers), that it becomes clear that the media emperors had no clothes.
And now that everyone is pointing and laughing - and deserting news outlets, sending stock prices plummeting even during the broad equity bull market of recent months (which means that NY Times stock price declines cannot be explained by phenomena external to the NY Times and media sector specifically), mediacs are feeling the heat.
Except they're too thick-skulled, thin-skinned, and full of themselves to accept responsibility for strengthening their product, and instead blame everyone else for "rollback."
The President does not have the power to lessen the importance and relevance of the news media.
Only two entities have the power to do so: The news media themselves, and their customer, the citizenry.
Note the dates - 50's and 60's. Also note that there is no hint that the CIA affected CBS or NYT content. The CIA used (and uses) lots of folks to get information - basically anyone going overseas in a useful capacity or otherwise getting useful facts. That's different from dictating editorial policy. I suspect that modern news probably no longer provides this rather useful service to them.
In other words, nice try.
Jason, thanks for the links. I think the importance of these finds was disregarded by the press, because everyone expected to find massive amounts, and also because the press did not believe the rationale tying the threat of terrorism to Iraq’s WMDs - i.e. to prevent transfer of these weapons to terrorists. Before the war, there was a lot of pretty ignorant opining (in the press) that Al Qaeda would never cooperate with Saddam because Saddam was Sunni. In fact, a pretty constant idea being pushed, to the point of surprising denial of facts, was that there was absolutely no tie between Saddam and any terrorism that threatened us. Within the latter context, these small amounts of weapons are small only in a military sense. One find in particular demonstrates how sinister this is from a terrorism perspective, and also important in showing the failure of our intelligence. That this find got barely any notice from the MSM is telling.
An IED using an artillery round was found. EOD personnel attempted to render it safe, I believe by setting off a small charge to detonate it. But there was no big explosion. It contained sarin nerve agent in a binary formulation. Two EOD people had to be treated for nerve agent poisoning.
The formulation is significant for two reasons: no inspections had ever turned up evidence Iraq had the relatively advanced binary technology; and, binary weapons are especially useful to terrorists, because the components are easy to transport safely, only becoming highly toxic when the components are mixed normally after the round has been fired). A terrorist (and Zarqawi in particular is reputed to be knowledgeable about chemical weapons) could thus drill into the shell, remove the components and store them in separate containers. These could be taken to the point of attack - probably the air handler intake on a large building. They would then be mixed and sprayed into the intake. The result would be a lot of deaths in that building with no warning until it was too late to take any countermeasures.
I have never once seen this aspect of that find reported (which does not mean it wasn't reported). It is more germaine to the issue of a pre-emptive attack to keep WMDs out of the hands of terrorists than the find of large amounts of non-binary sarin would have been. David Kay reported his opinion that Iraq was more of a danger in the terrorist-WMD context than he had expected before the war, even after no significant quantities were found. Also, the issue of biological weapons raises other uncomfortable facts, but I won’t go into that now.
A very important point here is that the WMD issue morphed from a terrorist threat to an expectation of finding large military quantities of that material (and the expectation that they would be used against US troops). This reframing of the issue (and I don't know how it happened) led to much of the improper conclusions drawn by most people after the war. There are other important points but I won't bother with them now.
VI - I'll take a stab at your question. My answer is this: If we knew then what we know now about WMDs, I would still have supported the invasion. If we knew then what we know now about the difficulties we would face as a result of the attack, I probably would have considered some other course (perhaps using a much large force, and certainly not counting on Turkey), but with the full expectation that the sanctions regime would collapse and that Iraq would then continue its WMD programs and the recently discovered Al Qaeda training program. Hence some sort of drastic action would still have been necessary.
Jay - the press had no information to believe otherwise. They had information from many sources that the WMDs existed, just as did the President and many other decision makers. Heck, the Iraqi generals were only told, on the day preceding the invasion, that they would not be able to use chemical weapons. Furthermore, many intelligence or former intelligence officials believe that Iraq shipped out WMD to Syria during the run-up to the war. The retiring head of NIMA was 100% sure, and he was the top guy in charge of interpreting satellite (and other sensor) information. My argument doesn't rest on the idea that the press is actively making up facts, but what they do with the facts available and how they do it (not to mention the practice of editorializing in news reports).
I have don’t know if the press liked or disliked Bush in 2002, although I suspect he wasn’t their favorite guy. I do think that the press has been essentially anti-conservative (a very general, hence overly broad description) for a very long time.
For that matter, the intense hatred of Bush (labeled Bush Derangement Syndrome by conservative commentator and psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer) is a puzzle many conservatives are trying to understand. It is not confined to (or even that visible in) the press. The conservative psychiatric blogs have been discussing this some, because it is very odd phenomenon - perhaps akin to the often extreme behavior of mobs. Disagreement and passionate dissent is understandable, but the hatred that led to such things as "keying" cars that had Bush stickers on them, and that is readily apparent in even casual conversation with many folks, is really strange. An interesting question is if modern communications is the cause, and whether the right would develop the same sort of derangement if the situation were reversed (we saw some of it, not as virulent, during the Clinton years). Jason's post on Google hints at some of what many conservatives have been wondering.
Richard Aubrey's scolding of VI, btw, highlights another aspect of unreasonable press behavior - the focus on the WMD issue. Large quantities of WMD were never the issue, although we expected to find them. But there were a number of other reasons for war. The neo-cons tend to be idealistic (many other-cons say too-idealistic) and the idea of liberating people and implanting democracy has some of that idealism in it. Yes, Virginia, I am suggesting that one of the motivations was actually altruistic - liberating people from a terrible fascist government. Showing that the US had the power, and more importantly, the stomach for a major land war against an Arab regime was also important, since we started our retreating in our ignominious retreat from Vietnam, Carter's failure to react to a major act of war (taking the US embassy and holding its people hostage), Reagan's pull-out from Lebanon after the barracks bombing, and various other actions seen as cowardice by the shame/warrior-culture of the Middle East. There were other reasons, all available at the time, that have been submerged in the incredible flack over the failure to find large quantities of WMDs.
BTW, VI, I couldn't get the bit torrent stream to load, sigh.
Colbert was really funny. I didn't find anything offensive in it. Now, I'd like to have a link to Bush's performance.
VI - apparently you totally ignored my argument (bolstered by David Kay) that small quantities of WMD are just as significant as large quantities in the context of terrorism.
And that's the same mistake too many people are making. Was the war to stop WMD or to stop the acquisition of WMD by terrorists?
Now ask yourself, if a war takes place under the umbrella of TWOT, don't you think the latter just might be more germaine???
But there is another very critical issue here: why does Bush get so much flack of WMD? Did he create the CIA, an organization that has a dissident group actively undermining him, even at the expense of national security? Did he have any reason to believe the multiple intelligence sources that were generating the WMD claims? Did he have any reason to doubt that Saddam was going back to his old ways - making WMDs? After all, Saddam is a psychopath (techically, Malignant Narcissist) with a long history of remarkably evil deeds combined with a long history of stupid mistakes that got hundreds of thousands of other people killed!
Furthermore, even if one were to believe Blitz, the fact that NO inspector found even a hint of Iraq's biological program in 4 years after 1991 should cerate a bit of concern about a "clean bill of health" from inspections.
In fact, the substiantial biowar program was only revealed by a defector - Saddam's son in law. The evidence, with what we now know, is that Saddam was planning on outwaiting the sanctions, with every expectation that they would be dropped soon (especially since he was bribing lots of folks, including high level Russian and French officials, using the "Oil For Food" program). The Bacillus Thuringensis plant was a very nice facility to have for anyone wanting to produce weaponized Anthrax - since BT and Anthrax are very similar, and the preparation of both is the same. In fact, BT has been used for biowar testing as a proxy for Anthrax.
And of course, we do have one other mystery in the WMD front... where did the post-9-11 Anthrax attack come from? Iraqi Anthrax? Russian?
Finally, we come to the Bush Administration's reaction to all of this. As I have said before, they are pathetic in their handling of the press and the psywar. I think one of the strongest criticisms conservatives have of Bush (and we have a *lot* of criticisms, believe me) is his inability to get his political act straight.
Everyone says that Karl Rove is a genius. If so, why does the White House have such lousy numbers? Why is the battle for image fought so incredibly poorly? While there are substantive matters that are at issue, they don't explain all of the low approval ratings. Some of it is due to pure incompetence in the information domain.
Hopefully (wow... I get to tie back to the original subject!) Tony Snow will change that.
VI... Your analysis is not unusual, but you miss a very critical point: the increasing availability of WMDs in the modern world. That is new.
Rogue nations today can, though suitable cutouts, arrange for a terrorist group to obtain a very dangerous weapon, which will be inteded for use in an enemy country. That includes nuclear weapons and biological weapons, with the probabilities going up in the future as more nations get them and the rogue nations get the technology to make them more portable. (A side note: chemical weapons are just not nearly as threatening).
We are dealing with relatively low probability events with extremely dire consequences - the sort of thing that human intuition is well equipped to handle (denial is very easy).
Imagine that a nuclear weapon is smuggled in a standard shipping container into the US. It goes off, lets say, in downtown LA. Now don't tell me this is hardly a new threat, because that would be nonsense.
Lets look at the consequences...
Initially, tens of thousands of people are killed by blast, heat and prompt radiation. Because the weapon is a ground burst, large amounts of highly radioactive fallout is lofted into the lower atmosphere and distributed downwind... in this case probably east of downtown LA all the way to the Colorado River. This causes many more deaths and lots of evacuations. This is unlike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the air bursts resulted in no dangerous fallout.
We end up with many tens or even hundreds of thousands of people killed, and a large area uninhabitable for months to decades, depending on the location.
Our economy is, of course, trashed. Living in a big city suddenly becomes a real liability. Real estate values in population centers crash, as people flee.
The reaction of citizenry is likely to be extreme - they are going to want protection. That means violations of privacy that make the Patriot Act look trivial. Roadblocks, national ID cards, ubiquitous cameras would become the norm. Vigilanteeism would attack people with middle eastern looks - killing them or driving them out of the country.
Our population would likely demand that any rogue nation that might have contributed be nuked - millions more, mostly innocent, would die.
There are a lot more consequences...
So don't trot out the old line about nothing new under the sun. This is a new set of circumstances, a threat that mankind has never before dealt with. It is especially bad because of rogue nations and organizations run by have death cults (Iran, Afhganistan under the Taliban, Al Qaeda), and deterrence is difficult because of the evidence is vaporized. France has recently twice threatened to nuke countries that use terrorism against it. The threat is growing in a technological sense - bioweapons are getting easier to make very rapidly. The production of fissile material is subject to sudden technological breakthroughs, for example using tabletop free electron lasers to make isotopic separation much easire.
Don't make the mistake so many do... of assuming that history is linear, and life will just continue pretty much as it has.
The United States has not faced a situation where daily life was radically and suddenly changed since World War II, and even then our homeland was never under serious threat. It is human nature to discount threats of this magnitude - to continue to feel, if not believe that nothing that bad will ever happen to one's self. I have observed a similar phenomenon among pilots (I used to be one) when a plane crashed - everyone would sit around and explain why it would never happen to them.
The GWOT started with the sudden death of 3000 innocents in our homeland, and the attempted decapitation of our government along with a strong attack on our economy. The attack could have killed tens of thousands, as the 1993 attack against the WTC definitely intended (which should have clued folks in to the newly changed threat from the Salafists).
The Iraq war has indeed killed a lot of people. There has been, among other things, a war with Al Qaeda, where we have killed thousands of them. We have also killed thousands (not close to hundreds of thousands) of Iraqis, many of them innocent. I have always considered that war an experiment - war is not simple and results are rarely what you expect. However, the prospect of creating more moderate regimes in the areas breeding the Islamic fundamentalists is certainly tempting - although it may turn out to be unattainable. The GWOT is a whole lot more than Iraq, of course... focusing too closely on Iraq clouds judgement.
Life's a bitch, ain't it?
If you want to contemplate the historical reality of dealing with big threats and the loss of lots of lives, take a look at Churchill's decision to not warn the citizenry of Coventry when he knew the Germans were going to level it.
We have lived during a charmed period, where we have not had to deal with that sort of thinking.
Like all such periods, it is now over. Try to understand that.
And just to cause you to sleep well, consider the following...
Russia continues to have a large number of ICBMs targeted at the US (don't believe the nonsense Clinton spouted about them being targeted on the Indian Ocean - even in the '60s we could retarget our Titan missiles in 30 seconds, and the supposedly secret cryptographic launch code was just all zeros). The Russians are unusally paranoid and suspicious of us... and they have a problem with their own Islamofascists, the Chechens.
So Iraq (uninvaded, after sanctions evaporate), run by the always adventuresome but rather unwise Saddam slips a nuke to Al Qaeda or the Islamic Brotherhood. It is to be used against the US, wiothout us knowing the source. But instead, the nuke is set off near the Russian master defense command and control facility near Moscow, suddenly destroying it and taking out a lot of communications facilitites. What do you think the Russians might do?
Remember, even Yeltsin ended up with the Russian nuclear "football" activated with 3 minutes to decide, due to a mere bureaucratic screwup which caused a research rocket launch from Norway to be misinterpreted as a sub-launched decapitation attack aimed at Moscow.
These are not fairy tales. Those missiles are real, lots of them will still work, and they all have either thermonuclear or biological warheads (probably both, unless they got rid of the latter due to maintenance problems) and thousands of them will come raining down on us if there is a big miscalculation.
Now, tell me again that terrorism and rogue states are not novel - in this 21st century context. It is important that people understand the very, very important ramifications summarized in the phrase "post 9-11." Regardless of how well he actually deals with it, Bush does in fact seem to have that understanding.
Public Journalism as a Democratic Art is itself a piece of art, that’s why I referred to it earlier. No where in that piece, especially in your redefinition of the press’s power...
Defining their dominion
The art of framing
The capacity to publicly include
The positioning effect
Shaping a master narrative
is the White House mentioned. Didn’t you say, “When in doubt, a sage once said, draw a distinction; a good distinction can get you out of almost any jam” ? I think if ever there was a time for a distinction, or at least a gentle reminder, it is now, so let me take out my brush.
Does the Press toil for Us, or itself? If it is Us, then it uses its power for us, correct? I didn’t get the impression you were intending that the piece be utilized only after the results of '04 came out, ’08, maybe, or even 2012.
The Press’s “relationship” with the White House is what it is. Although it might make for better daily working conditions for those people in the briefing room to have things more productive, it really is immaterial. There are work-arounds if they’re sought, and negotiations to be made.
An imperfect analogy ….
Many, maybe most, broken marriages end in divorce. The “conventional” wisdom of the “enlightened” adults of the 70s, 80s, and 90s was that divorce was much better for the children, and it only secondarily, coincidentally of course (!), was much better for the unhappy adults involved. Now, research has found (myths 3 and 6) that actually it’s much better for adults to stay together and work out their problems, with the exception being those marriages that have physical abuse involved.
And I don’t recall David Gregory actually punching the lights out of McClellan.
Are the theories and ponderings, then, by academics, to be read, discussed, and then ...
Abandoned when implementation gets tough? Rewritten so as to make implementation easier or to prove their obsolescence that much more quickly so we can move on to the next best theory-du-jour?
You did realize, as everyone did I hope, that the material I included after the 3 questions I posed to Jay, including that about Paul Taylor, was actually from Jay’s own postings; they were his words, not mine (and if not, I apologize for not making that clearer).
Assuming that you knew that, therefore, you are, in a sense, debating Jay’s inclusion of Taylor’s material in his 2003 analysis of the “master narrative.” And, in that case, I really have to take his side and say that, really, his use of Taylor’s remarks fit perfectly into the points he was trying to make 2 ½ years ago in that piece.
That’s actually why I referenced it as well as the linked Democracy Project piece because the writing seemed so “tight” to me… everything really just fit together so well.
And then you say ...
“This isn't Kansas anymore, Dorothy, and it's not 1992 either, and the spin artists have figured out that they can mold narratives as well as any reporter.”
Well, really, can there be any better response than Jay’s own words when he mused in that piece about “negotiating with sources,” hence my original question #3 about re-negotiating with sources ...
Jay said, “Yet I repeat: to choose winning as master narrative is a defensible move, non sinister. Its logic has over time settled, the way sediments settle and become earth. Journalists walk that earth. But they are not the only ones— candidates, contributors, consultants, pollsters join them. That’s significant since these people tend to be regular sources for journalists— and one way you negotiate with sources is by agreeing on a common narrative, (W for Winning) the way musicians might settle on the key of F.”
You’re an editor. I can safely take it, then, that you don’t want to be part of the group Jay's referring to in his conclusion: “One way to reform journalism is to find a group of people who do it and want a different master narrative generating the stuff they do.”
I can appreciate that.
Kristen: Thank you for your kind words on "Public Journalism as a Democratic Art."
After reading that paper and my comments here, you seem to suggest that I have arbitarily changed my views for reasons of ideological convenience. That's a fairly serious charge to hurl about. Also bunk.
In fact, I hold to the re-description of press power in that paper: Defining their dominion, the art of framing, the capacity to publicly include, the positioning effect, shaping a master narrative. They are still effective terms, and they help make the power of the press visible.
As you noted the paper says next to nothing about the relationship between the White House press and the White House. It says nothing about sticking with rituals that don't work. It says nothing about what to do when an Administration withdraws from a consensus understanding that White Houses Democratic and Republican have held to for 40 years.
So your claim that I have "abandoned" those ideas is crap, and you really should withdraw it.
In my explanation of the first term on the list, "defining their dominion," I say the press has "the power to define the problem [it] will regard as real and claim responsibility for."
The Bush Administration's rollback of the press and its attack on open government--maybe you shrink from those descriptions but I do not, because they are accurate--is a problem journalists should treat as real, and they should define their dominion that way.
But I want to be clear: I don't advocate "not covering" Bush and the White House, as in ignoring it. No. In fact, I would be for assigning more reporters to that beat. But they should change their approach, and go with outside-in reporting as their method.
By the way, did you see that the new boss wants out of the briefing? "Bolten said it may be worth considering whether to end the daily televised press briefings where reporters and the press secretary frequently air disputes in front of the cameras, but he will leave that decision up to Snow."
Would those be the same seed stock that predates Gulf War I?
Since Saddam Hussein was required to destroy them, your question is irrelevant.
If your sole point is some legalistic one that remnants of Saddam's bio-chemical and nuclear weapons arsenal existed in Iraq at the time of the 2003 invasion, OK. We knew that.
1.) "Remnants" are not "seed stocks." One does not go through the expense and hazard of maintaining seed stocks of smallpox, anthrax, etc., without having some intent to use them going forward.
2.) Under the 1991 cease fire aggreement, Saddam was required to destroy all his WMD. That includes stocks of bio agents. Indeed, the cease fire is meaningless if it DOESN'T include stocks of bio agents. There is no possible reading of the UN Resolutions and the cease fire aggreement that would allow Saddam to keep them and remain in compliance.
Following the Iraq/Iran war: "Washington restored full diplomatic relations [with Iraq] by November 1984, extending financial support, agricultural credits, military technology and intelligence, the seed stock for biological weapons
Let us stipulate for the sake of argument that your claim is true: Some of the seed stocks are of US origin. Now please point out in the cease fire agreement that Iraq agrees to dismantle and destroy all bio weapons programs and stocks "except those of US origin."
That's the absurd logic you're desperately trying to cling to. I can't believe how you people will twist yourselves in knots trying to make excuses for Saddam Hussein.
The origin of the components of ANY WMD program in Iraq are irrelevant to Husseins obligation to destroy them.
Your own words above indicate so: "Granted, the munitions found thus far do not demonstrate that Iraq had an ongoing chemical weapons production program after about 1991."
A quick review of some basic reading comprehension skills are in order. Note the presence of the words "ongoing" and "production." I put them in there for a reason. It seems pretty clear that if Hussein was maintaining stocks of bio agent, he had an ongoing research program and/or he was planning to restart production at a later date, when the heat was off. No other explanation suffices, and that is consistent with the burial of the centrifuge.
The U.S. government knew where they were and pretty much what they were because we okayed the sale and shipment of much of it.
Again, there is no clause in the cease fire agreement that requires Saddam to destroy all WMD programs "except those of US origin."
So stop trying to blow chaff by flogging this stupid red herring (Yes, I mix metaphors. Deal with it).
It might work with the muddle-heads you're used to dealing with around the water cooler.
Saddam was supposed to have destroyed his bio stocks. He did not. He kept them. He was therefore in violation. Q.E.D.
But these remnants were not usuable, Sure they were. They were useable as seed stocks.
offered no immediate harm to our troops
There you go reaching for excuses. If Saddam Hussein maintained these stocks, you cannot rule out the possibility that he could transfer them to someone else. It's pretty easy.
There is nothing in the cease fire agreement that requires Saddam to destroy his WMD components and program "except those which offer immediate harm to US troops."
That's just stupid.
or to the region
And stupider. Tell that to the Kurds and Shia.
certainly weren't worth the alarums of 'mushroom clouds' that the Bush administration made as the reason for war.
Hate to be the one to have to break it to you, Ace, but bio weapons don't make mushroom clouds.
And you can't be certain of a damn thing except this: Saddam Hussein was required to destroy these stocks. He didn't.
Again, so you really want to go to war over ancient history?
I'm not. You're the one going into ancient history, not me. I'm just looking at affairs as they existed in 2002 and 2003. Saddam Hussein maintained stocks of biological agent which could be used to kick start a larger production program when the heat was off.
The stocks could also have been transferred, at any time, to Al Qaeda, another rogue state, or another terrorist group. You cannot rule it out. That's why Hussein was required to destroy those stocks.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but getting through to journalists on factual issues is like housebreaking a puppy...you have to shove their noses in their mess and beat them again and again and again before they will grasp the point.
And you must concede the point: Saddam Hussein maintained stocks of biological agent as late as 2003.
What we did find, as you have acknowledged yourself, were 12-year-old scraps of a WMD program abandoned in 1991.
No. If that were the case, we would have found empty petri dishes and a refrigerator. The CIA specifically mentioned "seed stocks." Saddam Hussein was required to destroy them. He didn't.
Maintaining your seed stocks is not "abandoning your program." Maybe he put production on hold. That was exactly the conclusion of the Kay and Dulfeur reports. "Ongoing weapons of mass destruction programme activities," etc.
But putting production on hiatus while maintaining the means to rapidly restart it is not "abandoning your program."
Similarly, in the summer of 2003, the administration disavowed those phony words about yellowcake in the earlier State of the Union address that some here are still trying to defend
Anne, you are so breathtakingly poorly informed you could join the flat-earth society. Specificall which of those 16 words from the State of the Union can be shown to be false?
Go ahead. Take the challenge. I believe there's a reward out there of $10,000 dollars if you can prove them false. No winners yet.
You guys are chasing ephemera that even Bush himself has distanced himself from.
Where did Bush say that the CIA was wrong and that Hussein did not maintain those stocks? Show me.
Since you, too, are firing irrelevant chaffe rather than engaging on the facts, I must assume you concede the point:
Saddam Hussein maintained stocks of biological agents right through the end of his regime in 2003.
Anne, you are so breathtakingly poorly informed you could join the flat-earth society. Specificall which of those 16 words from the State of the Union can be shown to be false?
Go ahead. Take the challenge. I believe there's a reward out there of $10,000 dollars if you can prove them false. No winners yet.
Good luck. --Jason
First of all, Jacob, it's not "Anne." It's "Ann." You'll need to know that to make out the certified check properly.
Secondly, I'm afraid I'll have to share that $10,000 reward with Ari Fleischer, Condoleeza Rice and George Tenet. But, hey -- I'll take $2,500. Forward payment soonest.
On January 28, 2003, Bush said:
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.".
On July 7, 2003, exactly one day after Joseph Wilson's original Times article, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer took back the 16 words, calling them "incorrect:"
Fleischer: Now, we've long acknowledged -- and this is old news, we've said this repeatedly -- that the information on yellow cake did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect.
Four days later, Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that the 16 words were, in retrospect, a mistake.
Rice: "What we've said subsequently is, knowing what we now know, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn't have put this in the President's speech -- but that's knowing what we know now."
That same day, CIA Director George Tenet took personal responsibility for the appearance of the 16 words in Bush's speech:
Tenet: "These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President."
Between Ari, Condi, Tenet and me, the "flat-earth society" is getting a little crowded. But, honestly Jason, we invite you to join us.
Well, it appears folks have had some fun while I was at work.
Just a couple of issues. David dragged in the "we knew where they were because the US sold them the seed stock" meme. This is both flogging a red herring (that the seed stock came from the US) and making a totally ridiculous assertion (so we knew where they were). Furthermore, it is a standard trope when people want to criticize the US, especially Reagan. The correct assertion that "we" sold them is never cited with the appropriate context.
The stock came from a private non-profit company (American Type Culture Collection) which provided that sort of stuff to anyone who asked, and specifically calls itself a global resource. Any lab could have ordered up Anthrax or Botulinum, back in the innocent (and naive days) before folks were paying much attention to bio-terrorism dangers.
Trying to implicate the government in something nefarious this way is simply pathetic. "We" didn'[t sell it - a scientific supply cooperative which happens to be in the US did.
The inference that we knew where they were because we sold them requires no refutation beyond what an 8 year old could immediately derive.
VI's posting quoting "military significance" a "proliferation concerns" is yet, once again reverting to the prevailing narrative rather than the actual historical context. The GWOT is not about proliferation or military threats from WMDs - no matter how many times the press and the Democrats imply otherwise. It is about terrorism, which in this context means small quantities of those weapons coming into the possesion of terrorists. Proliferation concerns are of course involved, because large quantities means some can be given to terrorists. But small quantities are equally useful.
Does anyone here understand the difference? Is anyone willing to accept the relevance of the, uh, terrorist implications of actions in the Global War on Terror, as opposed to the usual nonsense about large scale production and militarily significant stocks?
Let's also get into the science a tad, although I realize (from reading Columbia Journalism School's requirements) that journo's don't need to ever study a real science (as opposed to intro anthropolgy).
The scientist told to keep seed stock in his fridge had Clostridium botulinum. That bacteria produces several toxins, one of which is the most powerful toxin known to man - in other words, a bacteria culture is essentially a chemical weapons factory for stuff vastly more lethal than VX nerve agent (which is far more dangerous than small quantities of Plutonium).
But... Botulinum is really not all that hard to come by. If it was, people wouldn't periodically die of botulism poison.
But... that seed stock was most likely an optimal strain for bioweaponizing.
So one one hand, Iraq was purposefully keeping seed stock of a very deadly weapon, but on the other hand, somewhat similar feedstock isn't too hard to get. The first shows the intent was clear and establishes the likelihood that they kept other stuff that hasn't been found. It shows an intent to be ready to produce WMDs when the impending collapse of the sanctions happened. The second shows that this particular find didn't represent as much danger as it did evidence of future danger.
Burying a centrifuge is also not the act of a nation which has peaceful plans. It is the act of a nation which expects to need that centrifuge in the future, and probably not to plant daisies in.
The assassinations of a number of senior weapons scientists shortly after the war is, to put it mildly, also a bit suspicious. Killing is a pretty effective and long established way of silencing people who know where naughty things are hidden.
Lets also remember that 4 years of an intensive inspection regime in the '90s NEVER found any evidence of a biological warfare program. As I said before, only the defection of a Saddam son-in-law brought out the news that there was in fact an enormous biowar program. So when the ISG says they didn't find X, they mean that. This is not the same as saying that they proved it doesn't exist - a much more difficult task.
Finally, keeping seed stock of certain biological agents is easy and it can be hidden in a small medicine bottle buried in the desert. For a regime which that buried entire MIG fighters in the sand, it does lead one to wonder. Do you really believe that we found everything?
While botulinum may be relatively easy for terrorists to get, good strains of Anthrax, which can be stored for at least 100 years just by drying them out, are quite a bit harder. Iraq was also one of the last countries to eradicate smallpox, and very likely kept some samples (in the old days, this was normal medical practice - put a few infected scabs in the fridge in case you later wanted to run a test or something).
As for what did or did not go to Syria, the question is problematical. The head of the National Image and Mapping Agency, who retired just after the war, was convinced that he saw WMDs transported to Syria. He no doubt knows more about remote sensing data and how to interpret it than anyone here. ISG found no evidence. Who is right? I don't know - do you? There was certainly imagery of a lot of stuff moving to Syria - so what was it? Gold bars for the soon to be exiled Saddamites? Chemical weapons to be used during the planned insurgency (yes, the insurgency was planned before the war by M14, even though Saddam didn't believe we would make it to Baghdad)? Radioactive waste to be used in a dirty bomb in the future? Furniture for the soon-to-be exiles? Russian technology being removed so we wouldn't have concrete evidence of the high level of Russian involvement with Iraq (the last disclosure on which was Russian intelligence giving the Iraqi's our complete force dispositions and war plans, probably from a mole in Centcom).
Of course, all of this is squabbling about history. Why are we battling about this now? I would suggest that (gasp) it's because of MSM's strong commitment to the "Bush Lied, People Died" narrative.
After all, it makes not a whit of practical difference about the future, and history can be left to historians. That is, unless there is policial hay to be made in the present - say, by continually reinforcing the idea that Bush is a liar.
So I hold to my assertion that the Bush Lied narrative is very much part of MSM thought and hence steers MSM reporting, as clearly evidenced by the discussions right here on this board. [RELEVANCE ALERT:] I wonder what Tony Snow will do with that situation.
Jay, clarification ...
I haven’t “charged” you with abandoning anything. The opposite of my intended meaning. I’m the one who linked to the paper(s) in the first place and I could just have easily simply said to all the press people out there, “Hey -- What Jay Said,” except that really wouldn’t have made for a very productive post, or so I thought at the time, although now I regret that choice entirely.
Your response to the first of my questions was that because there is no relationship with the White House, “there's no point in trying to change the narrative.” I completely did not and do not follow that logic – made no sense to me. In both of the pieces I referenced, you seemed to be saying that the power to make changes to the master narrative(s) lies within the Press itself. So I then felt that perhaps a reminder to you that no where in the Public Journalism piece in particular do you mention the White House (hence my reference to the elections of ’04, ’08, and 12 b/c, again, I presumed that your stated theses applied to whoever is in charge), so why does it show up in your response to me as “no relationship with WH, ergo no change in narrative.” ?
To rephrase my last remark, where I used the term “abandon,” to which it sounds you took personal offense…..
“Am I, a reader of your papers (you being the academic for this exercise), but more importantly, all those other readers of your papers --- those press people out there somewhere --- are we to just talk about our problems, retheorize why they’re happening over and over, and then just give up and take our notepads and go home when the going gets tough? What about the public good then?
And you know what? Don’t even go to that “It's the power to define the problem you will regard as real and claim responsibility for” quote. Believe it or not, that section, actually, Defining Dominion, was really where I was originally going to start in commenting on what I perceive to be one of the biggest mistakes that we, the public, are paying the price for in reportage and coverage by much of the press!!! I decided not to go there b/c I felt by sticking to the master narrative tract, it fit very nicely in with Snow’s appt.; that is, if one looks for opportunities rather than obstacles to move forward not look back.
But, now that you brought it up, actually, :), when you said that originally, in Public Journalism, you immediately followed it with “That's what the disease model did. It limited the problem the medical profession chose to own. “To me, this describes precisely what “The Press” is doing now—choosing a dominion, exercising its power, in a way that excludes large numbers of the public and actually works against the public good, in time of War, so even though you may hold up a Value --- speaking truth to power --- using facts (whose?) to keep us all in reality (whose)? ---- it’s just like examining campaign ads….. You even add that defining dominion can be abused (certainly, as it’s currently being practiced) and “Any redefinition of the journalist's domain must be grounded, not in professional prerogatives, but in public values.” All of these thoughts that you wrote from this piece spoke of the misuse of Power…. Hence my reference to “If the Press works for Us, then it uses its power for us, correct?” in my comment to you.
Enough clarification. Enough trying to talk about press theory and practice, not press stories. It’s just way too much work! I suppose it’s easier to focus comments on refighting policy, ideology, “facts,” and comedy but that gets boring after a while. No challenge.
Anyway, here’s a link ... HotAir I like this whole idea of video.
I'm sorry, Kristen, I guess I just didn't understand your question. Still don't. Why would Snow be an opportunity to change the press narrative of the Bush Admistration? (Is that what you're asking?)
Bush in announcing the pick said, "He understands like I understand that the press is vital to our democracy. As a professional journalist, Tony Snow understands the importance of the relationship between government and those whose job it is to cover the government."
In other words, "I've always been a press person, Tony's a press person, everyone in my Administration is a press person. We may not love everything said about us, but gosh darn it we respect the press corps. Vital to our democracy. Just vital. I was saying to Josh the other day how vital the press was to our democracy, wasn't I Josh?..."
No change there. Same dissembling Bush. Won't take responsibility for nuthin. The buck stops somwhere over there. Forgets, "The best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world." Andrew Card never said there is no fourth estate and the press has no check-and-balance function. "Just another special interest group" was never a part of our philosophy. If we say it didn't happen, it didn't happen, and so on. And on. That's Bush, Mister Mission Accomplished.
As for... is an academic paper just a paper, and "are we to just talk about our problems, retheorize why they’re happening over and over, and then just give up and take our notepads and go home when the going gets tough?"... Maybe I don't understand this question either, but I'm sure you're aware that "Public Journalism as a Democratic Art" corresponded to a public journalism movement that actually influenced what went on in hundreds of newsrooms around the U.S. I don't think you can say it was just ivory tower theorizing (Is that what you meant by "theory-du-jour?")
As for, "Does the Press toil for Us, or itself? If it is Us, then it uses its power for us, correct?" Correct. It's supposed to do that. But how that is done, whether it's being done now, how to make sure it's done tomorrow-- these are always going to be matters for argument. That's why I started PressThink.
The only improvement in the relationship that I can see will come when the press leaves the White House, and lets the Adminstration communicate its decisions and policies itself, with Hugh Hewitt's help. Instead of going around the filter, the filter packs up and leaves. But the people who could accomplish that are (excuse my ivory tower language) chickenshit and won't do it.
Your Iraqi death toll figures are quite debatable. I have seen lots of different estimates, by different groups using different methodologies, and huge variances in results.
Your source is hardly credible. Using "the methodology" used for disease outbreaks is hardly appropriate (disease outbreaks have specific patterns different from war casualties). Using historical ratios is really dumb - care to tell me that last war, where any kind of accurate counts were available, that those ratios were based on? How many of those involved almost purely precision weapons, vastly more accurate and ubiquitous surveillance means such as Predators, Global Hawk, and thermal imaging manned aircraft?
How interesting is it to count deaths inflicted by both sides, when one side's tactic is to use massive bombs directed at civilians and the other side tries hard not to hurt civilians? How dishonest is it to use the casualties intentionally inflicted by by the other side in an attempt to indict the side that is the most humane? How disingenuous is it to to extrapolate a toll from the earlier stages of the war, which included wide scale massive warfare? How disingenuous is it to ignore the death rate and lack of freedoms in the same place before the war? What is the motive is it to throw out this criticism without advocating actions we can take to alleviate the alleged problem? How disingenuous is it to ignore the doctrine of pre-emptive war by comparing inflated current casualties with the past history of terrorism, when the attack that triggered the GWOT was the first of its kind, carried out by a rapidly growing movement which is openly attempting to acquire and use WMD against our civilians and certainly will carry out attacks as deadly or vastly more deadly when they can?
But of course, more interesting is that you even mention the subject? You are demonstrating again the tendency towards attacking the Administration through history, in a discussion to which it has zero relevance.
Steve, what does net neutrality have to do with this discussion? Net neutrality is indeed in danger and needs its own discussion (which is taking place all over the blogosphere and to some externt, in the press. A more interesting question would be: is it getting appropriate press coverage, or are big journalism operations, with corporate ties to the last-mile providers, censoring or minimizing reporting and opinion pieces on the issue?,
In my opinion, bandwidth provided by monopolies should have protection against content-based billing - in the same sense that telephone service does.
As to the cost of blogs, most bloggers are already on corporate run blog sites, from blogger.com to independent ISPs. My entire website, part of which is a blog, costs $24.95 and the provider has direct high-speed pipes to several primary internet nodes. Hence, that model is not in danger.
If you want to run a blog from your home, expect bandwidth restrictions (or pay for extra bandwidth) because that upstream bandwidth *is* more expensive to deliver in most modes, and high bandwidth servers of any sort operating from one's home will hog network bandwidth.
During the depths of the McClellan phase at the White House, when you elaborated the concept of Rollback, your insistent refrain was that the press itself had to rethink its role since the White House had changed the ground rules.
You argued, famously in describing the aborted posting with the Washington Post, that sticking to their guns was an inappropriate strategy for the White House press corps. In fact, sticking to guns was being complicit in their own Rollback.
Now, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that the replacement of Card with Bolten and McClellan with Snow can be taken on face value. Namely, that this administration has realized that stonewalling, non-responsiveness, sticking to talking points, insisting on the assent of the governed does not work. It confirms its opponents in their opposition, does nothing to persuade independent swing voters and demoralizes its own base.
If true, this change would mark a return to the status quo ante of government by persuasion, in which the press is treated as a legitimate interlocutor in the business of mobilizing support for the President’s policies.
Again, if true, the White House press corps could feel vindicated in their response to Rollback: they ignored your advice; they did not change their role; they knuckled down; they waited McClellan out; and Rollback as a project collapsed under its own misunderstanding of the business of governing in a republican democracy.
Yet, Jay, you still argue for a change in role for the White House press corps, evoking the virtues of independence from the Bully Pulpit, not interdependence with it. You still advocate withdrawal from the relationship with the office currently held by Snow, irrespective of whether he turns back the clock to a pre-Rollback mentality.
It is not clear whether your continued insistence derives from skepticism or from some other logic. So my question is: was your demand for a new role for the White House press corps a response to Rollback per se? or do you assert that the political press corps should disengage from the White House anyway?
Are you, at bottom, arguing that the press should discontinue treating the Presidency as imperial? That it should return to a view of power in our nation’s capital where agendas are set by all branches of government and even by non-governmental special interests inside the Beltway? That the Bully Pulpit should be rolled back?
This would be counterrevolutionary Rollback: the White House has tried to prove that press has no special role in political communication -- is it now time for the press to try to prove that, when communicating to the body politic, the White House too is only one, albeit very special, interest among several.
Regards -- Andrew
Your fund of information, frankly, does not equip you to engage in an informed discussion on the 16 words. You're lost. You don't know the timeline or the fact pattern.
The truth or falsity of Bush's 16 words has nothing whatever to do with Rice's or Fleischer's statements. Rice and Fleischer could have said the 16 words were made of green cheese, and it would still not alter the underlying fact pattern: British Intelligence concluded that Iraq had sought Uranium from Africa, and shared this intelligence with the United States.
If you were anything more than superficially familiar with the matter, for example, you would not have even tried to mention the forgeries, which are entirely irrelevant to the discussion. Why? Because the forgeries didn't even come out until AFTER MI-6 had reached its conclusion that Iraq had sought yellowcake from Niger. Britain confirms that they did not rely on the forgery in reaching their conclusion. Further, again, a little reading comprehension is in order - The President said that we had learned this from British Intelligence. And this, too, is factual, since that's exactly what British Intelligence reported.
And Lyin' Joe Wilson's very own verbal debriefing to the CIA upon return from Niger supported the finding.
Further, if you were more than superficially informed, you would also be aware that the Italian and French intelligence services also came to the same conclusion:
More specifically, in 1999, a gentleman by the name of Wissam al Zahawie, a long-time Iraqi nuclear honcho and the Iraqi delegate to the 1995 NonProliferation Conference, left his office in the Vatican on an official junket to Niger - the original source for the Uranium used at the Osiris plant back in 1981.
Italian intelligence had been monitoring him the whole time. The intelligence was shared with French intel, who had better contacts in Niger, who corroborated the report with their own sources and passed it on to the UK, which apparently passed it on to us.
(Clinton had so thoroughly gutted our HUMINT capability abroad with his misguided and naive idealism that we didn't have a similar capability of our own in one of the world's primary sources of uranium ore, and so we had to rely on the French and Italians. Scary.)
If you were also more than superficially informed, you would also know that a similar document which is believed to be genuine confirms the same facts in the forged document. A couple of Nigerian diplomats in Rome were on the take, and betrayed their country by selling documents to Italian spooks. Apparently, they were paid by the document, since they forged al Zahawie's signature on another document in an effort to collect more money.
The problem was, it was an incompetent forgery. As if they had the Mona Lisa, xeroxed it, and tried to sell the copy as well as the original.
A moment's reflection would render it obvious that just because one document is a fraud does not mean the original is a fraud.
In relying on subsequent statements from Rice and Fleischer, you are arguing from authority - a logical fallacy - rather than arguing from the facts. Indeed, you seem to be arguing from authority in order to avoid having to deal with the facts, or to distract from them.
I guess they don't teach critical reasoning in journalism school.
With predictable results.
Andrew: Great questions. Thanks for taking the time to think them through.
For the sake of argument, I suppose it's possible that the Snow appointment really is the end of Rollback, and the Bush White House will start communicating again in an attempt to persuade, which would mean re-engaging with the press. I don't think it's likely, but it's possible. That would be an argument for waiting around to see if it's any different under Snow and Bolten. Different would be a return to the status quo ante.
And I'm sure that, if it happened, the White House press corps would "feel vindicated in their response to Rollback." They would point out as you did, "They ignored your advice; they did not change their role; they knuckled down; they waited McClellan out."
Although they might believe that, doesn't mean they're right. I believe that if the press just quit the White House (but not the beat), McClellan would have been gone a lot sooner.
It's not like I didn't try, in my own 5,000-readers way, to warn them. Here's what I wrote many posts ago:
I believe Big Journalism cannot respond as it would in previous years: with bland vows to cover the Adminstration fairly and a firm intention to make no changes whatsoever in its basic approach to politics and news... particularly in the face of an innovative Bush team and its bold thesis about the fading powers of the press.
The Bush White House has the national press in a box.... As with so many other situations, they have changed the world and allowed the language of the old world to keep running while exploring unchallenged the fact of the new. The old world was the Fourth Estate, and the watchdog role of the press, the magic of the White House press conference. It was a feeling that, though locked in struggle much of the time, journalists and presidents needed each other. Although it was never put this way, they glamourized Washington politics together, and this helped both.
In Bushworld, all is different. There is no fourth estate; an invalid theory, says Team Bush. The press is not a watchdog for the public, but another interest group that wants something. (Or, they say, it’s an arm of our opponents’ operation.) But the press is weak, and almost passe, in the Administration’s view. There is no need to deal with it most of the time. It can be denied access with impunity. It can be attacked for bias relentlessly, which charges up Bush supporters. It can be fed gruel and will come back the next day. The Bush crowd has completely changed the game on journalists, knowing that journalists are unlikely to respond with action nearly as bold.
That was posted the day after election day, 2004. See Are We Headed for an Opposition Press?
My suggestion that the press should leave is a continuation of a suggestion I have been making for a while, but, yes, it is partly based on my skepticism that Snow means Rollback has been rolled back. I doubt it.
Can one reasonably argue that the press should wait and see? Of course, but they would pick wait and see whether or not one could reasonably argue it.
Within the press corps, I don't think there's enough collective wisdom, nerve, leadership or historical sense to make a move back when the syndicate, er, the White House makes a move on you. It's not, as so many on the left argue, that the press is in the pocket of the Administration.
It simply isn't organized to take organized action, but it can be acted upon. The pressure to describe an irregular situation as a "regular" one--historically continuous--is intense for this reason. I'd estimate that 90 percent of the Washington press corps will take that option when asked about Rollback.
Example from another field. When you know no government intends to do anything about it, there's enormous pressure within government not to call the killing "genocide." Description follows from the anticipation of no-action-taken, and excuses it in advance.
I see the same thing happen in Big Journalism constantly.
My view is not that the press should withdraw because executive power is out of proportion (an interesting idea, though.) Rather, if the White House won't locute there is no hope for the interlocutor. If the White House withdraws and attacks the press, gives out no information, and sends a robot out to repeat meaningless phrases at you, the possibility of doing the job you are there to do evaporates. Switching over to a 100 percent outside-in reporting is a rational and defensible choice.
On top of that when you have the attack on open government that this crew has launched, I think the press has an extra obligation to resist.
Whether the Bully Pulpit itself should be rolled back is a fascinating question. I don't know. But in a way Bush has been doing that. Replacing the politics of persuasion with assent-or-be-attacked was rolling back the Bully Pulpit. And now two thirds of Americans won't assent, and they are unpersuaded. What's the Bush team going to do: attack them?
Spending, as I do, so much time examining the journalism of the television networks, their infatuation with the Presidency and its powers has long been a pet peeve of mine.
Consider the disproportionate time spent on Presidential election campaigns compared with elections for control of the supposedly co-equal branches of government. In the calendar year 2004 the three broadcast networks devoted 2,538 minutes of the weekday nightly newscasts to the race for the White House compared with 24 minutes (yes, no typo, 24) on all of the races for control of the US Senate.
The explanations for the TV networks’ obsession with the Presidency are too detailed to be spelled out here. Suffice it to say that the institutional interests of broadcast television (to create a top-down, mass-market, nationally-unifying, symbolically accessible, visual medium) happen to coincide almost eerily with the ideological interests of the imperial Presidency.
One would not need to demand total Rollback of the Bully Pulpit in order to make a plausible case that political coverage has to change. It should be refocused to everywhere where power is truly deployed inside-the-Beltway--away from the White House towards Capitol Hill, the Federal Reserve, the Cabinet departments, the Supreme Court and, of course, K Street. It would be perfectly justified to cover this President’s spokesman less, or that of any of his successors or predecessors, without any evidence of partisan animus.
Following this logic, it would be appropriate for the press to remove attention from the White House, whether or not it had a strategy of press decertification. I suppose that was the gist of my earlier question: you appear to have arrived at the recommendation that the press walk away from the White House as the conclusion of a train of thought that began with Rollback; I think that might be the correct conclusion any way, with or without Rollback.
It reminds me of the earlier Professor Rosen of Public Journalism days (alluded to earlier in the thread). That Rosen was a republican seeking to nourish the civic discourse of the public forum. These days seem (the ones you define as beginning with Teddy Roosevelt) to belong to a post-republican mass-democratic empire where those rules of civic discourse do not apply.
You may not be stating flat-out that our emperor has no clothes. You do seem to be implying that he deserves no megaphone.
Regards -- Andrew
To me the issues are simple:
Did Iraq have a NCB weapons programmes (dormant or otherwise) in contravention of their 1991 ceasefire conditions?
Was the risk of a "state-sponsored" terrorist attack, aided by weapons from such a programme *acceptable*?
Once you answer those questions (honestly), you effectively arrive at the root of the arguments here.
As to the first question, the evidence points conclusively to the fact that Iraq did have varying degrees of near-dormant programmes. The stockpiles of weapons that many *expected* to find, have not been found. Evidence of capability of wholesale production of these weapons was also not found.
The over-all, largely-undisputed, conclusion is that the programmes were in a state of suspended animation, until such time as sanctions ended, whereupon, these programmes would undoubtedly restarted. Dual-use facilities would easily be converted to production, the knowledge and technology remained, the only thing lacking was the industrial capacity to ramp-up. A problem the collapse/removal of sanctions was to solve at a stroke.
Conclusion No.1 :
The capacity was not there, but it was just a matter of time. The Military Threat was not there, but it was just a matter of time.
The answer to the second question is by far the most pertinent one - and the most difficult to answer. It is an evaluation of risk. It requires a judgement call.
But before, leaping to conclusions that this risk was minimal - or not enough to "send young men into harms way", consider this:
Pre-911, people made risk assessments on hijacked passenger aircraft being used as weapons - and made the judgement that the risk was too remote to justify the costs associated with preventing it.
Now consider that even a clumsy attack with a NCB would have the potential to inflict casualties 1 or more orders of magnitude higher (thats 10, 100 or 1000 times higher, for those that dont see the maths), destroy an economy and have far-reaching impact around the world, the judgement becomes not only about risk, but about consequences. Can we afford to get it wrong again?
For anyone wishing to do harm to the United States (or any country), watching television on September 11 provided them with an insight into an excitingly novel delivery mechanism. No longer would they have to mount a conventional attack which would be likely be successfully detected, defended, and thereafter draw incredible retribution - all they would have to do is get a weapon into the hands of anonymous suicidal jihadi fanatics, and stand back and watch.
Now, the question is, did Saddam have such a plan? Or more to the point, COULD WE RISK IT?
We know he had plenty of links to terrorism.
And whats more, there is mounting evidence of specific links to Al Qaeda.
(but, to avoid the clamoring, we have no evidence that Saddam was directly involved in the September 11 attacks):
1) Al Quaeda operatives (including WTC 1993 bomber, Zarqawi, etc) were given shelter in Iraq. (and no-one got into Saddam's Iraq without approval)
2) Iraq met with and funded AQ in Indonesia, and provided logistical support.
3) Iraqi intelligence envoy, with Saddam's approval, attended meetings with Bin Laden and AQ in Sudan to discuss "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces".
4) Evidence of explosives and chemicals training of AQ personnel in Iraq - and various other training facilities at which AQ members were known to have attended.
5) More alarming was the fact that the Kay report mentioned that Saddams authority was eroding, and that some of his generals had started making independant contact with buyers for Iraq's weapons knowledge.
Ultimately, it cant be said that there was *NO* relationship between AQ and Iraq/Saddam. The question is how long would it take for either the weapons/materials to make their way into Jihadi hands - or of more concern, the know-how to make such weapons.
Now, granted, Iraq isnt the only source of such weapons, materials or know-how - but it can easily be argued that Saddam was the front-runner in a list of candidates most like to cooperate with such terrorists.
Many people point to ideological differences between Saddam and Bin Laden, but while there were significant AQ attacks on non-theocratic states in the decade before the 2003 war, there were none on Iraq during that period.
So, to bring this argument to a close:
We know the weapons programmes still existed. Fact.
We know Saddam was already cooperating with AQ at some level. Fact.
We know that sanctions were going to cave in in the not-so-distant future. Judgement - but pretty close to fact.
So, ultimately, its a judgement call:
Deal with Saddam now before he can get his weapons programmes going again under full steam?
Deal with Saddam now before he can get his NBC weapons/knowledge to Al Qaeda?
Deal with Saddam now? Or later?
Ultimately, the burden in making the decision for a pre-emptive war weighs on making this judgement call correctly.
And ultimately, this is where most of the rational disagreement stems from.
Could we afford to wait until attacked before retaliating? Would it be too late then?
My opinion before the war, and to this day, is that we didnt have much choice. It was either do it now while its relatively easy (in the conventional military sense) or wait until later when he has more capability.
Given the record of Saddams deception of UN inspectors from 1991-1995 and thereafter, I had no intention of taking him at his word that Iraq no longer had such active weapons programmes and weapons stockpils.
To me, there wasnt a "right" choice, just several choices between bad and even-worse.
That choice was made in 2003. Today is 2006.
Regardless of our stance on whether it was the right choice, we need to now make sure we win there. Or it was all for nothing....
You asked if this was my question: “Why would Snow be an opportunity to change the press narrative of the Bush Admistration?” Well, that’s really not my question, because I already know that answer: because they should take any opportunity they can get, directly related or not, to signal a significant change in their strategy/style/substance just to build public trust!
I thought my original questions were exactly what I meant and I think perhaps I’m just not speaking the right “Press Speak,” the jargon, the dialog the examples I could give to make it any clearer. But I’m just not able to b/c I’m not familiar with the arena. I’m sorry.
But I refuse to believe that the briefing Steve Schwenk highlighted, with his big “HA HA isn’t Bush a Fool” confirmation of the prevailing narrative down pat, is the best the American Press has to offer right now. You yourself said there are others. What would be a more healthful narrative that would move us as a country towards unity and victory, but still keep the accountability factor in place? Well, that’s it then.
Now. I suppose the words “public journalism movement” should have clued me in. Okay. So I underestimated the problems involved. Their size and scope. Oh, alright, fine. I’ll give you complexity, too. But you’re telling me you’ve been working on public journalism reform since 1988 (according to wikipedia, not that I trust that but it’s convenient)? Good Grief. Jay, tell me, please that you can at least appreciate how John Bolton feels over at the UN.
Well no wonder you get a little testy now and then.
But seriously, now. Remember. I’m not a journalist. I’m not an editor. I’m an average citizen, although maybe being a news reader today is not average. Outside of the Press itself, who would ever hear that for almost 2 decades people have been working on press reform? We just look at the product, not what goes on behind the scenes. No, in fact, it goes beyond that….we just look at the products and societal results that come from incomplete, inconsistent, and non-universal reform.
Wow. Not only did this movement die…you still have people actually fighting against this? Where’s Donald Trump when you need him?
Some links to articles I’ve read today for some general background on “public journalism” for whosever interested.
You lament the infatuation the press shows towards the president, as demonstrated during the election. But the press loves drama, and turns what should be serious events into a day-by-day, play-by-play sport, focusing on the minutiae of the race and not the issues. One reason advertising money has become so important (and consequently, so corrupting) is the press is not doing its job. Instead of reporting what candidates (or elected officials) say, we are lucky to even hear *about* what they say, an indirect way which of course injects conscious or unconscious bias. It also inevitably injects cynicism, which poisons the whole debate.
I suspect the presidential race special because the other races are regional, parochial, and don’t attract as much public interest. As a conservative, I can’t help but say that the transfer of immense power from the states and the citizenry has made Washington vastly more important than it used to be.
Of course, the press incessant focus on trivia - the daily "who’s ahead today" or "so-and-so’s strategy…" - too often replaces reporting on the important. It’s pathetic. Keep the sports reporting to sport, where I can avoid it. The MSM treats the political races the way Fox News treats the Natalee Holloway "story."
Hollywood stars, just like TV news anchors, get a very inflated view of their own importance and wisdom, because they have lots of fans and make lots of money, which causes them to be surrounded with sycophants. They don’t recognize that their importance is only as marketing brands. Once they have the name recognition, they are valuable property for that - not for their wisdom or talent. I once wrote a blog posting called "Why Dan Rather is no different from Tide Soap." Well, at least Tide didn’t get caught in a vicious lie.
It is sad when people actually give credence to Keller’s letter. It’s misleading, and beyond that, simply wrong. The NYT, in spite of his insistence, loves to set liberal agendas. Whatever their official editorial policy, their actions are highly partisan. It was good of the WSJ once again to speak truth to nonsense. Its also nice that Hewitt chimed in. The Pulitzer is already bloodstained (the NYT would do well to remember how Duranty won his Pulitzer). The prize is becoming less and less relevant. The cloistered elite award themselves for serving themselves.
Why do you applaud bureaucrats who arrogate to themselves decisions that our republic gives to the elected, now matter how flawed? Do you think that’s democratic? Miffed bureaucrats should take matters of national security break democratically enacted laws designed to preserve national security? They do this not in the honorable spirit of civil disobedience, but as anonymous cowards. Doesn’t this seem a bit arrogant, not to mention dangerous to our system of government?
I know the press just loves leakers, and today with its well trained ability to rationalize, has no qualms about publishing highly damaging information - especially if it will win a Pulitzer or sell a reporter’s book.
Well, I have to admit it. I have been called for calling people on thread drift. And indeed this pot was calling the kettle black. Oops.
Kristen: I actually started working on public journalism stuff in 1989, and I wrote my book on it in 1999, so that was ten years for that cause. It wasn't a failure, even though it didn't succeed in fundamentally changing the press.
One reason I say it wasn't a failure is that the basic warning we had for journalists--you're becoming dangerously disconnected from the public itself, and losing your authority because of it--was pretty accurate. And it only became more relevant as time went on.
Another involves the subtleties of class bias within the press fraternity itself. The people in New York, DC, LA, Boston (also Philly at one time) have a tendency to believe that if you were any good at being a journalist you would be in New York, DC, LA, Boston, Philly-- with them!
The notion that good ideas could come from St. Paul, Madison, Charlotte, Orange County, Wichita was too much for their psychic traffic to bear. They didn't believe it, and because they didn't believe it they didn't bother to dig into what the public journalists were really saying.
When nominal "peers" in St. Paul, Madison, Charlotte, Orange County, Wichita saw this happen, the scales fell from their eyes about the press elite. It could, and did, dismiss as a bad idea what it knew almost nothing about, or knew only through hand-me-down stereotypes.
This was a dress rehersal for the reaction to blogging.
It's not surprising to me that a reader and citizen would never have heard of public journalism. The movement wasn't warmly received in the press. Yet the movement was the press-- a dissident faction of it, which tended to be people in smaller markets and regional hubs, not NY, DC, LA. They warned their colleagues about the dangers of the disconnect. In effect, they started a breakaway church in journalism.
For the long run, I think the significance of those ten years, 1989-99, will grow, not shrink, because at that time there was no contest of ideas within the American press about what the American press was for, and how it could repair its connection to the public and to democratic politics. Thus, the title of my book, which was written for the long run, and pretty much ignored by the working press. (I'm having better luck with PressThink.)
But of course a lot of people to this day disagree with me about all of this. See Spokesman for Press Priesthood Laughs.
As a correspondent of mine observed, "If he found a broken arrow at the site of the Little Big Horn, he'd wave it around in the air, declaring that it's proof that Custer won.
And he wouldn't care if the president's former press secretary, the president's former CIA director, the president's current Secretary of State and the president himself all acknowledged, 'No, actually, Custer lost.'
Your correspondent has really pulled a lot together here. The fact that the publicly stated opinion of the president's former press secretary, the president's former CIA director, the president's current Secretary of Stte and the president himself don't even slow this narrative down never fails to astonish me. Whatever happened to cognitive dissonance? How does a mind following this line of thought make that entire boxcar full of contradictions just go pfft!?
It reminds me of Japanese army officers in the 1930s who were constantly organizing coups and assassinations of corrupt civilian politicians in the name of reclaiming the Imperial Way from the forces of evil, in the name of the emperor, but frequently in explicit opposition to the stated position and preference of the emperor himself!
In both cases, the appeal to obedience, authority, and tradition as a source of legitimacy is belied by interpretations of the principles and causes at stake that are so radical they patently contradict the claim to obedience and traditional authority they ritually claim for themselves.
Perhaps this is one of the lesser understood inflections of the term "neo-conservative." An avowedly conservative individual who routinely violates all known precedent in the name of adherence to and revival of "tradition." Neoconservatives are more accurately described as anarchists in "traditional values" drag.
This has everything to do with the translation of democracy from explicit sufferage to the presumption of popular assent, the "don't ask, don't tell" doctrine of popular sovereignty. The "rule of law" in the liberal sense is too corrupt (i.e., insufficiently authoritarian and unilateralist) to capture the "purity" of the anarchist's vision of the cause.
I've spent quite a few years trying to figure out how people as intelligent as Okawa Shumei or Leo Strauss and his followers can seriously believe the nonsense they spout, but I've really hit a dead end. The more information I have on the subject, the more mysterious it becomes. I've almost started to think of the requirement to trust authority and force (vs. law) implicitly as an existential inclination like a lack of tolerance for spicy food--it just doesn't seem to be something that is up for negotation.
But finally, the most impressive trick of all--like Colbert's Cirque de-Soleil guy pulling himself up by his bootstraps--is the fantasy that trusting authority and force implicitly is a form of anti-authoritarian rebellion. This loses me every time.
The tyranny of the majority as rebellion--WTF? Did your correspondent have an anecdote for that one?
The fact that the publicly stated opinion of the president's former press secretary, the president's former CIA director, the president's current Secretary of Stte and the president himself don't even slow this narrative down never fails to astonish me.
Well, that's because you're engaging in sloppy thinking - and still wallowing in the fallacy of arguing from authority.
Here's something that I shouldn't have to explain to a working journalist: Facts trump authority.
No matter who the authority is, if they are saying something that is directly contradicted by the established facts, and you're still citing the authority without pointing that out, you're wrong - and you're not doing your job as a journalist.
Facts trump authority figures. Geez, this is as basic as it gets.
And the fact remains that the CIA reports that coalition forces captured seed stocks for a biological weapons program.
Biological weapons are a WMD.
Therefore, the narrative "no WMDs were found," is false.
Nothing these officials ever said or can say can alter that underlying fact pattern.
Similarly, the fact is that two chemical munitions exploded in Baghdad in the spring of 2004, requiring two US soldiers to be treated with atropine for nerve agent poisoning.
Chemical munitions, under the terms of the cease fire and the UN Security council resolutions, are a WMD.
Therefore the narrative "no WMDs were found" is falsified twice over.
Fact: Twelve chemical 122mm rockets were discovered in Baghdad in January 2003.
Under the terms of the cease fire and the UNSC resolutions, chemical munitions are a WMD.
Therefore the narrative "no WMDs were found is falsified thrice over.
Fact: 1500 gallons of chemical precursor agents in drums were seized by coalition troops in Fallujah in 2004.
Chemical weapons are a WMD.
Therefore the narrative "no WMDs were found" is falsified four times over.
Secretary Rice, Ari Fleischer, or Jesus himself can come down and say "No WMDs were found" a thousand times, and it would still not change the fact that that statement has been falsified several times over by facts on the ground.
You guys write pretty paragraphs, and can write a catchy phrase once in a while.
But somewhere along the line, you never learned how to THINK.
Andrew, you said: “It [political coverage] should be refocused to everywhere where power is truly deployed inside-the-Beltway--away from the White House towards Capitol Hill, the Federal Reserve, the Cabinet departments, the Supreme Court and, of course, K Street. It would be perfectly justified to cover this President’s spokesman less, or that of any of his successors or predecessors, without any evidence of partisan animus.”
How true that is and how much could be gained by executing that focus and creating new narratives.
Jay, you brought up “genocide” and the use of the term as an example of another point but it connected for me how much Bush’s use of language, his un-sophistication and plain sometimes mis- speak, has been a hindrance for him, particularly when the people who cover him, and those Washington and New York “intellectuals” who are used for quotes and as sources, use it to mock him continuously.
You said, “When you know no government intends to do anything about it, there's enormous pressure within government not to call the killing "genocide." Description follows from the anticipation of no-action-taken, and excuses it in advance.”
In Break With UN, Bush Calls Sudan Killings Genocide, Jim VandeHei, June, 2005
“Axis of Evil” 2002, State of the Union --- remember that hoopla and the criticism he received for actually naming names? Oh... how provocative.
His inaugural UN speech , actually naming two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side --- Interesting “framing”, though, in that wash post article.
Even the whole “metaphor” vs. “real” debate in the last thread was interesting b/c it boils down to some people hearing him say “Real War” and thinking he means it and others hearing him say “Real War” and thinking he doesn’t mean it, that it’s actually a metaphor for something else.
Would this President be one who has demonstrated he’s more likely to be speaking in metaphor or plain speak?
I actually appreciate the real-life humor and satire found in the reaction to his total rejection of the language Hollywood and the glitter and glam “intellectuals” use. It's funny to watch. It's got the whole "novel within the novel complexity" that I find amusing.
Good stuff, Sisyphus, thank you. (Though this is all a bit too much like Albert Brooks roaming painfully around India, asking "what makes ya laugh?")
I think this is a great key for gauging response:
Satire makes a point but, as humor, it cannot be taken negatively. If satire is to be humorous it cannot be malicious.
Satirical humor, in this case, is in the ear of the beholder.
That's why the folks in the room -- all of whom were implicated -- did not think it was funny. They felt it was hostile ... toward them. And they were right.
But to many of us out here in the country, it was a fitting and refreshing remedy to an overwhelming climate of hostility that has pervaded and poisoned the national discourse -- emanating from the White House -- since August, 2003.
Hence, the humor disconnect -- or, if you prefer, the kairos disconnect.
Time's Poniewozik, nails it:
To the audience that would watch Colbert on Comedy Central, the pained, uncomfortable, perhaps-a-little-scared-to-laugh reaction shots were not signs of failure. They were the money shots. They were the whole point.
And this ...
In other words, what anyone fails to get who said Colbert bombed because he didn't win over the room is: the room no longer matters.
... is very interesting and quite topical here.
He's pointing out yet another dimension of Colbert's performance: he was using Bush's "bypass the filter" technique exactly by playing to the folks at home, not the room.
It is also something very similar to the Bush tactic of Press Rollback.
As Jay writes, "Bush changed the game on the press" by denying White House reporters any legitimate purpose. And the press never knew what hit 'em.
Likewise -- and largely because this emasculation of the press has happened without much of a whimper from the victims -- Colbert changed the game on the President and the WH Correspondents' Dinner.
Instead of a good-natured ribbing, the entire room received a dressing-down for failing to do their respective jobs.
If this is a watershed moment, it is because Colbert has seized the outside-the-beltway ground and left Administration dittoheads like Tucker Carlson (who purports to be a libertarian) arguing that Colbert was not funny because he "doesn't understand Washington."
That's it exactly, on so many levels.
Sorry, Steve, but you're still relying on the fallacy of arguing from authority rather than grounding your discussion in fact.
The notion that what someone says in Washington can retroactively alter the as yet undisputed facts on the ground as they occured in Sudan or in a bioweapons lab in Baghdad is evidence of some pretty sloppy thinking on your part.
You're firing chaff, but you're doing everything you can to avoid addressing the following established facts.
1. Coalition forces recovered biological weapon seed stocks from an Iraqi facility, according to the CIA.
2. Saddam's chief nuclear weapons architect and his lead negotiator in nonproliferations conferences personally visited Sudan in 1999, and had other contacts later (Which is why, of course, the Butler report considers the conclusion that Saddam did seek quantities of Uranium from Africa "well-founded, and goes to the truth of the second clause of the 16 words).
3. The U.S. learned of this development from British Intelligence sources (goes to the truth of the first part of the 16 words).
I hope you expected better critical thinking skills of your reporters than you've been able to demonstrate here.
To quote an old journo maxim, "if your mother says she loves you, check it out."
Did you bother to check out Rice and Fleischer? Because if your characterization of what they said is accurate, what they said does not withstand analysis in light of the facts established above, and which have not been specifically disputed by anyone here.
Your naive faith in the pronouncements of Ari Fleischer and other state officials is touching, Steve - but when the facts are so clearly established, as they are here, your faith is unbecoming for a journalist.
And I doubt you would stand for such critical sloppiness on your own staff.
Well, then again, if you didn't understand the rules of evidence or the fundamentals of logic and reasoning, maybe you would.