September 4, 2007
When We Try to Explain the Rout of the Press under George W. Bush
A few factors that tend to get overlooked...
Glenn Greenwald wrote a post at Salon last weekend about the “reverence for Karl Rove” among Washington journalists. He mentions my August 14th entry, Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press, in which I try to explain that savviness—“that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, ‘with it,’ and unsentimental in all things political”—is the real ideology in Beltway journalism. Rove, I said, “understood and exploited for political gain” this cult of savviness in our press corps.
Glenn’s point of departure is a recent column by Gloria Borger of US News that deserves our derision because it is nothing but horse race fluff. The column also shows undue reverence for Karl Rove’s political acumen. “When Rove speaks, the political class pays attention—usually with good reason,” she writes. Greenwald observes that “nothing Borger says is ever unique or original,” which is true. Like a lot of pundits who appear on pundit shows, Gloria Borger is an interchangeable part.
“She is merely channelling the deep admiration which her Beltway media colleagues have long harbored for Rove and his underlings,” says Greenwald. Admiration seems to him a pretty good explantion for things:
The media virtually never takes seriously any administration lawbreaking and corruption scandals because the people at the center of those scandals are those whom they deeply admire. They do not want political operatives whom they admire to be investigated, let alone prosecuted. They do not subject White House claims to scrutiny because they hear those claims from operatives with whom they identify and for whom they have deep affection. And they adopt GOP-fed narratives and blindly recite them because they are convinced that those who feed them those claims are individuals who possess the greatest insight.
I agree that the people in the press admire Karl Rove and wish they knew as much about politics as they believe he does. But I would recommend to Glenn some other factors that deserve consideration if we’re trying to explain the collapse of the press under Bush, Cheney and Rove.
The most important of these is that journalists and their methods were overwhelmed by what the Bush White House did— by its radicalism. (The subject of another Greenwald post today.) There is simply nothing in the Beltway journalist’s rule book about what to do when a group of people comes to power willing to go as far as this group has in expanding executive power, eluding oversight, steamrolling critics (even when they are allies) politicizing the government, re-interpreting the Constitution, rolling back the press, making secrecy and opacity standard operating procedure, and repealing the very principle of empiricism in matters of state. That’s not an excuse for what happened, but I think it does help explain why the press got beat so badly.
As one observer put it:
From the Kyoto accords to the International Criminal Court, from torture and cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners to rendition of innocent civilians, from illegal domestic surveillance to lies about leaking, from energy ineptitude to denial of global warming, from cherry-picking intelligence to appointing a martinet and a tyrant to run the Defense Department, the Bush administration, in the name of fighting terrorism, has put America on the radical path to ruin.
Unprecedented interpretations of the Constitution that holds the president as commander in chief to be all-powerful and without checks and balances marks the hubris and unparalleled radicalism of this administration.
And that was from one of the administration’s own: Lawrence Wilkerson, a Republican, and former top aide to Colin Powell.
I think “overwhelmed by” explains more than Glenn’s “identify with” or “affection for.” In my view the press suffered from not only a failure of nerve under Bush, and a default in leadership, but a dearth of imagination. Most of the people in the capital press—the correspondents, and their bosses— could not imagine what it was going to take to maintain any sort of watchdog role under Bush. They never dreamed that their routines could be so ill-matched to the moment.
From this point of view, the reason Washington journalists don’t “call them on it” (to use a phrase heard a lot in these discussions) is not that they identify with the GOP, or want to maintain their access, or cannot bear to lose their ticket to Washington cocktail parties, or have to obey corporate masters who naturally favor the pro-business Republicans; rather, it’s that “calling them on it” in any consistent way would require such a dramatic departure from known methods of Washington journalism—methods a Gloria Borger has mastered to get where she is—that it would effectively demand a new playbook.
And this new set of instructions could never be a consensus document because no consensus exists on what to do when people manage to gain power who are willing to go much further than others who held similar positions in the past.
The clearest example of this is the awesome phenomenon of Dick Cheney. If the Washington press were serious about about being a watchdog, speaking truth to power, or just covering the people making the key decisions it would have long ago said to itself, “we need to put as much effort into covering the OVP as we do in covering the White House.” (OVP is Office of Vice President.)
Of course it never happened— except in retrospect. And yet it had to happen if the press was to have any hope of “calling them on it.” That it didn’t happen isn’t discussed, isn’t even mentioned in press circles. Yet Cheney is routinely described—by Beltway journalists themselves—as the most powerful Vice President ever, and as extremely “secretive.” So it’s not that they are unaware of the phenomenon. But they don’t know what to do about it without overhauling rituals and assumptions that have lasted for the length of Borger’s career.
Similarly, they couldn’t imagine that in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the closer your sources were to the White House, the more likely they were to be wrong— or entirely propagandistic. It’s kind of a radical thought. And yet according to Warren Strobel, whose reporting for Knight-Ridder was more skeptical and closer to the mark, that was definitely the case. Listen to what he says:
We had people talking to us [whom I call] “professionals,” I mean intelligence analysts, uniformed military and US diplomats who were expert in Iraq, expert in the Middle East, had done this stuff their whole careers. And they kept telling us over and over again that their views were being ignored, that the process was being politicized, strange things were going on, that a separate, almost alternate government was being set up, different reporting channels, and so on and so forth. And I think what happened was — They were talking to other members of the media as well, obviously they just didn’t come to Knight Ridder, but we took them a lot more seriously. We followed very aggressively on what they had to say. And in the end we found that their version of reality was more accurate than the version of reality that the White House was trying to put out.
“A separate, almost alternate government was being set up.” Where’s the rulebook for that? The closer you get to the White House, the further you are from the reality of what the White House is doing. This was the unbelievable truth. Under these conditions, the normal routines of White House reporting actually lead you away from the story, and the longer you stick with those routines the further away you get. And yet you think you’ve done nothing wrong because you’re doing what you’ve always done.
When an error that large is made, the overwhelming tendency is to deny or domesticate it. Just calling Bush a “conservative” (when he is actually a radical) helps. It normalizes things that are quite out of the ordinary. (Wilkerson again on Bush and company: “They are radical. They’re not conservative. They’ve stolen my party and I would like my party back.”)
Which gets to another factor I want to emphasize. The press has a weakness for cyclical theories in politics. It tends to favor a view of Washington in which the pendulum may swing back and forth but the eternal truths remain true. As history this outlook is mostly junk, but it expresses well enough the view of a permanent political class that includes the press and expects to be around longer than any Administration. Republicans are in power today, Democrats tomorrow. Ideology gains for a while, but pragmatism soon takes over. Reformers may have the initiative for a while, but soon enough they will be followed by business-as-usual. And every four years “presidential hopefuls” will make the trek to Iowa and New Hampshire. What does the political class call elections? “Cycles.”
In other words, if you wait long enough, politics will assume a familiar shape. The excitements of the moment are just that— momentary. People who deep down think this way are absolutely vulnerable to a game-changer like Bush the younger. And this too was a factor in the Washington journalist’s inability to cope with the current regime.
I mention these things not because they account for everything or defeat other explanations, but because they tend to be overlooked when we try to explain the rout of the press under George W. Bush. Cheers.
UPDATE: For the Huffington Post version, I added a new top, reflecting on the President’s surprise trip to Iraq, which produced the desired headlines about troop reductions.
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had a good question for the White House press corps Monday, when the President—surprise!—flew to Iraq. Reporters on the plane wanted to know if they were trailing along for what was essentially a photo op. “Would you guys like us to come without you?” said Hadley.
Of course our palace press would never do that. It would never call Hadley’s bluff. Now it’s true that nothing is more important to journalists than their reputation for independence; still, the press is not capable of making an independent decision denying the president his spin zone with a dateline in Iraq. When the White House says we’re going, they’re going.
What individuals in the press can do — because this is within their rules — is observe the next day that other individuals, their colleagues, were manipulated into writing phony headlines the previous day. Which is what Howard Kurtz does in Wednesday’s Washington Post. (See Falling for the Spin.) We might call this “independence after the fact,” made necessary by a refusal to act against an obvious ploy.
No one on that plane thought Bush was going to make any real news in Iraq, and yet they also knew that their bosses weren’t about to send them all the way over there and get nothing from it. This made them dependent on what the President decided to say in lieu of making news. So what we got was misleading announcements about possible troop reductions when, as Kurtz wrote, “a troop reduction is no more likely today than it was yesterday.” (Even so, reporters left behind were heard griping about being “out of position.”)
Hadley was actually taunting them with, “Would you guys like us to come without you?” If he didn’t already know that the press corps was incapable of taking an independent decision, he never would have done that. He would have done what spokeswoman Dana Perino did. “There are some people who might try to deride this trip as a photo opportunity,” she said. “We wholeheartedly disagree.”
I disagree too. “Photo-op” understates and normalizes it. Bush flew to Iraq on a propaganda mission that required the press to complete the mission for him. But this was all above board in the sense that these moves are ritualized. And that’s the truly strange part. Tune into this from the President as they all flew on to Australia aboard Air Force One:
If you look at my comments over the past eight months, it’s gone from a security situation in the sense that we’re either going to get out and there will be chaos, or more troops. Now the situation has changed where I’m able to speculate on the hypothetical.
See “Would You Guys Like us to Come Without You?” (Sep. 5)
Posted by Jay Rosen at September 4, 2007 12:45 AM
either they are professional, experienced journalists who could only have done this on purpose, or they're idiots who haven't a clue.
Richard: I would recommend to you, as one thinking person to another, that there might be a flaw in your riff... "that's so stupid they must be doing it deliberately. Or they're idiots..."
You have some institutional notes missing.
What I mean is that institutions can be "stupid," even though smart people run them. People with a professional conscience, who are not hacks, but who try to live up to their ideals, can do harm without deliberating about it.
The sort of cultures that live in our big institutions, professional cultures, can, at times, pre-dispose intelligent, informed people to do relatively thought-less things. This is another way of saying that professionals always have blind spots.
Figuring out where they are and standing right there with my flash light is one of PressThink's most elementary moves. But saying, "it's a culture," that's different than saying... "shallow, unfinformed people who are beyond their depth," and it's different than saying: gotta be deliberate!
If you allow for this possibility, not as some univeral factor but an occasional and sometimes decisive one, then it is certainly possible for smart pros with a public conscience to adopt practices that are bad news for the rest of us.
Brazier and Aubrey appear to refute the thesis that the inside-the-Beltway press corps has been "routed" by the Bush Administration by citing a single, discredited, story by Mapes and Rather on 60 Minutes II. Even if all the flaws of Mapes-Rather are stipulated, that lone story is thin gruel to stand as evidence of an ethos of robust oppositional journalism that managed not to be "overwhelmed" by the White House, as Rosen puts it.
Rosen makes large claims--that the routing of the press has enabled this radical administration to expand its powers, to elude oversight, to steamroller critics, to politicize government, to reinterpret the Constitution, to make secrecy and opacity a standard operation procedure and to repeal "the very principle of empiricism."
This general list seems to me to be an attempt to make abstractions of two concrete criticisms: that President Bush has led the country into an unjust and futile war in Iraq; that he has used the rubric of his War on Terrorism to trample on human rights and civil liberties.
Apart from those two core concerns, there are plenty of other controversial decisions--some opposed by conservatives, others by liberals, some by centrists--by this administration that have not required a "routed" press in order to be successfully enacted. Examples of Bush's achievements include the expansion of the federal bureaucracy (Homeland Security), a transfer of wealth to the hyper-rich (tax cut policy), a realignment of the Supreme Court (Roberts, Alito), a partial privatization of the armed forces (Halliburton, Blackwater et al). Examples of Bush's inactions include a failure to maintain domestic infrastructure (New Orleans levees), a failure to reform entitlements (Social Security privatization), a failure to normalize the status of the immigrant workforce (path to citizenship), a failure to establish a realistic energy policy (global warming climate change).
All of these successes and failures were debated in the open, reported on adequately--in an un-routed fashion--and approved or defeated legally. Apart from military privatization, it is hard to argue that the press has been missing in action in covering any of them. Rosen's complaints are ostensibly against inside-the-Beltway journalists for their failure to hold this President accountable. Just below the surface it appears that his true complaint is directed not at the press but at the President himself.
I thought readers would be interested in this. It's an actual pool report from reporters on the plane to Iraq. A pool report is necessary when only a small number (5-6) reporters can accompany the President, usually because of space or security concerns. The pool report is considered common property and distributed to all the WH press, who can use it as if theirs. It's raw material, in other words. I split it into two posts....
Pool Report #1, 9/3/2007
POTUS VISITS IRAQ’S AL-ANBAR PROVINCE
In a trip shrouded in secrecy, President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq’s al Asad Air Base Monday. The base is in the heart of al-Anbar Province, which Bush has often pointed to as an example of the success of his troop surge in creating space for grassroots political reconciliation.
At the huge, isolated, Saddam-era base—which has a 21 kilometer perimeter and is home to some 10,000 U.S. troops—Bush was to meet with Gen. David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, Defense Secretary Robert Gates—who traveled to Iraq on his plane ahead of Bush-- Admiral Fallon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was aboard AF1.
Afterward, Bush was to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other members of the central government. Bush was to make a statement after that. Then, Bush was to follow that session with a meeting with Sunni tribal and provincial leaders who have taken the lead in battling al Qaeda and who are beginning to make political progress in this ethnically homogenous area of Iraq.
POTUS was to cap his six hours on the ground here with a short address—maybe 10 or 15 minutes—to about 750 troops, Dana Perino said. After that, we are on our way to Australia, with a refueling stop at Diego Garcia.
First a bit more about the base: It is located in northern Iraq, about 180 kilometers west of Baghdad and 12 kilometers southwest of the Euphrates river. The base was captured by
Australian special forces in April 2003, and is now a major coalition air base.
In a gaggle, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the idea for the Bush visit to Anbar was hatched “five or six weeks ago” as part of the administration’s thinking about how to approach its upcoming report to Congress on the progress of the war.
Bush’s third trip to Iraq since the start of the war was a tightly held secret at the White House, with aides told on a need-to-know basis, Perino said. Reporters in the pool were called over the weekend and summoned for individual, face-t0-face meetings with Perino or Gordon Johndroe, the NSC spokesman.
We were told to report for their pool duty not Monday morning, as had been publicly announced, but Sunday between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. Reporters were given maps of Andrews with our rallying point highlighted. We were told to come in through the main gate, not the usual Virginia Gate entrance. We also were told to tell only one editor at our respective news organizations, and not to do so by cell phone. Also, that editor had to be asked to not tell anyone. In addition, we were told that we could tell spouses about the impending trip, but no one else.
A manifest with the names of those on the trip was with a security aide at the gate, and reporters and staff drove their cars to a parking lot adjacent to some tennis courts on the base, not far from the usual press lot at the air terminal. There, Secret Service swept everything we carried and held on to our luggage, computers and other electronic devices.
We then boarded two passenger vans and were driven to the spotless hangar that houses the two planes that usually serve as Air Force One. The steps were down on one of the planes and we got on board in time to see our bags and other belongings coming up the conveyor belt onto the plane. The shades were drawn on the plane’s windows in the press compartment and we sat and waited until we felt the plane being pushed back at 7:47 p.m., about an hour after we had boarded. By 8:05 p.m., we were wheels up.
Johndroe told us that POTUS slipped out of a side door of the White House and then off the White House grounds by car—we don’t now whether it was his limo—and made his way to Andrews. Only one other car accompanied him, not his usual motorcade, in an effort to keep the subterfuge going. (Johndroe also added when asked that Mrs. Bush’s pinched nerve, which was cited as the reason for her not making the trip, is real.)
About a half hour into the flight, Johndroe came back to tell us we could go down to the baggage area and retrieve our computers and overnight bags, but he asked us to disable the wireless function while we were in flight, on the off chance that the signals could be tracked. Meanwhile, the agents held onto our BlackBerrys and phones, which we were returned to us a half hour before we landed.
About an hour after that, a casually dressed Stephen Hadley came back to gaggle, joined by war czar Gen. Douglas Lute, who wore his military fatigues, Perino, and counselor Ed Gillespie.
The White House pushed back on the idea that the whole trip was publicity stunt. Instead, they said that POTUS wanted to meet in person with not only his commanders and Iraq ambassador, but also Maliki and local Sunni leaders, whom he wanted to nudge toward more political reconciliation.
Much of this will be moot by the time I can file, and there was no transcript. But I will provide a summary and the most relevant excerpts below. The stuff in quotes is verbatim from my recorder.
Dana started by announcing that the president’s visit will involve a series of three meetings and would last about six hours. She then introduced Hadley.
“The idea for this visit arose about five or six weeks ago. We began thinking about next week and the focus on the Petraeus and Crocker testimony. The report that is due to the Congress on Sept. 15. It calls, of course, for a review of where we are on Iraq. And we began to think about how the president should prepare himself for his own role in that process. Obviously, he wants to hear from Petraeus and Crocker directly about how they assess progress on the ground, what their recommendations are for going forward. He will have an opportunity to do that meeting with them face-to-face during this trip. And, obviously, it is an advantage for him to be able to do that face-to-face. There has been a lot of talk about both the security situation and the political progress—both the issue of so-called top-down progress out of Baghdad on the national level and also bottom-up progress in places like Anbar Province. And of course this gives the president an opportunity first hand to hear from people directly involved and make his own assessments at the same time. So he will be meeting with Prime Minister Maliki who will be coming to Anbar Province. Possibly other leaders will as well from the national government…He will obviously congratulate them for the statement that was issued about a week ago indicating a way ahead among the key leaders of the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish groups, talking about how they will work with one another, strengthening the cooperation between the prime minister and the presidency council. Talking about a sub-Cabinet, if you will, to try and focus on the reform agenda and talking about the provincial law and de-Baathification and preparing legislation in other areas for the Parliament when in reconvenes this month. So this is an important development of a week ago. So the president will want to hear from them directly about how they see things going forward at the national level. He will also be meeting with those national leaders and representatives of the Anbar Provincial Council. Again, it will be an opportunity then for him to hear what has been really a remarkable story in Anbar Province.”
Hadley went on to say that a year ago al Qaeda was in control of the capital of Ramadi, the province, as well as many of the major cities. He recalled a military intelligence officer who said, “Anbar Province is lost.”
“The president saw an opportunity to turn that situation around, “ he said, adding that the president talked about that opportunity in his speech back in January. At the time, POTUS announced that he would put 4,000 more troops in Anbar to aid the bottom-up reconciliation process.
What we’ve seen, Hadley said, is tribal and local leaders coming together to work with coalition forces and Iraqi security forces and the government “in an unified front against al Qaeda and they have had pretty remarkable success.”
“The president wants to see that for himself. Wants to hear from and talk to the Iraqis that have been at the forefront of that pretty remarkable event.”
Finally, he said, it would be “useful for him [POTUS] to meet together both with the provincial leaders and the leaders from the government in Baghdad” because a critical element of success in the future will be for the “bottom up to meet the top down. For the government in Baghdad to extend assistance and support-- economic, political support, to continue to provide security support to what is happening in Anbar Province. There are indications that that is what is happening. And the president, of course, will want to hear about that and encourage it. ”
“And also for the local leaders in Anbar Province to increase their ties with the Iraqi government,” he added.
One of the things we are looking forward to is “lay the groundwork for provincial elections.”
Finally, of course, the president will want to talk to our men and women in uniform. He, of course, will want to thank them for their work and their sacrifice.”
“We think it is the kind of thing the president needs to do in order to go into the following week and make the kinds of decisions he needs to make. The president heard about this idea and instantly took to it and that’s why we’re doing it.”
Pool Report #1, 9/3/2007 (continued....)
AFTER HADLEY SPOKE, LUTE, GILLESPIE, JOHNDROE AND PERINO TALKED TO US. WTH LUTE AND HADLY JUMPIN IN AT TIMES. SUMMARIES AND QUOTES FOLLOW:
He described al Asad as a Saddam-era airbase built in the 1970s that t he coalition has been using since 2003. It is halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border, right along the Euphrates River Valley, he said.
“This is the middle of the middle of the great desert in al Anbar province, but it is geographically close to the center of the province itself. “
The troops here include 7,000 Marines and 3,000 Army. He also outlined the meetings that were noted above. The Marine air wing is headquartered here.
He said there would be a photo release from the POTUS meeting with Petraeus and Crocker.
There will be a statement from POTUS after the Maliki meeting, and at the beginning of the meeting with the tribal leaders there could be a pool spray, if it is amenable to them. After that, there’s the president are the president’s remarks to the troops.
Gillespie said the Bush statement would be on the political progress that has been achieved in Iraq. The remarks to troops will focus more on the military progress, he said.
Officials said that the president’s remarks—both in the statement and in the remarks to troops—would be piped to D.C. and to Hawaii.
Asked how he expected the visit to affect the debate in D.C. over the war, Ed said:
“It is hard to tell. I think there has been a lot of information that has been added over the course of August. Because so many members of Congress have come over to see for themselves, as well, and this will be a part of it.”
On the president’s trip, he added, “There is no substitute for that kind of first-hand experience and seeing directly for yourself and talking directly to not only to national leaders but provincial leaders. I think the information that he gets here, hopefully, will be a contribution to the discussion that we will have in September.”
Steve Hadley on the idea that while Anbar and Baghdad are better, other areas are worse off:
He pointed out that before the surge, 80 percent of the sectarian violence was within 100 kilometers of Baghdad. “There was a risk that Iraqis were losing control of their capital and all the rest of the country was watching.” So the reinforcements were needed to stabilize things in Anbar and Baghdad.
“We’re seeing the fruits of that effort,” he said.
Said the progress in Anbar has three factors: Sunni tribal leaders, the nature of al Qaeda and the surge.
“Al Qaeda was decisive here, but not the way he intended to be decisive. He was so intimidating. So brutal, that actually the Sunni leaders decided they were not going to put up with it.”
…Also, the Sunni momentum was broadened by the troops from the surge.
Can we cement the provincial progress by way of top down connections?
Lute asked before answering his own question by listing some things that need to happen:
“Enlisting the tribal security forces into the Iraqi security forces, which, of course, only the central government can authorize. This has to do with allocating the central budget—largely oil revenues-- down to the provinces.”
He said Anbar has a $107 million FY ’07 budget, which has been allocated to it. “We got to make sure that money gets down there, it gets designated and it gets spent. This is all Iraqi money.”
Anbar has asked for additional funding above and beyond the $107 million, and Lute said: “So we will be watching carefully to see if the Maliki government can fund that. These are the sorts of top-down to the bottom-up connections that Steve was mentioning.”
Hadley on why the central government is wary of empowering what are, essentially, Sunni militias:
“We have been concerned, of course, about the militias operating outside of the government. So the government is obviously concerned that we do not create or allow to be created militias operating outside of the governmental authority. “
And that is why it important for local militias “to get organized, vetted and then become part of the Iraqi security forces,” Hadley said.
“This connection between the bottom up and top down is beginning to be made. And it will be an opportunity when the president meets with representatives of the national government and representatives from the provinces for him to encourage that process,” Hadley said.
Asked what would he say to those who would call the trip a big photo-op, a big publicity stunt, Hadley said:
“One, the president, having to make some important decisions, felt it was important for him to come first hand. Hear from his commanders first hand. Hear from Prime Minister Maliki and the other national authorities. And hear from these people in Anbar who are making it go. There is no substitute for sitting down, looking him in the eye, and having a conversation with him. The president felt this is something he had to do in order to put himself in a position to make some important decisions.”
That is why members of congress have been coming to Iraq, Hadley said.
“This is an important debate and everyone needs to be prepared as best they can to participate in it.”
It makes sense to come to Anbar, because it is one of two areas of focus of the president’s January speech, Hadley said.
Asked again about it being a photo-op, Hadley said:
“Would you guys like us to come without you? Sure, we’re going to bring press along and people are going to see it.”
Asked about the group that planned and executed the trip, Hadley said himself, Lute, Gillespie, Rove, Kaplan, Bolten and Vice President Cheney all participated in conceiving and planning the president’s trip.
Asked whether al Asad is a safe place for Bush to go, Lute answered:
“This is a large base, well secured, 10,000 U.S. troops there. It is relatively secure.”
Asked whether Iraqis knew Bush was coming, Lute stepped up only to demur. “We left that part of this equation to Ryan Crocker,” he said.
Asked if the president would be safe going to a nearby town, Lute again demurred:
“I think one of the reasons we are going here is to get that kind of fidelity from people on the ground. So that is a great question to ask of one of the Marine general officers or one of the senior Marines there.”
Asked why no time for POTUS off base, Lute said: “ He is on a tight timeline. We didn’t really approach it like he is going to leave the base.”
“He has to get into Australia for the APEC meeting,” Gillespie added.
He said that Gates is on his own plane and should arrive an hour before Bush.
He mentioned that Bush had no motorcade to Andrews, and that AF1 took off after dark, with POTUS and Rice aboard. He said he did not know when asked whether there would be any fighter escorts during the trip.
Perino, unprompted, taking another swing to knock down the idea that the trip is publicity stunt:
“There are some people who might try to derive this trip as a photo opportunity. We wholeheartedly disagree. This is an opportunity for the president to meet with his commander on the ground and his ambassador on the ground while they are in fact all on the ground together. It’s also a chance for him to meet with Prime Minister Maliki and other national government leaders. And he will be able to look Prime Minister Maliki in the eye and talk with him about the progress that is starting to happen in Iraq, what we hope to see and the challenges that remain.”
“He will also be able to meet with some of the provincial leaders who have put their lives on the line, their families on the line in order to help fight against what is a common enemy which is al Qaeda. A year ago, al Qaeda was in charge of running Anbar and our Marines have made a remarkable turnaround in this area, working with these tribal sheiks. They’ve had a tremendous accomplishment. The president wants to come see it for himself, hear from them as well as thank them for all that they have done.”
“Of course, he is not going to be leaving the air base and he will be safe. But he will have the same opportunity that members of Congress who have come to Iraq throughout the month of August --as they should-- in order to be well informed before we have what everybody is anticipating to be a hearty debate about the future of this conflict. So I think it is only right and appropriate that we take advantage of this opportunity for the president to meet with these folks and, of course, we always bring you along.”
AF-1 touched down at 3:45 p.m. Iraq time. POTUS was greeted upon arrival by Ambassador Crocker, Secretary Gates, Gen. Peter Pace, Admiral Fallon, Gen. Petraeus, Gen. Odierno, Major Gen. Walter Gaskin, Brig. Gen. Timothy Hanifen, commanding general 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (forward), and Sgt. Maj. Lewis Bell, of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Andrew. That I cited only the TANG stories does not mean they are the only example of the press screwing the pooch. But it is the one requiring the least explanation and which is most likely to resist deliberate obtuseness, and about which so much is agreed--reluctantly on the left but inevitably--that I can mention it without having to argue the facts all over again.
Other stories can be obfuscated by those who know they're true arguing irrelevancies and making up facts. So the TANG story is most useful because it's most efficient when mentioned. But it is by far not the only one.
Selise. I can't give you cites because the original debate and my following it took place before the web. I read it on dead tree, in newspapers and magazines. I called institutions who opposed it--one Protestant church insisted they opposed it because its ultimate cost was unknown, so I asked for a list of other items they'd opposed on the same grounds, which was not forthcoming--and went to meetings.
There are two books which were in print at the time called "The High Frontier". One had to do with the use of earth-orbiting energy-gathering satellites, and the other about SDI. They may still be available. One, of course, does not address your question.
The UCR may have archives going back that far.
But to give you some examples of the lies: Some said it takes a day or half a day or whatever for a space shuttle to match a space station, or the Hubble 'scope which it might be repairing. True, but deliberately misleading. The point with a warhead is to hit it at a jillion miles an hour, not to match gently, which does take time. What was most telling was a conversation I had with a U-Mich physics prof who opposed it. He felt it would be dangerously destabilizing. So I asked him what about the Sovs and their ABM battle management radar at Krasnoyarsk--illegal under the ABM treaty--and if the Sovs had good ABMs, wouldn't that be destabilizing and what would he be prepared to do about it. Nothing. He was, he said, "tired". So, for whatever reason, the Sovs having this capacity was okay with him, but not us having it.
Speaking of Krasnoyarsk, when the subject arose, opponents who took the we're-just-as-bad-at-best-but-usually-worse vis-a-vis the Sovs pointed to two warning radars we were building and said those were illegal, huh? Huh? No. The treaty allowed for radars on the perimeter looking outward. One of ours was in Greenland and the other in the UK. You can look up Krasnoyarsk's location for yourself.
But the biggest lie, lasting to today, is to insist that when a test fails, the entire thing is impossible so we should stop trying. That's never said about other endeavors. And when a test succeeds, to say that it was only a test and doesn't prove anything so we should stop immediately.
The Detroit News used to have a columnist who had his own section--border and all--in the news section telling us how things were in DC. We got the real facts, by golly. His particular bete noir was SDI and he said some really silly things. One day, what he said was contradicted by a straight news article. What he said didn't work the straight news said did work. I called up his editor and told him part of the editor's job is to spike hard news that contradicts the editorials. I was being a jerk, but I was pissed.
After that, the columnist's work was on the op-ed page with a lesser implication that you can take this to the bank. Coincidence? I think not.
"The 60 minutes story was a shameful lapse of professionalism by people who thought they might have the goods proving the president a liar. Rather was shamefully unaware of how weak parts of his story were. There were multiple mistakes, lots of denial, criminal lack of awareness, unforgivable confidence when questions were raised, and on and on."
Yes; and that's what needs to be explained -- how it happens that people at the top of professional journalism could lapse from the professed standards of journalism, and persist in their lapse long after it and they were exposed.
A theory of the press as partisan left-wingers explains the 60 Minutes II story, but it doesn't explain the press' readiness to believe "important members of the Administration". Contrariwise, a theory of the press as worshippers of "savviness" explains its gullibility, but not the recent rash of frauds perpetrated by journalists on their own initiative. (The 60 Minutes II story doesn't stand alone, you know.) But a theory of the press as a conscious part of America's ruling class, admiring the techniques that perpetuate its rule, detesting the radicals who wish to deny it its rightful power -- that covers all the phenomena, subsuming both partisanship and worldliness.
"Bush the blueblood and son of a president, grandson of a US senator an outsider?"
Where'd you get the notion that a ruling elite has to choose its members by inheritance? If you go by ideas, Bush is very much an outsider.
"Brazier and Aubrey appear to refute the thesis that the inside-the-Beltway press corps has been "routed" by the Bush Administration by citing a single, discredited, story by Mapes and Rather on 60 Minutes II."
No, I'm not attempting to refute that thesis. As far as the facts are concerned, I don't object to Rosen's account; I agree that the Washington press corps has been utterly ineffective in its reporting on the Bush Administration. Where I differ from Rosen is in the moral question. He thinks, if I understand him aright, that the press ought to be a guardian of the public trust, using its power to humiliate officials as a check on the government; he reproaches the Washington press corps for its failure to do so, and condemns Bush for subverting the press as an institution. It's my view that the press as an institution is not able, and never will be able, to act as Rosen wishes it would; that its real political role is to protect the irrational biases of the American elites from a fatal encounter with reality; and that the wide belief in the press as a check on official hubris is dangerous to the republic and should be removed. So I regard Bush's conduct towards the press not as deplorable, but as a well-deserved and necessary purgative. It isn't that I want Bush to govern without public oversight; I merely think the public doesn't need the press to provide the oversight, and that the press couldn't provide any even if the public so willed.
[Rosen] thinks, if I understand him aright, that the press ought to be a guardian of the public trust, using its power to humiliate officials as a check on the government; he reproaches the Washington press corps for its failure to do so, and condemns Bush for subverting the press as an institution. It's my view that the press as an institution is not able, and never will be able, to act as Rosen wishes it would; that its real political role is to protect the irrational biases of the American elites from a fatal encounter with reality; and that the wide belief in the press as a check on official hubris is dangerous to the republic and should be removed. So I regard Bush's conduct towards the press not as deplorable, but as a well-deserved and necessary purgative. It isn't that I want Bush to govern without public oversight; I merely think the public doesn't need the press to provide the oversight, and that the press couldn't provide any even if the public so willed.
Interesting perspective, and not as far from my own as you may think. I agree that the Washington press, as currently organized, is not capable of acting as a check on the Bush government; and that is has not done so. It cannot live up to its code or do what it claims to do for the American public. I fault it for not recognizing this, for self-delusion, and for not even trying to come up with a response to the challenge of covering the Bush machine.
I don't agree that the public doesn't need oversight from the press. It does. It needs oversight from Congress, too. From independent watchdog groups outside the government and the media. And from the government's own oversight troops, like the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility. The public needs oversight conducted by itself, too; that is probably most important.
As for Bush's conduct toward the press, Michael... it is only part of a much larger disagreement he has with you. Bush believes in zero oversight of his actions-- from the public, Congress, the press, allies, party: you name it.
Loyalists can listen to him explain why he's just, good, and totally in the right. And that's his vision of public dialogue in a democracy. It's friends of Bush inside the hall, listening; everyone else in the parking lot. His treatment of the press is actually a small part of that general attitude.
This is rank speculation, of course, but I think the reason he evolved this policy... never apologize, never explain, loyalists only, no one really has the right to question what the decider does, though they may try... is that he actually has no confidence that he can explain himself. He feels he sucks at it. He also feels bad about sucking at it. So he tries to avoid it. And he reserves special scorn for those who would explain him.
The whole idea, going back almost to Magna Carta, that power, to be just, ought to give reasons for what it does, is something Bush intuitively rejects, though I doubt that he knows that he rejects it. Reason-giving mystifies him. He has the right intentions, he has the power to decide; to him that's all there is.
Regarding Bush's visit to Anbar: There was no need for the press to be there at all.
But the WH press corps couldn't allow themselves to see that they weren't needed in Anbar, for there's no important difference between the President in Anbar and the President in Washington. There are few thoughts more disquieting that the thought that your adult life has been wasted in futility.
I don't agree that the public doesn't need oversight from the press. It does. It needs oversight from Congress, too. From independent watchdog groups outside the government and the media. And from the government's own oversight troops, like the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility. The public needs oversight conducted by itself, too; that is probably most important.
Well, I quite agree that the public ought to oversee the government, that special interests should oversee its actions on their special issues, and that the branches of government ought to oversee each other. And we have agreed that the press does not oversee the government, and as currently constituted hasn't the ability.
I think the point where I don't agree with you, then, can be stated thusly: if "the press" is conceived of as an institution or profession, then its special duty must be to perform oversight in the place of the public. That is, by existing at all it conveys to the public that the duty of overseeing the government is one the public cannot discharge itself; that must be left to the "professionals" who have been specially trained for it. Yet in fact no such special training exists. A profession of journalism, separate from the public, can exist only as an adjunct to a dominant elite, and will examine that elite only so far as the elite is willing to examine itself.
In short, I trace the manifest failure of the Washington press to inform the public to, precisely, its self-concept as a corps of professionals, with a special duty to keep the public informed. It's a paradox, of course. But it refutes as unworkable the very idea of professional journalism ...
Bush believes in zero oversight of his actions-- from the public, Congress, the press, allies, party: you name it.
Again, it's not your facts I dispute; but I see another reading of them. You're presenting Bush as basically a fanatic, a man so certain of his convictions that he sees no need to listen to other people. What I see, however, is a man inept in the arts of rhetoric, who believes that other people will refuse to listen to him. And I rest this on the great reluctance Bush has shown to explain his actions in any venue. The true fanatic, in my experience, often avoids debates in which his convictions might be seriously challenged; but he isn't inclined to conceal his convictions from the public. Fanatics talk, or write, at great length; they seek out prospective converts. Bush doesn't do this -- he avoids public speaking, and confines himself strictly to prepared texts when he must speak to an audience. That speaks of a man with no talent for persuasion who needs all the help he can get.
Michael, Tim, Andrew: Thanks for one of the best flurry of posts I have seen in a PressThink thread. As I read them, I was agreeing with all of you. Michael writes:
If "the press" is conceived of as an institution or profession, then its special duty must be to perform oversight in the place of the public. That is, by existing at all it conveys to the public that the duty of overseeing the government is one the public cannot discharge itself; that must be left to the "professionals" who have been specially trained for it. Yet in fact no such special training exists.
I am with you on this. The idea of the press as a professional guardian of democracy, a Fourth Estate, a quasi-offical "branch" of government with a watchdog or truthtelling function, a permanent part of the balance of powers, doesn't hold anymore, if it ever did. Certainly it died under Bush, and given how thinly it is grounded in history, law and politics, we are probably better off without this illusion if we can strengthen two other, more foundational ideas that, taken together, might leave us with some measure of oversight.
One foundation is Andrew's idea: News! Finding out what's going on inside the government and in the surrounding world, and telling the public. What I think he was suggesting is that this idea goes along way when you take it seriously.
The other pillar comes down to free speech, as against herd thinking. We need journalists who are free thinking, open-minded, independent as a matter of character, skeptical but also willing to believe when there is evidence that belief is warranted. Basically, it's intellectual honesty and seriousness we need in journalism, the kind we expect of the best critics. But whereas in the academic world those virtues are cultivated in a peer community of scholars, in journalism the tricky part is that communication is with the public, or it ain't journalism.
If we had a press that was really good at both we wouldn't need the professional fictions that have been so devastating under Bush.
Where this discussion comes together with my other work--creating pro-am alternatives like NewAssignment.Net--is this passage from Editing Horizontally:
James Surowiecki, who wrote a book on the subject, says that “in smart crowds, people cooperate and work together even when it’s more rational for them to let others do the work.” What professional journalism says to its audience, at least in the U.S., is you haven’t the time or inclination to hang around the halls of government or go where news is happening. It’s more rational to let us, the press, do that for you. Go out there and live your life, we’ll keep you informed.
Except it doesn’t always work that way, does it?
PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
"You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new platform, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Migration Point for the Press Tribe: "Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable." More...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over: "Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
"Where's the Business Model for News, People?" "It’s remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods the future production of which is in doubt are still at the stage of asking other people, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t want to pay for our news?'" More...
National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News
This American Life's great mortgage crisis explainer, The Giant Pool of Money, suggests that "information" and "explanation" ought to be reversed in our order of thought. Especially as we contemplate new news systems. More...
The Beast Without a Brain: Why Horse Race Journalism Works for Journalists and Fails Us. "Just so you know, 'the media' has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not 'get behind' candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guy… or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "I’m just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about what’s coming on, news-wise. Don’t let your own formula (blog=opinion) fake you out. A conspiracy of the like minded to find out what happened when the national news media isn’t inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "We’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know they’re giving up when they no longer bother to inform themselves about what they themselves say is happening." More...
Getting the Politics of the Press Right: Walter Pincus Rips into Newsroom Neutrality "The important thing is to show integrity-- not to be a neuter, politically. And having good facts that hold up is a bigger advantage than claiming to reflect all sides equally well." More...
A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism "It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the 'so-called' from in front? With video!." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in." More...
Users-Know-More-than-We-Do Journalism: "It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?" More...
Introducing NewAssignment.Net: "Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't." More...
What I Learned from Assignment Zero "Here are my coordinates for the territory we need to be searching. I got them from doing a distributed trend story with Wired.com and thinking through the results." More...
If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue: "Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world." More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop: ""Realist, a classic term in foreign policy debates, and reality-based, which is not a classic term but more of an instant classic, are different ideas. We shouldn't fuzz them up. The press is capable of doing that because it never came to terms with what Suskind reported in 2004." More...
Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press: "Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userï¿½s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s important is that they put new information in. More...
Out in the Great Wide Open: Maybe you heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere." More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnï¿½t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...