Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Press Wars

Eric Boehlert in Salon.com (subscription/Day Pass required) examines the Bush administration’s determination to manage the news and influence the media.

For the last four years the persistent story line about the White House’s relationship with the press has focused on the administration’s discipline, denial of access, and ability to stay on message. The Bush administration, according to this account, is expert at managing information, using secrecy, carrots and sticks, and carefully crafted talking points to control the news.

But in the wake of revelations about the aggressive and unprecedented tactics employed by the White House to manipulate the news, that relatively benign interpretation is being reexamined. Recent headlines about paid-off pundits, video press releases disguised as news telecasts, and the remarkable press access granted to a right-wing psuedo-journalist working under a phony name, have led some to conclude that the White House is not simply aggressively managing the news, but is out to sabotage the press corps from within, to undermine the integrity and reputation of journalism itself.

“Republicans have a clear, agreed-upon plan how to diminish the mainstream press,” says Ron Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who was granted unique access inside the White House in 2002 to report on the administration’s communication strategy. “For them, essentially the way to handle the press is the same as how to handle the federal government; you starve the beast. When it’s in a weakened and undernourished condition, then you’re able to effect a variety of subtle partisan and political attacks. Armstrong Williams and others are examples of that.”

[…]

The most egregious example of this almost metaphysical chutzpah appears in an October 2004 article for the New York Times Magazine, in which Suskind quotes a senior Bush advisor who dismissed reporters for living in the “the reality-based community.” The advisor said, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”…

To make matters worse, the press, out of both timidity and the natural desire by humans to be liked, has done little or nothing to stop this resculpture of journalism, and in some cases it has helped the White House, either consciously or not, by damaging itself. The CBS/Bush TANG memo story, Jayson Blair, and Eason Jordan’s resignation from CNN have all served to prove to the right wing that the beast is vulnerable, and the one thing they’re good at is exploiting the weaknesses of their opponents. In addition, they have allowed themselves to be pre-empted by the new kids on the blog. The pajamadeen, as one wag tagged us, armed with Google has taken up the cause of investigative journalism and doing the digging into the story; Woodward and Bernstein with a laptop. This gets gasps of horror from the ink-stained wretches of dead tree journalism: “where’s the accountability and the integrity of objective journalism?” they demand…until they’re caught staring at pictures of one of their colleagues from Talon News splayed in all his butch glory across gay escort websites.

Not that I have any objection to the blogosphere picking up the torch of agressive and investigative journalism in a free-wheeling and sometimes over-the-top style; after all, that’s the kind of journalism we had when this country was founded and carried on by the likes of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. If the SCLM has a problem with that, let them join the fight.