Manipulating the media
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 12 07:39:29 MST 2003
March 12, 2003|9:37 AM
Bush Eats the Press
by Michael Crowley
Sam Donaldson is long gone from the White House beat, but as he watched
President George W. Bush’s prime-time press conference on Thursday,
March 6, the wild-browed shouter they nicknamed "Leather Lungs" itched.
Mr. Donaldson—who, for all his booming caricature, didn’t hesitate to
ask Ronald Reagan about Iran-contra or Bill Clinton about Juanita
Broaddrick—winced as he saw deferential reporters trying to question a
scripted President in a rare, potentially historic media availability
that sailed into autopilot as one of the all-time stage-managed White
House electronic events.
"People ask me, ‘Do you wish you were back at the White House?’" Mr.
Donaldson said. "And I say, ‘No, not really.’" But, said Mr. Donaldson,
inflating his supersized larynx up to indignant, mega-bass proportions,
"there are moments like Thursday night when—yeah—I want to be there!"
It wasn’t just Sam. Somewhere Mike Deaver, Ronald Reagan’s media-fixing
P.R. king, was smiling. But reporters on-site were alternately
flabbergasted, flailing and embarrassed by the experience. None seemed
to have the legs to get into the game. Mr. Bush ran out the clock on his
hour of prime time, using it with the focus of Jimmy Dean selling
sausage, snubbing tough reporters while calling on buddies, issuing
one-size-fits-all talking points to all comers, giving the answers he
wanted to the questions he didn’t. He even openly taunted one
correspondent, CNN’s John King, for daring to ask a multi-part question.
"I don’t think he was sufficiently challenged," said ABC News White
House correspondent Terry Moran. He said Mr. Bush’s hyper-management
left the press corps "looking like zombies."
Mr. Bush worked from a podium-pasted pre-determined list of acceptable
reporters to call upon. USA Today’s Larry McQuillan, on the White House
beat since Jimmy Carter, said Mr. Bush’s homeroom-proctor sheet of
preferred questioners managed to insult those didn’t appear on it—and
make those who did seem like Karl Rove’s brown-nosers, the camp kids who
got the best desserts. "The process in some ways demeaned the reporters
who were called on as much as those who weren’t," Mr. McQuillan said.
"They completely played us," added a correspondent for a major daily
newspaper. "What’s the point of having a press conference if you’re not
going to answer questions? It was calculated on so many different levels."
But to what extent where the reporters themselves to blame? Although
some asked reasonably pointed questions, most did with a tone of extreme
deference—"Mr. President, sir …. Thank you, sir …. Mr. President, good
evening"—that suggested a skittishness, to which they will admit, about
being seen as unpatriotic or disrespectful of a commander in chief on
the eve of war. Few made any effort to follow up their questions after
Mr. Bush’s recitation of arguments that were more speech-like than
extemporaneous: Saddam Hussein is a threat to America, Iraq has not
disarmed, Sept. 11 must never happen again.
It was a missed opportunity. From the media’s perspective, the purpose
of a press conference is to hold a President accountable, to see him
work on his feet, to understand his priorities, to give viewers insight
into his character, to make a little news, or to allow the President to
speak to the people in a responsive and human voice that a formal
address doesn’t allow.
That didn’t happen. On Thursday night, Mr. Bush reinforced an image of a
scripted man on a tightrope who followed his handlers’ cue cards:
Here’s a synopsis of the event:
Question: Why not give Iraq more time to disarm?
Bush: "This issue has been before the Security Council … for 12 long years."
Question: Why don’t our allies want war?
Bush: "Saddam Hussein has had 12 years to disarm … Saddam Hussein is a
threat … Sept. 11 changed the strategic thinking … Sept. 11 should say
to the American people that we’re now a battlefield …. "
Question: Why has world opinion turned on you?
Bush: "Saddam Hussein is a threat … 12 years of denial and defiance …. "
Question: How is your faith guiding you?
Bush: " … the tragedy of September the 11th … the lesson of September
the 11th …. "
Question: How much will war cost?
Bush: "Three thousand people died."
And so on. One suspects the reporters could have informed the President
that his daughters had appeared on Girls Gone Wild! and still gotten
some answer interchanging the lessons of 9/11 and Saddam’s years of
defiance. Former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart later called the
event "a perfectly acceptable performance for a re-election press
The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org
PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.
More information about the Marxism