Thursday, May 29, 2008

Media Too Easy on Bush in Lead-up to Iraq War? Duh

With Scott McClellan making a major splash with his new book "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception," an often critical examination of his time working for the Bush administration, I figured I'd consider not the policy or political points but some of the media self-analysis being done. The MSM is reflecting on itself.

Of course, the juiciest bits are probably McClellan's criticisms of his former boss. He labeled the Bush administration as both mildly deceitful (he doesn't say "lie") and excessively ideological, working hard to "sell" the Iraq War to the American public via "propaganda" in 2002 and 2003.

But news reporters have started to examine their own coverage of that period. Why? From Politico's initial scoop:

McClellan repeatedly embraces the rhetoric of Bush's liberal critics and even charges: “If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq.

Indeed, it now seems clear, as Yglesias notes, that several reporters either by their own intuition or because they were "encouraged" by corporate executives, are conscious of having been too easy on the administration during that time period. Keep in mind Bush's 90% approval rating after the initial reaction to 9/11. High approval ratings mean TV ratings will be affected by how nice one is to the popular prez.

The Politico piece goes on, quoting McClellan:

“The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise. … In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

The last point is crucial. There is nothing "liberal" about the mainstream press and its coverage in this country. That it relies on things like facts and evidence make it anathema to social and other conservatives, who like feeling and emotion and tradition, and lack statistical or other bases for their hatred of gays and desire to invade countries. But our press coverage is a largely centrist affair, and I would argue, probably leans right if anything. It relies on tired narratives that the public can relate to in order to do lazy reporting on things like "socialized medicine" and terrorism. To be clear, the reporters themselves probably are well to the left of our country as a whole. The constant talk about Reverend Wright, for instance, was not the result of a liberal media except to the extent that many of the reporters, themselves liberal, were clearly nervous about conservative reaction. They know (well, they think they know) their viewers are more conservative than they are, and overcompensate accordingly, wondering aloud about how this will "play" in the Heartland.

Of course, as becomes clearer every day, this is not a conservative country, but an increasingly progressive one. That the support for gay marriage, to use a typical (if somewhat arbitrary) example, goes through the roof in the 18-29 demographic is telling.

Bush 1, Journalism 0. Good thing this game is almost over.

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