Thursday, April 15, 2004

War Coverage Shifts Dramatically

I subsist on a steady media diet of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Daily Show, several British papers, and a broad variety of magazines and websites.

I am also an active participant in media, often quoted in print and occasionally appearing on television. As such, I have what might be described as an "interesting" perspective on the media.

Lately, I have noticed several changes in the media's coverage of both the White House and the Iraq War. This shift has accelerated recently, and in some instances, dramatically:

- Today's New York Time's front page shows a soldier's casket being unloaded from a plane (its one of 3 front page photos of grieving family members). There are additional photos (page A13) of all 64 American servicemen killed this past week;

- The Wall Street Journal has been critical of numerous statements of the administration. Several articles directly challenge as false facts put forth by the administration;

- At the President's Tuesday night press conference, the media asked far more difficult, uncomfortable questions than they have in the past. Though not nearly as voracious or "in your face" as the UK press, it was marked change from the kid glove treatment the President has enjoyed in the past.

- Much of the media carried explicit photos of the burned and desecrated bodies of 4 American contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah.

What we are seeing -- in real time -- is an unravelling of the administration's media management strategy.

How did so a dramatic shift come about?

Source: New York Times

As a media junkie, I trace the loss of press timidity back to one specific event: Robert Novak's outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. After years of spin and overtly politically motivated policies, that single event is where the White House "jumped the shark." I suspect it was the event that crossed the line for many professional journalists.

The Richard Clarke 60 Minutes interview was the next order of magnitude shift. When the Nation's Chief of Counter Terrorism tells the country that the President of the United States was asleep at the switch, it generates some media introspection.

Then came the worst week of the war in terms of U.S. Casualties. The Fallujah debacle added to the sense that the war was slipping from our grasp.

Graphic-The Worst Week .gif
Click to view full chart.
Source: New York Times

These three events have emboldened a cow-towed Media. No one likes to feel they have been played for a fool. Its apparent (to me at least) that the Press is perturbed over having smoke blown up their collective arses for the past 4 years.

The sharks smell blood in the water, and they are more than willing to exact some revenge.

This is extremely significant, at least from an election campaign perspective. The media has been complicit in much of what has happened during this administration. A lack of vigorous fact checking, and little challenges of outright falsehoods has enabled much of what the Bush White House has accomplished in their first term. With few exceptions (The New York Time's Paul Krugman, and the Kansas City Star come to mind), the Press has been mostly AWOL during most of President Bush's term.

How significant is this? With the Press engaging in self-censorship post 9/11, the White House was free to set the media agenda, determine the tone of discourse, and control what subjects were ripe for further exploration.

That is an enormous concentration of power.

How did we ever to get this point, in an open Democracy with a Free Press? For a perspective on that, I suggest you watch Alexandra Pelosi's 2000 campaign documentary "Journeys With George." Pelosi is the youngest daughter of California Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Minority Leader. Far from a liberal screed against a far right candidate, the documentary reveals the candidate George W. Bush as an intelligent and likable person.

If you have ever wondered how one of the least qualified (on paper at least) major party candidate for President got elected in the first place, this film provides at least part of the answer. In short, W utterly charms the pants off of the press corps.

That charm, combined with the President's initial good post 9/11 performance gave him an enormous amount of latitude with the media; W got the "benefit of the doubt." That's an edge which the White House has enjoyed and exploited ever since the terrorist attacks shocked the nation.

Do not underestimate the impact of this: It is the most significant change in the 2004 Presidential campaign. For a variety of reasons, but most especially the three mentioned above, Rove & Company has lost the "benefit of the doubt."

So far, we have seen how the President's handler's have performed since losing that edge: Not very well. The President gave a steady speech on Iraq, only to turn into a Deer int he Headlights during the Q&A portion. Is it any wonder that this was only his 3rd prime time Press Conference since taking office?

This makes a multitude of debates less likely. It means we will see less of the President in situations where he is working "without a net." Karl Rove is likely to stick to a strict script of tightly controlled photo ops and prepared remarks. I suspect he is willing to risk further alienating the media and attempt to run out the clock.

At least, that's the impression I got from watching his televised expressions Tuesday night during some of the President's less eloquent monents.

Indeed, the failure on the part of most of the mainstream press to adequately discharge their duties is what has enabled the blogosphere and sites such as this one to come about and thrive. There is a definite public hunger for a more aggressive media, complete with better fact checking and challenges to authority.

The free market despises a vaccum. If the press will not provide a vigorous fact checking mechanism, we have seen the market place step nito the void and do so instead. This is a warning shot across the bow of the mainstream commercial media, and they had best take notice of it.

Getting back to the politics of the recent media shift: Without a compliant and willing press, the White House will have a much harder time getting their message out unfiltered. Both the right and left wing echo chambers preach to the converted. But its the mainstream media that speaks to the great middle, the swing voters and the independents.

In a divided nation, this is the strategically a very important group of voters. Losing media compliancy is a potentially devasting loss in what looks to be a very close election.

Deadly Week Ends in Tears for the Fallen
New York Times, April 15, 2004

Families in Mourning


Bush News Conference Set Amid Campaign Concerns
New York Times, April 13, 2004

Posted at 12:55 PM in Media, Politics | Permalink


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I guess I was the only one on your blog not coming from a certain point of view so I apologize for assuming that other posts had been deleted. It is a shame that most people, left or right, only tend to read the blogs that agree with them.
I voted for Al Gore in 2000...and I am constantly reading liberal blogs for common sense. I am just not finding much recently. :-)
My main point is that "negative homeland press coverage" is and has always been the best way for an enemy to defeat a great and powerful civilization. It is in all the 1000 year old war manuals.
Nihilism thrives as the "rotten core" of any shiny apple...or shining city on a hill.
So, although you are correct that a democracy actually looks good when it criticizes itself...the fact of the matter is that the Tet Offensive was a military victory for SEATO (and not just the USA) and it was off the mark for our press back then, especially the traitor Walter Cronkite, to have gotten the significance of that last ditch and desperate act of the enemy so badly wrong.
The media after the Tet Offensive...snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
To be unable to admit this great failure of the press in Vietnam (for ideological reasons) to show a childish irresponsibility...a childish "we can print whatever we want"...and set us up for having a much more important victory (Democracy in the Middle East) to be snatched away from us again due to the ideological craving of the left wing to validate itself.
Look at the way the media never learned how wrong they had been about the Cold War...after the fall of the Soviet Union. Instead of admitting that they had had the wrong attitude...they published wrong-headed reports about how all the young girls in Russia wanted now to be Russia had gotten "worse" since the fall of the Soviet Union.
WIth this war...Iranian and Syrian governments were and possibly still are looking at a John Kerry victory this fall as a way of guaranteeing their continued survival. That is the issue the press should be discussing. To discuss the concept of this being a "Vietnam" is to discuss things at both a lower level than they need to be...and to blatantly ignore the fact that the current troubles are happening precisely because an enemy wants the press to be discussing things only on the "is this a Vietnam" level.
See what I mean?
What exactly did it mean yesterday when the NYTimes started showing military coffins on its front page? Time to start thinking about giving up?
It is great if you have valid critiques of how we can win this war...meaning how we can get the pro-Hamas and Pro-Hezbollah crowds to mellow out.
Mine would be to start the Iranian Revolution right now to get the minor nonsense in Iraq off the front pages.
So please tell Stirling that the "strength of a free press in a democracy" depends not only on being able to show "dissent" but also on being able to "have a clue" as to what the enemy's press agents want to have as their "spin" and talk about that rather than do the enemy's bidding.
Talk about how John Kerry hasn't been doing a bad job about telegraphing to Syria and Iran that he is committed to Iraq remaining at least a pro-American country (Kerry doesn't think democracy will work).
Talk about Michael Moore's disgusting new comments about how the Iraqis are "minutemen" in a "revolution". Exactly...90 days before we were to hand over the country to the Iraqis...they rise up against our "occupation".
Go after the Far Left right now. They are the ones breaking new ground in depravity. Bush is only doing what he said he would do. There isn't any news in that. Even the killing of the Hamas leader today wasn't news. Of course, Bush gave the OK for that. Good. Denying the "right of return" to the 1948 Palestinian descendants...was also not "news" coming from a straightforward American who isn't into "nuanced" garbage. The "right of return" needed to have been refuted by a US President back in 1950.
Bush is just making up for 50 years of lost time. When the Iranian Revolution happens (hopefully this spring) the clean-up will be fast and furious against the terror types.
Meanwhile, Germanys "Der Spiegel" (see has the new issue out calling Iraq: Bushs Vietnam. The cover is in black and white and there is no question mark after Vietnam.
Back to Vietnam: We really need a strong grassroots movement in the USA to completely overturn the way even the Republicans seem to be apologizing for that noble effort. The Vietnam War was a "mistake" only in that LBJ took nuclear weapons off the table in the 1964 election... thus giving the enemy and the military-industrial complex an engraved invitation for a long ground war. Our history books need to record and teach the way an ideological Congress sold the people of Indochina down the drain after Nixon was forced to resign on a technicality soon after winning in a 49 state landslide.
After April 1975, more than 2.5 Million people died in South Vietnam and Cambodia because the Americans were no longer there to defend them or even send the good guys military aid.

Posted by: Jennifer | Apr 20, 2004 9:33:24 PM

How Dare Bush speak to the Americans and not support the young people who fight in Iraq!!!!

Tyson Johnson III of Mobile, Ala., lost a kidney in a mortar attack last year in Iraq. (The Associated Press)

Oct. 14, 2004 -- Following inquiries by ABC News, the Pentagon has dropped plans to force a severely wounded U.S. soldier to repay his enlistment bonus after injuries had forced him out of the service.

Army Spc. Tyson Johnson III of Mobile, Ala., who lost a kidney in a mortar attack last year in Iraq, was still recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he received notice from the Pentagon's own collection agency that he owed more than $2,700 because he could not fulfill his full 36-month tour of duty.


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Johnson said the Pentagon listed the bonus on his credit report as an unpaid government loan, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment or obtain credit cards.

"Oh man, I felt betrayed," Johnson said. "I felt, like, oh, my heart dropped."

Pentagon officials said they were unaware of the case until it was brought to their attention by ABC News. "Some faceless bureaucrat" was responsible for Johnson's predicament, said Gen. Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck, a three-star general and the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel.

"It's absolutely unacceptable. It's intolerable," said Hagenbeck. "I mean, I'm incredulous when I hear those kinds of things. I just can't believe that we allow that to happen. And we're not going to let it happen."

The Department of Defense and the Army intervened to have the collection action against Johnson stopped, said Hagenbeck.

"I was told today he's not going to have a nickel taken from him," he said. "And I will tell you that we'll keep a microscope on this one to see the outcome."

'Not So Good'

Hagenbeck also pledged to look into the cases of the other soldiers ABC News brought to the military's attention, including men who lost limbs and their former livelihoods after serving in Iraq.

"When you're in the military, they take good care of you," said the 23-year-old Johnson. "But now that I'm a vet, and, you know, I'm out of the military — not so good. Not so good."

Johnson had been flying high last September, after being promoted from Army private first class to specialist in a field ceremony in Iraq. Inspired by his father's naval background to join the military after high school, Tyson planned a career in the military and the promotion was just the first step. But only a week after the ceremony took place, a mortar round exploding outside his tent brought him quickly back to Earth.

"It was like warm water running down my arms," he said. "But it was warm blood."

In addition to the lost kidney, shrapnel damaged Johnson's lung and heart, and entered the back of his head. Field medical reports said he was not expected to live more than 72 hours.

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Posted by: A. Field | Oct 15, 2004 6:07:21 PM

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