Sunday, June 12, 2005

Party, like it's 1974 

Every war a Vietnam, every political controversy a Watergate. Today, it's Frank Rich's turn to join the "wish it were 1974 again" crowd of nostalgics who are scratching their heads and wondering that if the media had managed to bring down a president once, why can't they do it again? For this crusading impotence of our newsrooms' best and brightest, Rich, predictably, ends up blaming the Bush administration:
The current administration, a second-term imperial presidency that outstrips Nixon's in hubris by the day, leads the attack, trying to intimidate and snuff out any Woodwards or Bernsteins that might challenge it, any media proprietor like Katharine Graham or editor like Ben Bradlee who might support them and any anonymous source like Deep Throat who might enable them to find what Carl Bernstein calls "the best obtainable version of the truth."
Nixon's special counsel Chuck Colson, according to Rich, had run a "ruthless program of intimidation" and "exulted in bullying" the media to obtain a better coverage for his boss, but he had nothing on the Bushies, who apparently have totally succeeded in turning the fourth estate into "lapdog news media". You read it first in "The New York Times".

The evidence? Well, the 2002 Downing Street memo (the left's latest smoking gun, which as Jim Robbins wrote "simply contains the impressions of an aide of the impressions of British-cabinet officials of the impressions of unnamed people they spoke to in the United States about what they thought the president was thinking", or "hearsay thrice-removed") only rated 2 out of 940 questions over 19 White House press conferences. And overall, the media failed to "got the goods on the biggest story of our time: the false intimations of incipient mushroom clouds peddled by American officials to sell a war that now threatens to match the unpopularity and marathon length of Vietnam." This might have required the media to do better job than every intelligence agency in the world, including the French and the Russian ones, but Rich obviously has pretty high expectations of today's journalists. Oh, and the coup de grace of his argument about the media lapdoggyism is that no one mentioned Colson's criminal record when he was being interviewed by the networks in the aftermath of the Deep Throat self-unmasking.

Well, you might ask, what possible dastardly tactics and terrifying weapons of mass distraction have the Bush Administration used to make TV news producers whitewash Chuck Colson's bio? Well, you see, the Bushies are very skillful at brow-beating and wrong-footing the media. For example, they "slimed and intimidated Newsweek by accusing it of being an accessory to 17 deaths for its errant Koran story" (which accusation, as you know, had chilling - chilling! - effect on the media), and then cleverly released the official Pentagon report into the incidents too late on Friday for the nightly news to cover it. Never mind that far from being "buried in the Memorial Day weekend's little-read papers", the media still somehow managed to run amok with the story, crying desecration vindication, despite the fact that the report clearly disproved the original lurid "Newsweek" accusations, or that it produced only five documented and rather dubious cases of mishandling Korans, and noted that the prisoners themselves desecrated the Holy Book at a rate three times that of the guards.

But that's just one example of how the sinister Bush cabal silences the media. The conspiracy's tentacles are many and can reach everywhere, in quite a terrifying manner:
Though Nixon aspired to punish public broadcasting by cutting its funding, he never imagined that his apparatchiks could seize the top executive positions at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Nor did he come up with the brilliant ideas of putting journalists covertly on the administration payroll and of hiring an outside P.R. firm (Ketchum) to codify an enemies list by ranking news organizations and individual reporters on the basis of how favorably they cover a specific administration policy (No Child Left Behind). President Bush has even succeeded in emasculating the post-Watergate reform that was supposed to help curb Nixonian secrecy, the Presidential Records Act of 1978.
If you're still wondering how all these deeply subversive and highly explosive tactics (Corporation for Public Broadcasting? Ketchum? Presidential Records Act? Good God, how low can Bush go!) have managed to turn the largest media sector in the world into lapdogs, then you're obviously not as smart as Frank Rich. I'm certainly not.

In the end, one doesn't know whether to laugh, cry of just shrug at the complaint that the American media is not liberal enough, or rather that it's the Bush Administration's fault that it is not liberal enough. Post-Watergate, everything is a conspiracy for people like Rich. But on the Grassy Knoll there is no mysterious gunman aiming at the media; it's the media, shooting itself in the foot.


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