The Washington press corps are sore. The White House is not playing nice
anymore. Senior communications staffers are taking swipes at talk-show hosts
and news reporters and warning Americans to watch their p's and q's.
Administration high-ups are refusing to talk to their critics, spreading
untruths to the press. Worse, the Bush team is telling the world that
they're going to lie to the public. What's a reporter to do?
"The White House has developed a particularly tense, mutually distrustful
relationship with members of the news media," reported Salon today.
Last week NBC Nightly News host Tom Brokaw got his knuckles rapped for
interviewing former President Bill Clinton. Salon reports that the Bush team
called up to complain that the Sept. 18 interview would detract from
Bush's war. (They needn't have worried. Clinton only said he supported GW and
urged others to do the same.)
This week, press secretary Ari Fleischer snapped at "Politically Incorrect"
host Bill Maher. Maher had disputed the President's characterization of the
Sept. 11 hijackers as "cowards" and suggested what was cowardly was to launch
cruise missiles on targets from 2,000 miles away. Fleischer denounced comic gadfly
Maher, warning news organizations and, more ominously, all Americans, that
they "need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time
for remarks like that; there never is."
And then there was that Air Force One incident, in which Fleischer and Bush Senior
Advisor Karl Rove tried their best to explain why Bush spent most of Sept.
11 flying away from the danger in D.C. The two insisted that the President's
airplane was a target of terrorists. By September 13, reporters were raising
questions, because no law enforcement, military or Secret Service personnel
would confirm the Air Force One threat allegation. This Tuesday, CBS News
finally reported that the story was inaccurate -- the result of a
"misunderstanding" by intelligence, the Bush staff said. An AP account said that
"administration officials say they now doubt whether there was actually a
call made threatening the President's plane."
"Why the lies?" Asked a seemingly shocked Andrew Sullivan on Wednesday, referring
to the Air Force One to-and-fro. "Were these people spinning at a time of
grave national crisis? And I thought the Clinton era was over."
A better question would be, Why the surprise?
The Bush team make no apologies for lying. In his address to the nation, Bush
promised "covert operations, secret even in success." One military official
told the Washington Post Monday that because "this is the most
information-intensive war you can imagine ...We're going to lie about things."
If reporters had been more distrustful last November, we might not be dealing
with this President at all. There wasn't a war underway a year ago, when the
Bush campaign elbowed to power on a lie-fest. Let's not even talk about
Florida. Review the debate tapes. Today's White House resident misrepresented
his record on hate crimes and health insurance. He lied about his tax plan
and his plans for the
environment. It has never been proven that he didn't lie about his national
The Bush team aren't unusual. Politicians are in the business of persuasion
-- call it spin, call it wool-pulling. It's what they tend to do to attain
their goals (goals they believe in, after all) especially when they can get
away with it, which for a few decades at least, they mostly have.
D.C.'s most powerful reporters have got into the habit of enjoying a cozy
closeness with their sources. Marrying them, even, on occasion. Now, reports
Salon's Jake Tapper, "many members of the media," are decrying the White
House staff's "unnecessarily adversarial attitude." The Bush team are blowing
their cover. Not only lying, but telling the public they're going to lie.
What's a reporter to do? S/he may have to report. You know, go digging,
instead of the usual: he said/she said stenography. It's likely to do nothing
else but put Americans in more danger, but the Bush war could accomplish
something useful if it revives the adversarial relationship between
politicians and the press.
Journalist Laura Flanders is the host of Working Assets Radio and author of "Real Majority, Media Minority: The Cost of Sidelining Women in Reporting." Her Spin Doctor Laura columns appear daily on WorkingForChange. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2001 Working Assets