David Gregory Shows Why He's The Perfect Replacement for Tim Russert

Several months before he was named as moderator of Meet the Press, David Gregory went on MSNBC
to categorically reject Scott McClellan's accusations that the American
media failed to scrutinize the Bush administration's pre-war
claims. Gregory vigorously praised the job which he and his "journalistic" colleagues did in the run-up to the Iraq War -- the period which http://www.salon.com/opinion/kamiya/2007/04/10/m

Several months before he was named as moderator of Meet the Press, David Gregory went on MSNBC
to categorically reject Scott McClellan's accusations that the American
media failed to scrutinize the Bush administration's pre-war
claims. Gregory vigorously praised the job which he and his "journalistic" colleagues did in the run-up to the Iraq War -- the period which Salon's Gary Kamiya called
"one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media."
Proclaimed Gregory, with a straight face: "Questions were asked. I
think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged
the President. Not only those of us in the White House Press Corps did
that, but others in the media landscape did that." Most revealingly of
all, Gregory said:

I think there are a lot of
critics who think that . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is
bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do
our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role.

Indeed.
Perish the thought that a reporter should point out when government
officials are making "bogus" claims and are lying a country into a
war. That is "not their role," says the New Tim Russert (and,
unsurprisingly, the Old Tim Russert wholeheartedly agreed). I
don't know whether Gregory's public advocacy for a meek and polite
press corps that would never be so rude as to point out when government
leaders are lying is what sealed the deal for his new promotion to Meet the Press -- a show which centrally depends on having powerful politicians know that they can come on and, as Dick Cheney's top communications aide put it, "control the message." But I'm quite sure that it didn't hurt.

To see what Cheney aide Cathie Martin meant when she explained that Cheney knew he could go on Meet the Press
and "control the message" -- and to see in action David Gregory's model
of sycophantic, unchallenging "journalism" -- one could do no better
than to examine Gregory's embarrassingly deferential "interview" yesterday
with Israel's Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni. It's a perfect template
for how our American press corps (with some rare exceptions) functions.

Whatever
one's views are on Israel's attack on Gaza -- pro, con or otherwise --
there's no denying that it's an extremely controversial matter -- at
least it is in the world that exists outside of mainstream American
political discourse. Even within Israel, there are scathing criticisms
of what the Israeli Government is doing -- on both strategic and moral
grounds. Yet none of those objections made their way into
David Gregory's interview of Livni. He didn't present her with a
single argument against the Israeli attack. He didn't challenge a
single word she uttered. He was even more sycophantic with her than
the average American journalist is with the average American political
leader.

Here, in unedited and verbatim form, are all of the
"questions" asked by Gregory of a top political official of a country
that just launched a brutal and highly controversial military assault
-- one which, given the integral U.S. support for Israel, will have a
profound effect on American interests:

  • How long will the offensive last?
  • A lot of people are watching what's playing out, this air assault, and wondering why now?
  • What is Israel's goal right now? Is it to re-establish the cease-fire, or is it to invade Gaza and remove Hamas from power?
  • Foreign
    Minister, aren't you making the case for pushing Hamas from power? The
    cease-fire, according to Israel, simply hasn't worked. It hasn't
    stopped the bombing of Sderot and Israel in the southern areas. So only
    the replacement of Hamas by Fatah, by more moderate leaders, appears to
    be the only answer.
  • Is it acceptable to Israel for Hamas to remain in power in Gaza?
  • I
    know you were in Egypt this past week, you met with Hosni Mubarak. What
    did you hear in the course of those meetings--the foreign minister of
    Egypt has criticized Hamas--and what is your message to the Arab world
    this morning?
  • The
    Bush administration has been supportive of the campaign so far in Gaza
    but has warned Israel about avoiding civilian causalities. What kinds
    of consultations have you had with Secretary of State Rice?
  • But
    if the goal is to change realities on the ground, to change the
    behavior of Hamas, how much international condemnation is Israel
    prepared to accept and at what level of civilian casualties?
  • Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, thank you very much for your time.

Actually, the only time Gregory challenged her at all was, in essence, to demand that Israel take even more aggressive action
than they're talking already. He was essentially pushing her into
invading Gaza and deposing its democratically elected government
("Aren't you making the case for pushing Hamas from power? . . . . only the replacement of Hamas by Fatah, by more moderate leaders, appears to be the only answer"). It was almost as though his goal were to make Israel appear excessively restrained and pacifistic.

That behavior is quite redolent of the way in which Gregory "challenged" George Bush before the Iraq War. As Oliver Willis pointed out
after Gregory proudly heralded the "tough questions" the media asked of
Bush in the run-up to the war, here was the initial and follow-up
questions Gregory asked of Bush at the March 6, 2003 Press Conference -- a highly scripted and deferential affair that was held less than two weeks before the U.S. attacked Iraq:

Q
Mr. President, good evening. If you order war, can any military
operation be considered a success if the United States does not capture
Saddam Hussein, as you once said, dead or alive?

Q Sir, I'm sorry, is success contingent upon capturing or killing Saddam Hussein, in your mind?

In other words: are you going to get or kill Saddam? Don't you have to? Those
are the tough questions which Gregory posed to Bush at his Press
Conference immediately before the American attack on Iraq. As pitiful
as those "questions" were, they actually look adversarial compared to
the reverent, P.R.-hack-like chat which Gregory yesterday hosted with
Livni.

There are good reasons why the media's reverent 2003
treatment of Bush matches its 2008 deference to Israeli claims. In
2003, claims about Iraq from the Bush administration -- just like
claims from Israel now -- were not aggressively challenged or disputed
in good company; their pronouncements were mandated orthodoxy, pieties
of the highest order. And the one thing our media stars are good at
doing -- what, above all else, they're programmed to do -- is to
amplify and pay homage to prevailing establishment pieties. To do
otherwise, as Gregory revealingly explained, "is not their role."

UPDATE: Do you think David Halberstam would have done this?

On a mostly unrelated note, this sort of emotionally manipulative nonsequitur
from George Mason University Law Professor (and Israel
obsessive) David Bernstein -- "Boy, am I already getting tired of
hearing [complaints about Israel's 'disproportionate' response] . . .
Hell, I'll personally pay for Glenn Greewald's
Sderot vacation" -- is the kind of irrational swill that typifies
discussions of Israel. That "argument" is the same as saying to
someone who objects to Hamas' suicide bombs or rockets: "I'll
personally pay for your Ramallah or Gaza City vacation, so you can see
what it's like to live imprisoned by walls, under a 40-year foreign
occupation, with blockades that cause your children's growth to stunt
and to be denied basic nutritional and medical needs."

The fact
that the people of Location X are suffering doesn't mean that anything
and everything their government directs to the general vicinity of
those inflicting the suffering is justified. Haven't we learned that
lesson over the last eight years? Conversely, to object to the actions
taken by a government (e.g.: torture, warrantless eavesdropping, attack
on Iraq) is not to deny the legitimacy of the original grievance in
response to which those measures are ostensibly undertaken (e.g.: the
9/11 attacks). Isn't that basic by now? Those who haven't learned
that lesson have no basis ever for objecting to war criminality, or
excessive or reckless military actions, or any other means employed by
those with legitimate grievances.

UPDATE II: Many
of our nation's most grizzled super-tough-guy cheerleader/warriors --
the ones who insatiably crave those sensations of vicarious power from
play-acting the role of warriors from a nice, safe distance -- are
responding to my post of yesterday by beating their chests, swaggering around, and citing General Sherman to explain (in their best John Wayne voices) that War is Hell. All good warriors (like them) know that anything and everything done to those who "start a war" is justified.

Of
course, if you ask Hamas why they blow themselves up in pizza parlors
and shoot rockets at homes in Southern Israel as a response to the
40-year Israeli occupation and recent blockade, they'll tell you the
same thing. If you ask Hezbollah why they kidnap Israeli soldiers and
lob rockets into Israel in response to Israeli incursions into Lebanon,
they'll make the same claim. If you ask Al Qaeda why they fly
civilian-filled airplanes into civilian-filled buildings in response to
American hegemony (and endless military actions) in their region of the
world, they'll explain that jihad is hell and anything done to advance
it is justified. You'll hear the same thing if you ask Russians why
they destroyed Chechnyan residential blocks, or if you ask Serbian
leaders about their genocide, or if you inquire with Rwandan tribal
leaders about the brutality of their attacks, or if you ask virtually
any other war criminal why they had to resort to such extremes.

In comments, sysprog points out that Professor Bernstein is either ignorant of or "pretending not to know the difference between jus ad bellum (justifiable war) and jus in bello
(just action in war)." That distinction, at least since Nuremberg, has
ostensibly been central to Western justice. But just like Hamas
and Al Qaeda, many blindly loyal cheerleaders for any American and/or
Israeli war -- as the last eight years conclusively demonstrated --
simply don't believe in it. It's clarifying of them to say so this
explicitly.

UPDATE III: Jane Hamsher has some interesting observations
about how (and why) the rules inside the U.S. for discussing Israel are
changing. Philip Weiss, who has been writing for years about the role
of Israel in American politics, largely agrees with Jane's views.