March 8th, 2003

flavored with age

On bended knee

I've discussed this elsewhere, but in a time of great national division -- which this, in the wake of a controversial presidential election and a highly unpopular rush to war, certainly is -- it's of vital importance that the press fulfill their role as questioners, as skeptics, as people who act as, if not bringers of truth (truth being an awfully subjective thing), at least presenters of more than one interpretation of truth. It's also of vital importance that the leadership of the nation not be seen as dismissive, as arrogant, as unwilling to communicate with the people.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what's not happening right now.

The press, reverting to the role it began to take on during the administration of Ronald Reagan (the president our current leader most resembles), has bowed its head before the government and with terrifyingly few exceptions seems content not only to report uncritically what it is told by organs of official power, but also to ignore news that is widely reported elsewhere. As this report indicates, of 414 network TV news stories on Iraq between September and February, all but 34 originated from the White House, Pentagon or State Department. Meanwhile, stories widely covered in the press outside of America -- stories about the widespread opposition to war, about demonstratable lies by the U.S. government, about troubling questions regarding the 9/11 attacks and the war on terror -- go virtually unreported in the American press.

Additionally, the President -- already alienating our closest allies with his seeming belligerance and unilateralism -- appears to be increasingly distant and remote from public accountability. He and his handlers perceive his role as that of, in a best-case interpretation, an on-message CEO, and in a worst-case scenario, a dictator: to appear on rare occasions, deliver a message from which there can be no deviation or interpretation, and take as few questions as possible. President Bush has held a mere eight press conferences since taking office -- by far the fewest in presidential history since the tradition of public press conferences was begun after WWII. His father had held an astounding 59 by this point in his presidency; LBJ had held 52, Carter 45, Bill Clinton had held 30, and the short-termer Ford had held 37. Even Reagan and Nixon -- who loathed the press -- had held 16 by this point, double the number that Bush has had.

In a time of crisis, the public conscience is eased to believe that the press is acting as their proxy in questioning the actions of the government, and that the president is making himself available to that proxy. The public conscinece can't be too much at ease these days.