April 14, 2004

Open Letter to the Press

Dear White House Press Corps:

Yeah, hi. Look, I know you're very busy people, what with all the sitting around and being disdainful of the president while simultaneously begging for 30 seconds of televised self-aggrandizement in the form of a "Question," but could we talk?

See, it's come to my attention lately that we have a problem. No one likes you. It's not necessarily the poofy oversprayed TV hair or the overly self-conscious way you dress or the way that you drop your voice an octave or two in order to sound more "steady and trustworthy;" no, the problem goes much deeper than that.

It's that when you are presented with the opportunity to ask the current President of the United States actual questions about the way Iraq and related foreign policy will be handled, all you manage to pull out of your collective asses is "Twelve-step Lite for Recovering Baby Boomers." And that, my friends, is where you lose a large segment of the population. You know, the segment that DOESN'T still think it's 1970? The segment that kinda thinks that baby boomers are a whining bunch of bastards who can't get past the fact that they're no longer 18 and burning bras and draft cards? Yeah, that segment? Bigger than you think it may be. Just sayin'.

So maybe next time you interview the Prez, you could go a little lighter on trying to make him into Nixon or a guest on Jerry Springer and a little heavier on the, you know, actual questions? Fishing for apologies and headlines is just SO 1994. Totally.

Big Arm Woman

Posted by Big Arm Woman at April 14, 2004 12:30 PM

I have a theory that President Bush deliberatly and maliciously schedules his summer vacation for the month of August, at the Crawford ranch to torment and mess with the heads of the press corps. I mean--- August, in TEXAS! The nastiest, most miserable, and hottest part of the year. All those pompous, blow-dried j-school blivets are... stuck in Waco and Crawford, just hanging around...
(short pause while I snicker, heartlessly)
Nothing to visit except the Dr. Pepper plant and the Branch Davidian site, no one to talk to except guys in gimme hats and cowboy boots, and everything to eat is either fried or barbequed...
(Another short pause to laugh, hysterically)
Oh, he is messing with them, I am sure of it. Small-town, central/West Texas in August... they suffer, intensely, and it couldn't happen to better people.
(Exit stage left, still laughing)

Posted by: Sgt. Mom at April 14, 2004 12:45 PM

They're playing soap opera to a soap opera audience. Women. Not all women, but enough to support advertisers. There's no other targetable audience similar enough to each other to support network news.

So you get soap opera. Stuff has to tie into eternal human dramas, and so it does. It's an audience problem. It's a Princess Di orgy, but with no princess.

Powerful man goes bad. How like my own life!

Nothing is ever resolved, and everything relates.

The reporters are not actually stupid; just selected for the task.

Figure out how to make money with objective news and you'd have objective news.

Journalism professors have tenure and don't have to sell except to idealistic students. Actual news divisions have to sell audiences to advertisers. They're not the same field. There's a pretense of serious news (``you are interested in serious news'') as part of flattering the trailer park women who are their audience, is all.

Someday it will be possible to say without controversy that women and men are different in more than mood swings and being pigs; and some of the strengths unique to women (satisfaction with complexity so that resolution is not an action item every second) are also weaknesses in other contexts; so trailer park women don't take themselves seriously all the time. Then the serious news posture would disappear, and something else would be on the airwaves.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at April 14, 2004 01:56 PM

Sgt. Mom: Absolutely! Bush Sr. vacationed in Kennebunkport, and Clinton at Martha's Vineyard. Bush Jr. prefers rubbing the press's collective noses in Texas at its most uncongenial. It's one of the things that make me admire the guy.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak at April 14, 2004 03:53 PM

> being disdainful of the president
Heaven knows that's only allowed when the president is a Democrat. Impugning a Republican? How totally out of the question.

>begging for 30 seconds of televised self->aggrandizement in the form of a "Question,"
Well in a press conferences questions are kinda expected, you know? Even if it's sort of unfair to ask them to an inarticulate halfwit. And given that W is so chicken that he only gives a couple of them a year, you do kinda have to, you know, try really frigging hard to get a question in.

>poofy oversprayed TV hair or the overly self->conscious way you dress or the way
Although when Dubya does all of that it's just fine, ain't it?

>when you are presented with the opportunity to >ask the current President of the United States >actual questions about the way Iraq . .
What about this? "Q Thank you, Mr. President. What's your best prediction on how long U.S. troops will have to be in Iraq? And it sounds like you will have to add some troops; is that a fair assessment?"
Oh forgive me, that question is really about Norway. Iraq is just meant to be a metaphor

>the Prez, you could go a little lighter on >trying to make him into Nixon
If they're trying to make him into Nixon they're being far too kind to him.

Posted by: Chris Martin at April 14, 2004 04:05 PM

Far be it from me to defend the blow-dried bozos of TV "news."

That said, didja happen to notice how even when they asked him the softball "How does it FEEL?" questions, the president of the United States was utterly incapable of answering? He'd lose track of what the question was, trail off into silence, then beat a hasty retreat to an obviously rehearsed talking point that had little or nothing to do with the question. The transcript captures some of the flavor, but you really had to watch and listen to understand just how utterly lost the man was.

Also? He appears to have no plan whatever for fixing the mess in Iraq. He listed a lot of things he'd like to see happen but said nothing about how he intends to bring them about. If he has a plan, he sure didn't discuss it last night, except to say that he had one. (Shades of Nixon's "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War?)

If I were a Republican, I'd be worried. Oops. Wait. I AM a Republican. Have been since 1978, in fact.

Posted by: Lex at April 14, 2004 06:54 PM

Uh, Chris? Can you tell me where I said that being an asshole in a press conference was okay if the president was a Democrat? Or that W's poofy hair was fine? Or really, anything else that would warrant that sort of response from you?

I got irritated last night after the, what, 4th or 5th question out of a scant 15 that seemed to be trying to get the President of the US to break down sobbing and whip out the hair shirt. It's not the job of the freaking press corps to manipulate the news, although this opinion of mine does seem to be in the minority nowadays.

So sorry I seem to have touched a nerve, there, guy.

Posted by: BAW at April 14, 2004 10:16 PM


What you said about the White House press corps is correct. Over the past TWO decades, it has become increasingly fluffy and "touchy-feely."

What offends me most about reporters (and I use the word VERY lightly here) is that they no longer state facts of what was said or spoken, but present interpretations.

Initially, it was a shock to hear a report about something that I had witnessed or heard "straight from the horse's mouth" when the content wasn't even vaguely accurate. Now I understand that the facts are delivered based on the reporters point of view and am saddened at the lack of objectivity.

Unfortunately, you appear to be a victim of this tendency on your own blog. You present a treatise on one topic and in a subsequent report (or reader comment), the facts are bent to fit an opinion.

Which I guess actually proves your point.....

Posted by: di at April 15, 2004 08:50 AM

Di -

Well, yeah, but the distinction here is that this is a blog, as in, a forum for my opinions. If I were passing these writings off as some sort of unbiased, objective reporting of events it would be one thing, but I'm not.

Blogging is by definition personal and opinionated. I hold reporters, unless their work is featured on the op-ed page, to a different standard. On a blog, you can have a back and forth about a subject. The nature of TV and print reporting tends to stifle this sort of thing, so unless you're a devotee of the Letters to the Editor page, you get one POV, which I think should be as unbiased as possible given the strictures of the medium.

Is your point that I don't have an argument because I'm as opinionated as the journalists I'm questioning? If so, it's a bit of a false dichotomy.

Posted by: BAW at April 15, 2004 10:25 AM

You didn't touch a nerve. I was just being sarcastic. I can tell you're a fan of Bush so even if he bombed half the U.S. you'd probably be pissed off if reporters asked him pointed questions about whether he felt sorry for doing so.

Incidentally the reporters weren't manipulating the news. Take this:
"Mr. President, before the war, you and members of your administration made several claims about Iraq: that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets and flowers; that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction; and that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction but, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, 'We know where they are.' How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong?"
Members of the administration did in fact say all of things and they should feel sorry. Of course they're all too arrogant to admit they were wrong, which speaks for itself.

Posted by: Chris Martin at April 15, 2004 10:38 AM

Chris -

My feeling on the whole "Ooh, they're too arrogant! They should apologize!" thing is twofold:

1. A press conference during wartime is not the time or place for it, particularly in front of a hostile audience, which the press is. That's a lose-lose politically. We can argue about whether a politician in a close re-election race should "do the right thing, politics be damned" but that doesn't change the political reality of the situation.

2. The phrasing of the question itself is somewhat manipulative, in the "when did you stop beating your wife" (to beat a cliche to death) way. It's the slant that just pisses me off. Yeah, all of that's true, and it's half the story. I want the whole story, questions like these, but without such the overemphasis on blogs. When the content of a reporter's one and only question for the president is "I guess I just wonder if you feel you've failed in any way?" I think the whole thing has gone off the rails. What is this, Barbara Walters? Cue the soft focus and tissues!

FWIW, I felt the same irritation over the whole Monica thing, and my estimation of Clinton only dropped when he turned into Captain "I feel your pain" Apology Man. Guess I just like a little stoic distance in my leadership. Apologies are for the post-term autobiography, when you have time to see the entirety of a situation.

And Chris, I think you know better about the bombing half the US thing. It would have to be just New England and the West Coast, silly! Otherwise I'd want an apology, dammit!

Posted by: BAW at April 15, 2004 11:02 AM

A press conference during wartime is not the time or place for it, particularly in front of a > hostile audience, which the press is.

What?! It's even more important to have one during wartime and if the president isn't doing a good job he especially needs criticism because we need to win the war.

And I've never figured out the disdain people have for presidents apologizing. If you're a principled person you apologize for your mistakes. It's funny that the same people who shout "US right or wrong" often claim to support Christian values, since humility and penitence are Christian values.

Posted by: Chris at April 15, 2004 04:24 PM

I don't have disdain for presidents apologizing. It seems to me that there's a time and a place. If you called a press conference specifically to address a publicly admitted "failing;" i.e. resigning in disgrace, or, for example if you're Trent Lott making dumb comments about the faboo-ness that is Strom Thurmond, then it's appropriate. Being asked to apologize for mistakes in medias res is frankly bizarre to me--we don't know how things are going to shake out, and if "mistakes" may later be seen not to be so.

And criticism isn't the same thing as just demanding an apology. Saying, "I think that this and that need to be handled differently," or, "How can you improve X," is not the same as saying, "Don't you think you've failed? Shouldn't you apologize?"

Responding to criticism doesn't mean you're required to apologize. Disdain rears its ugly head when the apology seems insincere or done for political expediency. Bush apologizing in the aforementioned venue would frankly have smacked of both for me, just as Clinton's did.

And just a question--is the last part of your sweepingly general last paragraph supposed to apply to me in particular, or folks of a different political persuasion generally? 'Cause if you're talking about me, well, I demand an apology.

Eh, quittin' time. Sorry if that rambles--I'm tired.

Posted by: BAW at April 15, 2004 04:46 PM

Maybe there's a cure for media incompetence and arrogance. President Bush should invite a few *bloggers* to news conferences. Get the message out that ABC, CNN, etc are *not* privileged institutions called out in the constitution; legally, they are just individuals like any other.

Posted by: David Foster at April 15, 2004 05:47 PM

Well I guess you and I just have different opinions on what the press should have asked at this particular press conference.

And to shed further light on presidents being questioned in wartime -- are you familiar with this news article?

Yes a mistake might turn out to be not a mistake at some future point but you could apply that logic to any mistake any one has ever made. It's disingenuous and quite frankly the fact that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence and lied to Congress is immoral in itself. Regardless of any good consequences those lies may have had, the administration should have had the integrity to tell the truth.

And the last paragraph doesn't apply to you in particular since I don't really know what your general political philosophy is and I don't know if you belong to any religion. It was just a statement about Christian Coalition types who wouldn't know an actual Christian value if it slapped them in the face.

Posted by: Chris at April 15, 2004 06:36 PM

Um....little misunderstanding here.

Was making an ironic reference...you talk about A, then received comments referring to B, not A. Just like actual happening is A and media reports B. Was NOT a comment on or slamming of your blog.

Libertarian here, say whatever you want as long as it's not "FIRE" in a crowded, non-burning movie theater.

Sorry, apparently my shot went real wide.

Posted by: di at April 15, 2004 10:22 PM

di -

Emailed you privately as well since thread is getting v.v. long to say basically--no prob, sorry about the misunderstanding, typed correspondence is notorious for this sort of thing. Blah, blah, blah, guess I need to use emoticons more often-cakes. ;)

Posted by: BAW at April 16, 2004 08:51 AM

Chris -

Interesting article, but a couple of differences between then and now that do make a difference, and that would make me a little more confident that the 9/11 commission is more than a political hack job. The hearings about Pearl Harbor were conducted AFTER the war, and some sessions were closed to the public. Seems to me that there'd be a greater emphasis on fact-finding and less on grandstanding in that case. Of course, FDR being dead probably had an effect, as well...

But then I'm just a cock-eyed optimist, which explains why I'll never be a politician. Well, that and my tendency toward bluntness. Oh, and my short temper and penchant for physical violence. And the fact that I'm poor...yeah, that about covers it.

And my politics? Hell if I know. I did that bar graph thingie that people post on their blogs with all the positive and negative coordinates and whatnot, and I actually ended up almost dead center, with a slight veer into right libertarian territory. Look at me, ma! I'm a swing voter!

Well anyway, here endeth my diatribe. Thanks for not being a sucking troll. Of course, you went to Davidson, so naturally you are polite, well-mannered, and above the madding crowd. Not that I'm biased.

Posted by: BAW at April 16, 2004 09:20 AM

Well first these are being held after September 11. Iraq has nothing to do with September 11. Your argument would be equivalent to saying that WWII hearings shouldn't have been held during the Korean war.

Second the Iraq war is over. The U.S. is involved in peacekeeping operations. If we are in a state of war, precisely what state are we fighting a war against? Whose surrender will mark an end to the war? Whom would we sign a peace treaty with to mark the end of war?

Bushies tend to keep saying that we're in a state of war so that they lump critics with the so-called enemy.

Third -- and here's the clincher from sullywatch.blogspot.com --



January 28 (Legislative Day, January 23), 1942.

The Roberts report wasn’t even the first. It was the second of nine separate civilian and military inquiries into Pearl Harbor. Of those a full eight were started before the Japanese surrender.

We just picked Roberts because it's most analogous to the current commission.


Posted by: Chris at April 16, 2004 10:41 AM

Well, that's where we're going to differ. I believe we're still at war in the sense of the larger war on terrorism. I suppose I should have been clearer about my terminology there. Sorry. At this point, quite frankly, positions on both sides of this issue have solidified to the point that debate is useless.

Bottom line: Iraq and Afghanistan are battles within a larger war--one that began a long time ago, and one that we tried to ignore. If you don't share that view, then you'll probably see every argument I make as an attempt at parsing.

As for the 9/11 commission--commission away! Just don't pretend that those folks don't have a little bit of interest in grandstanding during an election year. Again, I'm not opposed to finding the truth. But it looks like the truth about 9/11 in some ways goes all the way back to the Iranian hostage crisis. If it took us 20 odd years to figure out, "Hey! These folks hate us!" well, I don't hold out much hope for a bi-partisan commission to get to the truth of any matter at all.

It's pretty to think that we can assign blame on one person or administration. But here, as with Pearl Harbor, hindsight is the only thing that's 20/20. And even that seems somewhat murky when its in the hands of Agendas On Parade. Maybe after the larger war is over and after an additional 8 or 9 commissions, the truth will out. But I doubt it--you can still get history books chock full of "FDR KNEW!" conspiracy theories. I'm sure the same will be true for 9/11 in 50 odd years.

So sure, try and find the truth. Just don't demand that the president apologize for it beforehand. Unless you want to line up all the former presidents from Carter to the present and demand apologies from them, too.

Posted by: BAW at April 16, 2004 11:14 AM

Here is a remarkable story from Iraq, written by a former Special Forces member who is employed in Iraq by a firm providing security services.

Security Contractors in Iraq

Here's a sample.

The Iraqi people as a whole…love us. You read it right…love us. Terrorists may hate us and radicals in different ethnic groups within Iraq may hate each other…but in general, the common Iraqi people, Shias, Sunis, Kurds, Chaldeans, Turkomen, all have one thing in common…For one instant in time, they have hope for their future and the future of their children…and that hope is centered around one group of foreigners…you guessed it…Americans…the good old USA.

And there are dozens of coalition forces who help us…young military people from most of the free countries in the world are here…and willing to lay down their lives because America has led the way in spreading the good news of freedom and democracy to the oldest land on Earth. And we are all helping to train Iraqis to protect themselves with sound moral and ethical procedures… And we know that teaching adults is important…But educating children is the key…So there is a lot of money going to rebuilding schools in Iraq and getting rural children to attend for the first time in history.

Posted by: liz at April 16, 2004 04:52 PM

Saying there's a war on terror is like saying there's a war on drugs. It's a completely difference use of the word "war." You will never completely end terrorism, just as you will never end murder, rape, theft, and many other crimes. If you want to call this a real war, then you're just going to waterproof all presidents against war criticism forever.

As for the whole "W knew" saga, you're creating a straw man. A lot of people are not arguing that W knew precisely when and where an attack would happen, but simply that he knew that there would be an attack on U.S. territory. If you want to argue against the straw man of your creation, I have nothing to say.

Iraq and Afghanistan are not part of the same war. I don't even know what the purpose of the Iraq war is because the administration is so inscrutable. If you are aware of the plethora of evidence that shows that Iraq and Al Qaeda barely had any connection with one another, then go read it. If there were some sort of continuing battle against Al Qaeda terrorists, then the next logical step would be to invade Pakistan not Iraq.

And if you use statements like "These folks hate us" you're oversimplifying to such a large extent that I really think you need to educate yourself about the differences between and within Middle Eastern countries. For starters, consider the Iran-Iraq war before you lump Iran and Iraq together.

Liz -- your post is a non sequitur.

Posted by: Chris Martin at April 18, 2004 03:56 PM

That should be:

If you are NOT aware of the plethora of evidence that shows that Iraq and Al Qaeda barely had any connection with one another, then go read it.

Posted by: Chris Martin at April 18, 2004 03:57 PM

Since I'm out of breath, so to speak, I'm not going to continue this thread. I strongly recommend that you read:


It's an article by Jonathan Chait, published in the pro-war The New Republic in March '03.

Posted by: Chris Martin at April 18, 2004 04:02 PM