Someone asked President Bush recently what he thought of the press and he replied he thought they were “pretty nice people.” This is understandable since most of our media have played dead for the better part of his first term, and most of talk radio and Fox cable TV have served as propaganda platforms for his administration. Then too, recent revelations have outed Armstrong Williams, Michael McManus and Maggie Gallagher as having received payments to peddle the administration’s political wares, and administration-inspired commercials were aired as if they were news reports. So through the transmission of confusing rhetoric, half truths and downright lies the public has been ill served, for the most part, by its newspapers and other media sources and representatives. On the other hand, the president has had a pretty smooth ride.
When President Clinton was being hounded by the right the so-called liberal NY Times took to printing every allegation whether or not the charges had been substantiated as indeed most never were. One odd example of this actually occurred after Clinton left office when The Times ran a front-page story about Roger Clinton (the president’s brother) seeking pardons for friends. The article detailed a number of such requests, but one had to turn to an inside page somewhere in the teens to discover in the very last paragraph that “none (of the pardons) were granted.” Perhaps Clinton’s sexual proclivities were just so titillating that the country’s prurient interest encouraged the media to cover every other kind of charge, real or imagined,that came along.
Oddly enough, the outrageous James Guckert aka Jeff Gannon one-day passes that stretched over a two year period haven’t elicited the same kind of scrutiny from the major media, even with the juicy sexual overtones thrown in. This may be because damage control operatives kick in quickly whenever scandal looms, but one hopes the White House/Republicans/dubious-news-outfit connections will continue to be explored.
Somehow in all of this, President Bush has been effectively insulated with many agenda initiatives being carried by executive order behind closed doors. VP Cheney held secret policy meetings under the guise of allowing “experts” the privacy they required in order to more freely impart valuable information and insights. What was really going on, though, was that corporate energy giants, for example, were having their way with respect to decisions that served their interests before those of the American people.
During the campaign Mr. Bush chose not to denounce the so-called “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” who trashed John Kerry’s war record (a side note: Zell Miller who was so vitriolic in his denunciation of the Democrats and Kerry, introduced him a few years ago in Louisiana as a “true American hero.”) Bush never held a rally that wasn’t strictly controlled; no dissenters allowed. Likewise at press conferences reporters are on a pretty short leash as to questions, and rarely allowed follow-ups. However, while the president seems able to control the media to a large extent here, this is not always possible elsewhere. On his recent trip abroad, embarrassingly, the Germans were unwilling to provide questions in advance of a town meeting so the event was cancelled as the president and his people declined to participate in such a freewheeling affair.
Once back home Mr. Bush renewed his Social Security struggle. In his absence USA Next had been hard at work demonizing AARP as a liberal, gay-supporting, godless organization. Apparently the right assumes that launching such broadsides is a fool- proof method for defeating the opposition. It worked well in the last election so why not give it a whirl in the Social Security debate. Forget substance and hit what many on the right might call the “values” thing. Thus there’s a PR team out and about doing its scurrilous work with, to date, no dissenting voice from The White House.
And to add to the absolute lunacy of the way in which the Social Security debate is being scripted, the voice of 9-year-old phenom, Noah McCullough, can be heard in the land promoting the president’s privatization plan. This child has a terrific memory and knows a lot about presidential history. According to his mom he’s “very patriotic and very Republican.” Plans for the youngster to travel to several states, is the brainchild of Stuart Roy, a former aide to…Tom DeLay” (NY Times, 2/26/05) This gambit may be what passes for Republican substance or it could just be a descent into excessive cuteness. But, history buffism does not a political or economic analyst make, and Noah’s statement that Social Security would be bankrupt in 2032 if the president’s plan fails is just plain wrong. Actually, if the president’s plan were to be enacted, Social Security’s solvency would become problematic in that year. As Alexander Pope once said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Back in the realm of managed media, to the nervous Nellies at ABC, James Dobson and his followers need to have someone poke a little fun at them. With all the right wing objections to the things they skewer, especially with respect to cartoon characters, they should be fair game for comedians and for those of us who are able to get beyond the nonsense and see the humor in it. Muzzling Robin Williams at the Academy Awards is just another example of the media over-reacting and giving in to worries about how the right wing would respond. ABC and the right should be much more concerned about truth in broadcasting and other ethical considerations and leave Sponge Bob and Tinky Winky to their own special worlds lest our world become more cartoonish than theirs.

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