The mainstream media's incessant, excited chatter about a looming Bush Bounce represented just the latest embarrassment in an endless parade of journalism missteps during the Bush years. The depressing puppet show--senior White House aides announce things are great, conservative 'news' outlets echo the spin and then MSM journalists gamely play along--has become annoying, tiresome and transparent. Yet the MSM won't stop embarrassing themselves.
Two problems with the contagious Bush Bounce story: a) the Bounce was all but non-existent, with three of the last four national polls (USA Today, WSJ-NBC, CNN) showing no statistical movement whatsoever for Bush following last week's wildly hyped "wave of good news" (AP).
And even more importantly, b) when it was eagerly misleading news consumers about how Bush was about to enjoy a big bump in the public opinion surveys, the press provided virtually no context regarding exactly where Bush stood in the polls. Yes, some journalists noted in passing that Bush's job approval ratings had vaguely fallen during his second term. But notice what is not reported and discussed in polite Beltway company--that Bush is an historically unpopular president. Period. (Fact: If Bush doesn't post an approval rating gain soon, he'll trail only Richard Nixon in establishing the longest sub-40 job approval rating streak in modern American history.) Journalists routinely refuse to put Bush's sorry standings in any sort of perspective. Instead, they go to extraordinary lengths, as they have throughout the last two years, to avoid spelling out the obvious--it would take an hydraulic lift to get Bush's approval numbers back into the realm of respectability, let alone popularity. i.e. Bush would need a 25-point spike to equal the lofy heights President Clinton reached during his second term.
But the press' see-no-evil approach is nothing new. They played the same game at the time of Bush's second inauguration when there was clear evidence of immediate and widespread buyer's remorse among voters. From my book, "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush":
It was not surprising that awed reporters and pundits, carrying on about Bush's mandate and his lofty stature were so slow to acknowledge that Bush at the time of his second swearing-in stood as an historically unpopular president. On Jan. 20, a New York Times/CBS poll revealed Bush's job approval rating was just 49 percent, marking the worst Inauguration Day approval rating for any president since modern day polling began nearly 80 years earlier. On the day of Bush's swearing-in, even as they searched for topics to discuss during the all-day coverage, television pundits politely avoided mentions of Bush's poor standing. Over the course of four hours of continuous inauguration coverage from 8 am to noon (collectively, that's 24 hours among the three networks and three all-news cable channels), the topic of president's (historically poor) approval ratings came up exactly four times.
If, in the coming days, the next batch of presidential surveys match the findings of USA Today, WSJ-NBC and CNN--that Bush received no "turnaround" in the wake of widely trumpeted good news--then it will be obvious the American people have closed the book on Bush. That their minds are made up, they're not going to give him another serious look, and that barring a truly seismic event, Bush will be relegated to serving out his term as a political has-been. That'll be the verdict of the American people. The MSM of course, will come to a much more comforting conclusion.