As the Bush administration's Iraq fiasco spirals further out of control, a new phase of the war has begun: an all-out assault on the American media for simply reporting the news. The scope and audacity of this attack is breathtaking; on cue, a bevy of administration officials and rightwing talking heads has begun taking direct aim at the press, accusing reporters of fabricating the Iraq crisis.
Media Matters chronicles the assault:
+ On March 19, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on CBS' Face the Nation and answered a question about the sagging support for the Iraq war by noting that "there's a constant sort of perception, if you will, that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad."
+ During a March 20 press gaggle, White House press secretary Scott McClellan discussed the speech Bush would give later that day in Cleveland. McClellan said that the "dramatic images that people see on the TV screens ... are much easier to put into a news clip" and told reporters that the president would address the "real progress being made toward a democratic future."
+ In his speech to the City Club of Cleveland, Bush said he understood "how some Americans have had their confidence shaken." He continued: "Others look at the violence they see each night on their television screens, and they wonder how I can remain so optimistic about the prospects of success in Iraq." Bush then talked about the town of Tal Afar, which he described as a "concrete example of progress in Iraq that most Americans do not see every day in their newspapers and on their television screens."
+ Later in the speech, Bush said: "The kind of progress that we and the Iraqi people are making in places like Tal Afar is not easy to capture in a short clip on the evening news. Footage of children playing, or shops opening, and people resuming their normal lives will never be as dramatic as the footage of an IED explosion, or the destruction of a mosque, or soldiers and civilians being killed or injured."
+ During a March 21 press conference, Bush said that "for every act of violence, there is encouraging progress in Iraq that's hard to capture on the evening news."
+ Later in the press conference, Bush claimed that he had presented "a realistic assessment of the enemy's capability to affect the debate. ... They're capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show. And, therefore, it affects the woman in Cleveland you were talking to. And I can understand how Americans are worried about whether or not we can win. "
Media Matters goes on to list a series of similar utterances from rightwing pundits and talk show hosts.
The process wouldn't be complete if cable news outlets didn't jump on the bandwagon, and like clockwork, CNN and MSNBC have devoted a number of segments to the singularly absurd notion that the press is to blame for the mess in Iraq.
The icing on this rancid cake came at a recent Bush town hall meeting. Media Matters recounts the exchange between Bush and an audience member:
AUDIENCE MEMBER: This is my husband, who has returned from a 13-month tour in Tikrit.
BUSH: Oh, yes. Thank you. Welcome back.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: His job while serving was as a broadcast journalist. And he has brought back several DVDs full of wonderful footage of reconstruction, of medical things going on. And I ask you this from the bottom of my heart, for a solution to this, because it seems that our major media networks don't want to portray the good. They just want to focus -- (applause) --
BUSH: Okay, hold on a second.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: They just want to focus on another car bomb, or they just want to focus on some more bloodshed, or they just want to focus on how they don't agree with you and what you're doing, when they don't even probably know how you're doing what you're doing anyway. But what can we do to get that footage on CNN, on Fox, to get it on headline news, to get it on the local news? Because you can send it to the news people -- and I'm sorry, I'm rambling -- like I have --
BUSH: So was I, though, for an hour.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- can you use this, and it will just end up in a drawer, because it's good, it portrays the good. And if people could see that, if the American people could see it, there would never be another negative word about this conflict...
I caught the segment on CNN and the thunderous applause at the suggestion that the media was at fault was jarring. I'll leave it to CNN's Jack Cafferty to explain why:
CAFFERTY: You know, I just have a question. I mean, the coverage -- they don't like the coverage, maybe, because we were sold a different ending to this story three years ago. We were told we'd be embraced as conquering heroes, flower petals strewn in the soldiers' paths, unity government would be formed, everything would be rosy. This, three years after the fact, the troops would be home. Well, it's not turning out that way. And if somebody came into New York City and blew up St. Patrick's Cathedral and in the resulting days they were finding 50 and 60 dead bodies on the streets in New York, do you suppose the news media would cover it? You're damn right they would. This is nonsense: "It's the media's fault the news isn't good in Iraq." The news isn't good in Iraq. There's violence in Iraq. People are found dead every day in the streets of Baghdad. This didn't turn out the way the politicians told us it would. And it's our fault? I beg to differ...
Democrats can learn a lesson from this new rightwing anti-media salvo. Despite a half-decade of "Bush stands firm" and "Democrats muddled" narratives that have mangled public perceptions beyond repair, Dems tiptoe around media issues, afraid to alienate the media establishment. Meanwhile, Bush and his minions launch a full-scale offensive, no hesitation, no shame. This is a new and repugnant twist in the Iraq misadventure, a coordinated assault against the free press by a desperate administration, and it is a dangerous and shameful tactic. And for an administration that created this mess, it is the mother of all political cop-outs.