Time to Revisit a Media Low Point (and to Heed the Implicit Warning)

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET
  • Peter Daou Political analyst, former Hillary Clinton adviser

One of the hallmarks of the painfully-too-long Bush presidency has been the abject failure of the traditional media to adopt an interrogative or disputatious stance toward the administration. We've been treated to a half decade plus of stenography with a few smatterings of lucidity (Katrina being the lone example that comes to mind).

Narratives and storylines favoring the rightwing point of view and disfavoring the left have pervaded media coverage, and 'trusted' mainstream reporters, icons of the traditional press, have cheerfully peddled myths about George W. Bush that are laughably at odds with reality.

The mystique of a firm, resolute, compassionate, likable, religious, visionary cowboy is the result of a symbiotic relationship between conservative myth-makers, rightwing noisemakers, and occupationally-challenged reporters. And astonishingly, the fact that most Americans have seen through the facade hasn't deterred the traditional media from perpetuating these pro-Bush and anti-Dem narratives.

In that regard, Media Matters takes us back to one of the media's (many) moments of shame: "On May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln aboard an S-3B Viking jet, emerged from the aircraft in full flight gear, and proceeded to 'press flesh,' as The Washington Post put it, as he shook hands and hugged crew members in front of the cameras. Later that day, Bush delivered a nationally televised speech from the deck of the Abraham Lincoln in which he declared that '[m]ajor combat operations in Iraq have ended,' all the while standing under a banner reading: 'Mission Accomplished.' Despite lingering questions over the continued violence in Iraq, the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction, and the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, as well as evidence that Bush may have shirked his responsibilities in the Texas Air National Guard (TANG) during the Vietnam War, the print and televised media fawned over Bush's 'grand entrance' and the image of Bush as the 'jet pilot' and the 'Fighter Dog.'"

Reality, the harsh reality of war, intruded on Bush's fantasy carrier landing, but a good segment of the American press carries a badge of dishonor for its gullibility in the face of such a cynically stage-managed circus act. While our soldiers bled -- and continue to bleed -- in Iraq, the Bush p.r. team used the media as a mouthpiece, relying on the fact that nothing they said or did would be subject to serious scrutiny, not the deceptions that led to war, not the outing of covert operatives, not the ravaging of our environment, not the tarnishing of America's good name, not scandal after scandal that would sink any other administration.

If I have one overriding concern, it's that Bush's ever-sinking poll numbers will lull progressives into overlooking the media problem. Complacency in the face of this issue will undoubtedly lead to ballot box disasters in 2006 and 2008.