10/05/2005 05:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

When the White House Shouts, the Press Faints

In my last article, I detailed the recent admission by NBC's Andrea Mitchell that the press had been lulled into a self-induced patriotic coma after and since 9/11, and in doing so gave the Republicans and the Bush administration a free pass on major issues such as the Iraq War. At the end of the article, I added a post script theorizing a systematic intimidation of the press by the White House and its operatives. What Mitchell failed to mention to Bill Maher is that, in addition to self-censorship, the press has in fact been hamstrung by the administration and the strategists who have for years orchestrated the current GOP reign.

The false bravado of the press and Mitchell is admirable, though not entirely revealing. Clearly, very few in the press won't admit that their silence and parrotting hasn't been all about waving the flag and helping to rally the country behind the president. By the way, that isn't their gig. It's the president's gig to accumulate support for his policies. Then again, we're stuck with Bush so I suppose everyone has to chip in. Nevertheless, while many have been frightened into submission by the thug behavior of the White House, others have stood up.

Living legend Helen Thomas, for example, referred to Bush as "the worst president ever." So true, but when was the last time Thomas sat in the front row and ceremoniously launched and ended a Bush press conference -- a role she had been honored with for decades? Come to think of it, Bush hasn't called on her at all since then. The six-gun toting "Bring 'em on!" Bushie punished little octogenarian Helen Thomas. Tough guy, huh. Never-the-less, Thomas continues to do her job with the same vigor she possessed in China and during Watergate with Nixon and through Berlin and Iran-Contra with Reagan.

Similar to Thomas, newspaper conglomerate Knight Ridder has never flinched when reporting the real story behind the war and this administration. I had the opportunity to speak with John Walcott, Knight Ridder's Washington Bureau Chief, who offered some insight into what's going on.

"This administration has devoted a lot of energy to intimidating its own officials so they won't talk to reporters without scripts and bullying reporters so they won't risk losing their access by asking rude questions or trying to play blame games," Walcott told me. Thomas and many other reporters who have lost their access to various officials are the most apparent examples of the administration’s "bullying" of the press.

I mentioned to Walcott that I'm shocked there hasn't been a full scale backlash against the White House. The press in the past has always been good at retribution. At Tuesday's press conference, for example, Bush was at his petulant best. Patronizing the press corp with his "lean in and say it louder and they might understand it gooder" style -- his "no follow up" rule, generally snarky attitude and weird spastic jaw twitch (Harry Shearer has posted video evidence of the tic). Combined with the intimidation and manipulation over the years, it's staggering how the press corp hasn't become more aggressive instead of far less. You'd think the undermining of their integrity via the administration's use of propaganda would be enough to bring down the wrath of the MSM. What if Bush held a press conference and the press corp just didn't show up? Actually, it'd be about the same. Never mind.

Walcott continued, "[The White House bullying] along with the patriotic mood after 9/11; the absence of congressional oversight; the fact that much of the information in question is classified; the campaign on the Internet, cable TV and talk radio to equate criticism with disloyalty; and maybe our concerns about our declining popularity and reputation may have combined to make the mainstream media less aggressive about challenging the case for war in Iraq and other issues than we should have been."

Based on Knight Ridder's record, Walcott was being humble by using the pronoun "we." Knight Ridder has consistently been on the bleeding edge of the coverage of the Iraq War even while the disciplined propagandists in the Bush White House actively chased away real reporting, replacing it with bogus shills and, oddly enough, male prostitutes.

In February of 2002, shortly after Bush's "Axis of Evil" State of the Union address and while many in press were resting peacefully under the guard of White House goon squads, Knight Ridder was the first media organization to report and publish that Bush had already decided to invade Iraq and supplant Saddam Hussein (Bush has decided to overthrow Hussein). In March of 2002, they covered a State Department report which confirmed no evidence of Iraqi ties to 9/11 or Al Qaeda (Iran - not Iraq - is top terrorism sponsor, U.S. report says). President Bush finally admitted this -- a year-and-a-half after the State Department memo; five months into the Iraq War; and four months after Mission Accomplished.

Here's a shocker for the rest of the press... Knight Ridder has survived with its integrity intact.

They still have access to the White House and they continue to rise to the occasion by reporting what we need to know, most recently breaking the Downing Street memo before the likes of the Washington Post. Helen Thomas continues to be active in the White House press corp. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was the only cable news head who covered the Ohio election debacle last year. Knight Ridder, Helen Thomas, and Keith Olbermann -- still employed.

So it's conceivable that much of the press has simply buckled in the face of the administration's tactics and the laundry list of factors detailed by Mr. Walcott. In other words, "patriotic narcolepsy" might not have been the most appropriate term. "Cowardly" might fit.

Or better yet... Remember the news story about the goats who faint when someone shouts at them? That's about right.