The war on the media

Recognizing that the war in Iraq is an abject failure, the Bush administration has decided to take on a more manageable opponent: The media. Because, you see, the Helen Thomases of the world are a far greater threat to our troops in Iraq than, say, roadside bombs. Or an all-out civil war with no exit strategy.

President Bush, his surrogates and a willing right-wing chattering class are now fighting the only war they're ready and willing to fight - a war of ideas. Because, as you know, when the chips were down and these Republicans were asked to take up arms to defend their country, they made excuses and let others do the fighting. Sound familiar?

But the right is at a distinct disadvantage in this war of ideas, too. Though they blame the media for not reporting the good news from Iraq, they miss the obvious: The facts don't lie. Not only that, but Americans are also starting to wake up to that realization. So Republicans can step up the heated rhetoric all they want, but nothing is getting in the way of the truth.

The White House's war on the media took center stage Tuesday, during the president's press conference. First, a smug, defiant Bush rudely sparred with Helen Thomas. Then, later in the conference, Bush all but claimed the media was responsible for enemy gains in Iraq. "I'm not suggesting you shouldn't talk about it. I'm certainly not being - please don't take that as criticism," he said. "But it also is a realistic assessment of the enemies capability to affect the debate, and they know that. They're capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show."

One day later, the president was at it again, this time responding to a pointed question from an audience member in Wheeling, West Virginia. This time, he exhibited a level of hypocrisy rare even for his administration. Suggesting that those who believe his glossy vision of Iraq should consult alternative sources of media - including blogs, though just not this one - Bush said, "I mean, the minute we start trying to suppress our press, we look like the Taliban."

Funny Bush should say that, because it's his administration considering charging journalists under the 1917 Espionage Act, despite the fact that no such prosecution has ever taken place. These journalists, they argue, would disclose classified information that presents a threat to our national security. This coming from the administration that still harbors Karl Rove, a walking national security threat. This also coming from the administration that still considers some leaks good - those involving Valerie Plame, for instance.

If it were Bush and Bush alone criticizing the media, it wouldn't be so big a problem. But Bush's willing accomplices in the media are following his lead. In recent days, we've seen Laura Ingraham accuse those brave journalists risking their lives in covering Iraq of not doing more to report the good news. We've seen Joe Scarborough and Brent Bozell dominate a panel discussion by making baseless charges against the media. We've seen Rush Limbaugh blame the media for creating anti-war sentiment.

What's worse than these specific examples, however, is the fact that the media are now doing exactly what the administration wants them to do: Focus on themselves. The more they cover the meta story of journalists-not-reporting-the-good-news, the less they cover the roadside bombings. The terrible conditions. The exploding civil war. And by looking in the mirror instead of shining a light on Iraq, the media are falling into a carefully set administration trap.

Why bother prosecuting journalists under the Espionage Act when they're so willing to chill themselves in the face of one presidential assault? The media, as we know, are already servile enough. Who needs the hammer of federal prosecution when these battered wives are so willing to blame themselves for what's coming out of Iraq? Sure, the media have performed poorly since Bush took office. But nothing would compare to the media as Bush would have it. A nation whose administration brands journalists traitors simply for doing their jobs is no longer democratic. What good is freedom abroad if it's nowhere to be found at home?

What the right-wingers of the world ignore from Iraq would fill an infinite schedule of newscasts. Their criticisms ignore the bravery shown by those journalists trying to report from the war-torn country. Try telling Daniel Pearl or Michael Kelly that they should have gotten out more to report the good news. Try telling Bob Woodruff that he wasn't doing enough to cover feel-good stories. Try telling Jill Carroll that she should have spent more time highlighting the bright side of the U.S. occupation. It's easy for the Ingrahams, Bozells and Limbaughs of the world to sit back and take shots at journalists in Iraq. It's what comes naturally for cowards.

Right-wing criticisms also ignore another inconvenient fact: The truth. Things aren't going well in Iraq. The discrepancy between "good news" and "bad news" coming from Iraq is the way it is because the bad far outweighs the good. Violence is on the rise as the country devolves into outright civil war, leaving American troops stranded in the middle without an end in sight. Americans are now plainly dissatisfied with the administration's handling of the war, which is now in its fourth year and has now claimed more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers since the president declared major combat operations over. Americans also believe that the media is doing a good job covering the war, while they feel the administration is presenting too rosy a picture.

None of this is getting in the way of an administration and a party now clearly on the wrong side of history. A nation angry at the message is now bearing witness to its government trying to kill the messenger. And this isn't about helping our enemies, preventing leaks or protecting national security. It's about the administration's attempt to turn the Fourth Estate into the official propaganda arm of the Republican Party and Bush White House.

Think back to what this administration has done to skew the news. They've released bad news when no one was watching. They've packaged official releases as news stories. They've pushed their agenda by paying for stories both at home and abroad. They've planted reporters in the White House press corps. They've been rumored to be spying on journalists.

"I mean, the minute we start trying to suppress our press," the president said Wednesday, "we look like the Taliban." Indeed.

Tags: George W. Bush, Iraq, journalism, Media, Republicans (all tags)

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