The FDL Book Salon is so happy to welcome Peter Daou, who will be leading today’s discussion on the first half of Eric Boehlert’s book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. Peter has done the overview for Lapdogs for us today, and I know this is going to be an amazing starting point for discussion for everyone.– CHS
Lapdogs, Pt. I — From Peter Daou
It is singular how soon we lose the impression of what ceases to be constantly before us - Lord Byron
Notwithstanding the absurdly anachronistic rightwing claim of “liberal” media bias, George W. Bush’s ascent to the highest office in the land and his subsequent 5+ years in office have been marked by uniquely supplicant media coverage. Beginning with the Daily Howler(who deconstructed anti-Gore narratives in 2000) to Media Matters, bloggers and online media watchers have documented the media’s pattern of Bush-propping and Dem-bashing.
This blatant sycophancy reached jaw-dropping heights (or depths) around Bush’s Mission Accomplished photo-op. It was a low point for the American press, with journalists like NBC’s Brian Williams saying, “two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today."
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, never one to be outdone in the Bush-fawning department, went further: “He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics…. He’s like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?
Bush’s approval ratings have plummeted since those heady days. With polls in the basement and reporters forced to abandon their blatant sycophancy in favor of more subtle Bush-propping techniques, it’s easy to forget the level of obsequiousness evidenced by the above quotes. Along comes Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, Eric Boehlert’s new book, to remind us – in vivid detail – how the press “rolled over” for Bush. Lapdogs is a thorough examination of America’s media problem. Sorting through copious material, Boehlert deals with a number of media transgressions, including The Note’s bootlicking, the media’s shameful role in the Swift Boat sliming of John Kerry, the Downing Street memo blackout, and much more.
The media’s failure to ask tough questions in the run-up to the Iraq invasion provides abundant fodder:
“It’s not fair to suggest the MSM alone convinced Americans to send some sons and daughter to fight. But the press went out of its way to tell a pleasing, administration-friendly tale about the pending war. In truth, Bush never could have ordered the invasion of Iraq — never could have sold the idea at home — if it weren’t for the help he received from the MSM, and particularly the stamp of approval he received from so-called liberal media institutions such as the Washington Post, which in February of 2003 alone, editorialized in favor of war nine times. (Between September 2002 and February 2003, the paper editorialized twenty-six times in favor of the war.) The Post had plenty of company from the liberal East Coast media cabal, with high-profile columnists and editors — the newfound liberal hawks — at the New Yorker, Newsweek, Time, the New York Times, the New Republic and elsewhere all signing on for a war of preemption.
By the time the invasion began, the de facto position among the Beltway chattering class was clearly one that backed Bush and favored war. Years later the New York Times Magazine wrote that most "journalists in Washington found it almost inconceivable, even during the period before a fiercely contested midterm election [in 2002], that the intelligence used to justify the war might simply be invented." Hollywood peace activists could conceive it, but serious Beltway journalists could not? That’s hard to believe. More likely journalists could conceive it but, understanding the MSM unspoken guidelines — both social and political — were too timid to express it at the time of war.” [Note: Boehlert uses the common abbreviation ‘MSM’ to describe the mainstream media — others have used ‘establishment’, ‘legacy’, ‘corporate’, ‘traditional’ or ‘old’ media
Boehlert describes the timidity of reporters in the months after 9/11 and the media’s muted response as the White House used the attacks to beat the drums of war:
“ABC News’s White House correspondent Terry Moran claimed he was offended when he overheard two print reporters talking inside the briefing room in January 2002, as they awaited spokesman Ari Fleischer’s arrival to face mounting questions about the administration’s role in the burgeoning Enron business scandal. "I heard people saying, ‘All right, we’re back, to hell with the war [in Afghanistan],’ as if chasing the shadows and ghosts of potential appearances or possible conflicts of interest [regarding Enron] was more important than the war the country had been thrust into," Moran told American Journalism Review. "I was shocked … I’m not sure that lower Manhattan had actually stopped smoldering." Four months after the attacks of 9/11, Moran thought it was still inappropriate for reporters to pose tough questions to the White House.
“That was the prevailing MSM attitude as 2002 unfolded. Then halfway through the year the administration doubled down and secured another round of free passes when it signaled its interest in invading Iraq. Between the War on Terror and the war with Iraq, the Bush White House all but guaranteed itself a timid press corps that emphasized its megaphone function. The MSM coverage of the War on Terror and their reporting during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq were inexorably linked. By the time the invasion was launched in March of 2003, the press was so comfortable having spent the previous year lying down for the White House and its foreboding War on Terror, that it could not muster enough energy to get up off the floor.”
Lapdogs should be required reading for Democratic leaders and strategists who still wonder why their message doesn’t break through the media filter. Speaking of Democrats, I’ll give the last word to Sen. John Kerry – subject of an entire chapter – who has this to say about the book: “From Vietnam, to Watergate and the Iran Contra scandal, a free, independent, and probing press has always served almost as a fourth branch of government holding politicians accountable. Eric Boehlert asks some tough and compelling questions about what really motivates and moves the American press today. Agree, disagree, but don’t ignore – this is a book all voters should read and it will spark some heated discussions in journalism classes everywhere.”
[Per usual, please limit your comments on this thread to the book discussion. Anyone wanting to discuss other topics, feel free to do so on the previous thread which can be found here.]