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Old 05-03-2006, 09:24 AM   #1
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the war on the press

[q]Fighting Words
Bush vs. the press vs. Bush.
By Jack Shafer
Posted Tuesday, May 2, 2006, at 6:45 PM ET

About a year ago, Salon's Eric Boehlert and The Nation's Eric Alterman argued in separate pieces that the Bush administration was waging "war" against the press. This week, Alterman revisits his thesis to include FBI efforts to inspect and sanitize columnist Jack Anderson's papers before George Washington University catalogs and makes them publicly available. Over the weekend, the New York Times' Adam Liptak gave credence to the idea of a war in his Page One Sunday piece about using leak investigations and other techniques to criminalize national-security reporting.

Boehlert, Alterman, and other administration critics assert a lockdown on and manipulation of information the likes of which we've not seen since the Nixon administration:

-- The establishment of a White House press office that not only doesn't say anything but doesn't know anything.

-- A mania for secrecy that has resulted, most recently, in the secret reclassification of declassified documents in the National Archives.

-- The deliberate sowing of official disinformation about Iraq and the Iraq war.

-- The tightening of FOIA restrictions.

-- The production of video "news releases" that look like news but are government propaganda ("In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting.").

-- And more, including, but not limited to, a laundry list of slights; pundits on the take (Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, and Michael McManus); gross insults (Chief of Staff Andrew Card telling The New Yorker, "I don't believe [the press has] a check-and-balance function"); and other provocations (for example, a vice president who has removed himself from the information grid) directed at the press.

Let's charge Bush with contempt of press and damn his secret ways, but do his offenses committed really constitute a war on the Fourth Estate? Or is the press using its stage to play the drama queen?

Last year, as the idea of a war on the press ascended, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz countered the notion by writing that the most grievous wounds were self-inflicted, citing the frauds of Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley, of Dan Rather's shoddy National Guard investigation. Kurtz continued:

Bush didn't force the media to go overboard on Kobe and Michael. He didn't force a CNN executive to make some ill-considered comments about the U.S. military targeting journalists. He didn't force various journalists to keep engaging in plagiarism. He didn't force Armstrong Williams to take $240,000 from the Education Department (though paying conservative pundits is one of the administration's innovations). He isn't responsible for declining newspaper circulation and network news ratings or the sinking poll numbers when it comes to trusting the media.

Bush also didn't tell the Washington Post's Bob Woodward to sit on his Valerie Plame information for more than two years. He didn't advise the New York Times to publish an editorial encouraging the government to pursue the leakers in the Valerie Plame case, as the Times did on Oct. 2, 2003. Nor did he force Time magazine and the Times into their quixotic First Amendment showdown over the Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller grand jury subpoenas. Had Time and the Times succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to take the Cooper-Miller case, one extremely likely outcome would have been a decision more restrictive than the current precedent, set in 1972's Branzburg v. Hayes. Would the war-on-the-press caucus have blamed that on Bush, too?

Rather than crying "war" over the Bush-press disputes, I subscribe to Jay Rosen's more modest idea that the Bushies ambition was to "decertify" the press from its modern role as purveyor of news and portray it as just another special interest. (Rosen advanced his "decert" idea in late 2003 and then again in February 2005 and March 2005.) Bush's preference for "unfiltered" news, received directly from his staff, is well-known. Disciplined and silent, as The New Yorker's Ken Auletta put it, the administration has factored the press corps out of the equation.


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Old 05-03-2006, 12:41 PM   #2
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Is the Fourth Estate weakened due to Administration pressure or atrophy?
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