Thursday, December 04, 2003

Exposing journalists

Hey, maybe reporters covering the Bush White House are starting to get a clue. Or maybe not.

But there's one thing that Bush's recent trip to Iraq should have reminded every working journalist covering this administration: Take them at their word at your own risk. Caveat emperor.

The skill with which the White House hid Bush's Thanksgiving trip to Iraq was especially noteworthy for the extent to which reporters were gulled by the press office. They made fools out of everyone covering Bush, and did it with some apparent glee.

Indeed, as CBS's Mark Knoller observed, by relying on White House officials, he had been "filing radio reports that amounted to fiction."
"Even as President Bush was addressing U.S. personnel in Baghdad, I was on the air saying he was at his ranch making holiday phone calls to American troops overseas," Knoller said. "I got that information from a White House official that very morning."

Any journalist doing their work honestly must ask: To what extent is that happening in other regards? To what extent am I allowing that to happen?

It should be clear that the White House lies without remorse. Indeed, they're rather proud of this episode. How much longer are the battered wives of the White House corps going to put up with this?

And what the public will wonder is this: Just how many "fictional" reports have been emanating from the White House, gullibly transmitted by the press corps, since 2001 -- all in the name of "national security"?

Grudgingly, though, you have to admit one thing: When it comes to manipulating the press, and the public along with it, these guys are pros. You also have to wonder if that wasn't part of the purpose of the exercise: To display to all the world just how completely the press was at their mercy. And to remind reporters of it, too.

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