Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Bush Thesis

Great post today at Instapundit about Jay Rosen's essay on what Rosen calls "The Bush Thesis." Instapundit quotes from a couple of readers (one at length) on their experiences and perceptions of bias. Glenn makes some cogent observations, too. It's short, but...well, cogent. Like I said.

Especially read the Rosen essay. It's a fantastic synthesis of his observations into a theory of how President George W. Bush, and many Americans, view the press. This paragraph and quote sum it up spectacularly:
Auletta, for example, can describe Bush at a barbeque for the press in August, where a reporter says to the president: is it really true you don't read us, don't even watch the news? Bush confirms it.

"And the reporter then said: Well, how do you then know, Mr. President, what the public is thinking? And Bush, without missing a beat said: You're making a powerful assumption, young man. You're assuming that you represent the public. I don't accept that. "

Which is a powerful statement. And if Bush believes it (a possibility not to be dismissed) then we must credit the president with an original idea, or the germ of one. Bush's people have developed it into a thesis, which they explained to Auletta, who told it to co-host Brooke Gladstone:

"That's his attitude. And when you ask the Bush people to explain that attitude, what they say is: We don't accept that you have a check and balance function. We think that you are in the game of "Gotcha." Oh, you're interested in headlines, and you're interested in conflict. You're not interested in having a serious discussion and, and exploring things."
Put even more simply, the "press" is a special interest today, unmoored from the broad American public and only representative of itself.

Rosen goes on to explain himself in exhausting, but illuminating, detail. He makes a great case for the belief by many Americans that the "press" is no longer representative of us but of something else. His main example to dissect is the recent Presidential news conference. He writes:
The president has his talking points, the reporters theirs-- and neither will be moved off the script. The kind of question that cannot be predicted, of course, is one born live, a spontaneous response to something that happens at the press conference. Ted Koppel when he does Nightline prepares one question for each guest, the first one he will ask. Beyond that he wants everything to flow from what's said on air.

In the East Room ritual, with so much at stake (international embarrassment, for one) both parties cooperate to make sure the Koppel moment never happens. Data point: On April 13, they both read from their scripts. For the press, this meant: Were you at fault? Do you accept responsibility? Were there any mistakes? Going to apologize? "They repeated the question, because if the president was pre-programmed, so too, many reporters are pre-programmed," Aultetta said.
One place Rosen fails, I think, is that he casts doubt on the Bush administration's belief in the Bush Thesis because the administration engages with it. Rosen doesn't seem to see that the "press" is unavoidable and must be engaged at least some times. That engagement isn't a "failure," but a reality.

If the Bush administration is serious about wanting to detour around the "big media" and go straight to the people unmediated, he needs to get serious about the Internet. Creating a resource of pictures, speeches, quotes, documents, and videos that webusers can come to would empower tens of thousands of folks to spread whatever message he wants out there, free of press mediation. Will some use the information in partisan and biased ways? Yes. And thousands of others will call them on it, in a giant self-correcting editing process.

The Rosen essay is long, but I cannot tell folks who are into journalism and politics how penetrating and ground-breaking it is. There is a lot here to expand on or jump off from. It will reward the time taken to read it and the comments that follow.

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