Saturday, February 17, 2007

Washington Press Corps Laughs...And Laughs...And Laughs...And Laughs...

Greg Sargent says this is no laughing matter. I say that it's weird shit when the press rolls over and asks Daddy to rub its tummy.

I've hauled this one out before, but it's worth another look in light of the President's press conference yesterday. So let's play compare and contrast. Ready?

From All the President's Men, page 163, depicting a press conference in the early '70s at which reporters questioned Nixon campaign director Clark MacGregor about a particularly eye-opening turn in the Watergate case:

MacGregor entered the room from the rear and walked up the middle aisle. He is a big man, six foot three inches, about 210 pounds. Arriving at the lectern, he grabbed both sides of it and gave a half-hearted smile. Because of the "unusual developments of the past few days," MacGregor said, he would be unable to answer any questions.

Clark Mollenhoff, six foot four inches and 230 pounds, Washington bureau chief of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Syndicate, rose, his face contorted with anger. Mollenhoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, had briefly served at the White House as resident ombudsman charged with keeping things honest. MacGregor and Mollenhoff looked like two giants getting ready to lay clubs on each other.

"What credibility do you have?" Mollenhoff shouted. His voice was booming, and the other reporters fell silent. "What documents have you seen?" Mollenhoff demanded. "Because if you can't tell us, you have no right to stand there."

When MacGregor had entered the room, copies of his prepared statement had been handed out, so the reporters knew what was coming. Others were shouting at him now, though none as vigorously as Mollenhoff. "Why should we sit here and listen to you, why should we print a word you say?" he insisted.

When those reporters were stonewalled about something they considered important, they got angry. Now let's look at Bush's press conference yesterday:

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Sir, we've now learned through sworn testimony that at least three members of your administration, other than Scooter Libby, leaked Valerie Plame's identity to the media. None of these three is known to be under investigation. Without commenting on the Libby trial, then, can you tell us whether you authorized any of these three to do that, or were they authorized without your permission?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, thanks, Pete. I'm not going to talk about any of it.

QUESTION: They're not under investigation, though?

THE PRESIDENT: Peter, I'm not going to talk about any of it.

QUESTION: How about pardons, sir? Many people are asking whether you might pardon --

THE PRESIDENT: Not going to talk about it, Peter. (Laughter.) Would you like to think of another question? Being the kind man that I am, I will recycle you. (Laughter.)

John.

QUESTION: Thank you --

THE PRESIDENT: You like that one? "Recycling" him. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That took care of one of my questions, as well, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: If that's the case, sit down. Next question. (Laughter.)

Look, the questions from the Post's Peter Baker were good, and the comparison is far from perfect, because in the first instance a campaign official was being questioned, and in the second the target was the President. What's more, the advent of the Internet and YouTube means reporters' performances at press conferences are far more public and more scrutinized than they used to be -- which probably means it's inevitable that reporters will be more careful and less confrontational. This isn't reflexive White House press corps criticism.

Still, the comparison's instructive. It's a reminder that tolerance and even jadedness towards official mendacity and stonewalling have become about as pervasive and unremarkable as the air you breathe. I mean, here you have testimony saying that three of Bush's senior officials helped destroy the career of a CIA officer. The President blithely refused to say whether he authorized it. And the response is...laughter? What the hell's so funny about this?

1 Comments:

Blogger liberal journal man said...

Haha, that's just the worst President ever being "the kind of man he is"...haha

...and when history is written on this period, the media will be right next to Bush on the blame list...

8:40 PM  

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