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March 03, 2005

HOWARD KURTZ:

Are the Bushies at "war" with the Fourth Estate? Is there an insidious plot to weaken the media establishment, to carpet-bomb its credibility like the Saddam regime?

I wouldn't go that far. People forget that every administration tries to neutralize the press. There was much hand-wringing about Clinton circumventing the White House press corps when he started going on Larry King and other talk shows. And much talk of stonewalling over the way his White House handled its various scandals.

I would argue that nothing the White House has done has damaged the media's credibility more than what the profession has done to itself. Bush wasn't responsible for the fraud by Jayson Blair or Jack Kelley, or for Dan Rather's botched National Guard story (though I know some have theorized that the administration lured CBS into some kind of trap). 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.

Nope. But it might be more comforting to blame him than to look at root causes. There's some constructive advice here: "So take all that money and get yourselves some talented, hungry correspondents. A lot of them. They should be all over Africa, South America, the Mideast and Europe, with talented crews." I agree. Actual hard-news reporting is the killer app for Big Journalism -- if it bothers to do it. They've been retreating from that game for 20+ years. Read this post from Austin Bay, too.

Frankly, I think that everyone at CBS ought to have to read this book, and write an essay about the lessons it contains . . . .

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