Back in 2004 Jay Rosen got in on the ground floor of how President Bush and his administration are approaching the media–it’s a very, very different “strategery” from past administrations, and an especially far cry from the deliberately insulting tactics of the Nixon White House–the first, beginning with Spiro Agnew’s speeches, to point out the bias of the media. As Jay wrote in 2004:
[Ken Auletta of the New Yorker], 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 exploring things.
Further data point: The Bush Thesis. If Auletta’s reporting is on, then Bush and his advisors have their own press think, which they are trying out as policy. Reporters do not represent the interests of a broader public. They aren’t a pipeline to the people, because people see through the game of Gotcha. The press has forfeited, if it ever had, its quasi-official role in the checks and balances of government. Here the Bush Thesis is bold. It says: there is no such role– official or otherwise.
In a new post, Jay fits in the Cheney hunting accident and the mammoth press overreach into his theory:
The way I look at it, Cheney took the opportunity to show the White House press corps that it is not the natural conduit to the nation-at-large; and it has no special place in the information chain. Cheney does not grant legitimacy to the large news organizations with brand names who think of themselves as proxies for the public and its right to know. Nor does he think the press should know where he is, what he’s doing, or who he’s doing it with.Fitzwater said he was “appalled by the whole handling of this,” which is refreshing. But he seems to think the Vice President erred somehow. I’m not sure that’s right. Howard Kurtz said it too. “Seriously: What were they thinking?”
The vice president of the United States shoots a man—accidentally, to be sure, this was no Aaron Burr situation—and White House officials wait a whole day and don’t tell the press? Did they think it wouldn’t get out? No one would care? It would remain secret as a matter of national security?
“This is going to ricochet for days,” Kurtz said on Tuesday. The title of his column that day: Monumental Misfire. I’m not sure that’s right, either.How does it hurt Bush if for three days this week reporters are pummeling Scott McClellan over the details of when they were informed about Cheney’s hunting accident? That’s three days this week they won’t be pummeling Scott McClellan over the details of this article from Foreign Affairs by Paul R. Pillar, the ex-CIA man who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year.
Here’s what the article says: “During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq… the Bush administration disregarded the community’s expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case.” Pillar was there; if anyone would know he would.
The handling of the news that Cheney shot someone is consistent with many things we know about the Vice President— and about the Bush Administration’s policies toward the press. Though I admire his professionalism, I wish Fitzwater were a little less appalled and a little more attuned to the new set of rules put in place by the Bush White House, especially the rules for Dick Cheney.
The public visibility of the presidency itself is under revision, Marvin. More of it lies in shadow all the time. Non-communication has become the standard procedure, not a breakdown in practice but the essence of it. What Dan Froomkin calls the Bush Bubble is designed to keep more of the world out. Cheney himself is almost a shadow figure in the executive branch. His whereabouts are often not known. With these changes, executive power has grown more illegible under Bush the Younger— a sign of the times in Washington.
This week David Sanger of the New York Times described “Mr. Cheney’s habit of living in his own world in the Bush White House — surrounded by his own staff, relying on his own instincts, saying as little as possible.”
And at the same time expanding the reach of his office. “In the past five years, Mr. Cheney has grown accustomed to having a power center of his own, with his own miniature version of a national security council staff,” writes Sanger. “President Bush has allowed Cheney to become perhaps the most powerful vice president in history and has provided him with unparalleled autonomy,” say Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker in the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, the reclamation of powers lost to the executive branch after Vietnam and Watergate goes on; Cheney is known to be the driver. When this project reaches the press it turns into what I have called rollback— “Back ‘em up, starve ‘em down, and drive up their negatives.” Cheney’s methods after the hunting accident were classics in rollback thinking.
Mark Tapscott has more.