It's All the Media's Fault

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 23, 2006 8:28 AM

There are two strains of thought right now about media coverage of the war that, not surprisingly, reflect the polarization over the conflict itself.

From the conservative side: The press is antiwar, plays up every little attack in Iraq and accusation of atrocity against U.S. soldiers, and generally portrays the Bush administration as having failed.

From the liberal side: The press is obsessed with Democratic divisions over when and whether to pull out, and will not focus on the Republicans clinging to an unworkable strategy that is costing American lives.

People are so worked up over this war that some are succumbing to a temptation to blame the media for how badly things are going, or for supposedly being unfair to their political party.

And that's just the straight coverage. The challenge for those who work the opinion side of the street is equally urgent. If you support this war, can you argue that more time and more spilled American blood will eventually turn things around? If you are against the war, can you argue that a U.S. pullout won't result in a civil war and terrorist victory?

Andrew Sullivan is still wrestling with this, so I quote his latest post at some length:

"Readers know that I don't support any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. This puts me in the excruciating position of supporting a war conducted by an administration whose key players are manifestly incompetent and reckless. This is, I think, also the position of several pro-war Democrats, like Senator Clinton, and many pro-war Republicans, whose complete disgust at the way this administration has handled Iraq is more often expressed in private than public. Unable to access intelligence, forced to rely on news reports, blogs and other sources for information, I don't have an alternative master-plan to win either. I would support an increase in troop levels, a clear-and-hold strategy, a more aggressive military commitment to protect the infrastructure, and the kind of outreach to alienated Sunnis that Maliki and Khalilzad are attempting.

"But as long as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are running the show, I cannot say I am optimistic that such a sane strategy will be employed or that it will succeed. It's like asking Ken Lay to turn Enron back into an ethical, profit-making company. But what else can I do? I agree with John McCain that peremptory withdrawal or a fixed date would amount to surrender to an enemy that seems to be gaining momentum and strength. It would mean a historic betrayal of all those Iraqis who want a better future; and consigning Iraq to a new and more lethal version of the Taliban's Afghanistan. It would put us in a more vulnerable position than we were on September 10, 2001.

"The Democrats, alas, seem hopeless to me. Their ambivalence about the war before and during it makes them seem unreliable stewards of a fight we have no choice but to join. Their flirtation with withdrawal only reinforces this impression. But they do have an opening, if they only had the conviction. If a Democratic candidate emerged who promised to stick to the Iraq war to victory, but conduct it in a more aggresive, ethical and competent way than the current crew, Americans would be more than receptive. Such a position would also help them expose the scandalous incompetence in the White House, while not being vulnerable to charges of defeatism.

"It won't happen, alas. And Rove will ruthlessly exploit the war for partisan gain, as he has from the beginning. He has no scruples. For him, national security is simply part of a political game. I should therefore break the news to my liberal and Democratic readers: Rove is winning this game for now. If you stick to your anti-war position, you are left with hoping for catastrophe, which a great political party should be better than."

"Lapdogs" author Eric Boehlert pounds away at his theme that the media are short-changing the Democrats:

"It's been a head-scratching spectacle this week to watch Democrats in the Senate debate war resolutions that would press the administration to begin bringing troops home--to force the White House to 'submit to Congress its plan for continued redeployment beyond 2006'--and then be depicted in the press as the likely losers in the unfolding political battle. Losers because Democrats are 'divided' (New York Times), 'struggling for consensus' (Washington Post), and 'squabbling among themselves' (Knight Ridder), as opposed to Republicans who appear unified behind Bush's 'stay the course' Iraq policy. (Democrats weak and confused, Republicans strong and resolute. Does the press ever got tired of that manufactured storyline?)

"What's so odd is despite the fact poll after poll shows Americans, completely fed up with the Iraq failure, agree with the Democratic initiative to start bringing the troops home, it's Republicans who are being portrayed by clubby Beltway insiders as having the winning hand. Hell, the smart boys over at ABC's The Note, all but announced Democrats had just thrown the 2006 elections thanks to their botched handling of the Iraq war debate. i.e. They were, 'on the precipice of making Iraq a 2006 political winner for the Republican Party.'

"That's certainly the GOP spin . . . Apparently if Karl Rove signs off on a political strategy (hit the Dems hard over Iraq), the press assumes it's a work of genius and shows little interest in dwelling on the pertinent questions, such as isn't there an obvious risk Republicans run in making the hugely unpopular war in Iraq, and specifically the notion that U.S. troops should pretty much stay there indefinitely, the centerpiece for their 2006 campaign?"

But are journalists supposed to ignore the very public Democratic disagreements?

American Prospect's Greg Sargent also insists there's a tilt toward the Republicans:

"Here's something we should keep an eye out for as the political battle over Iraq unfolds: How often do reporters and commentators portray the GOP as being on offense and the Democrats as being on the defensive? Compare these two takes on Wednesday's congressional skirmishing over the war:

"The New York Times: Democrats have found themselves trying to fend off accusations from the White House and other Republicans that they are 'cutting and running,' and many lawmakers demonstrated flashes of exasperation and anger about the level of partisanship .

"Los Angeles Times: Democrats and Republicans dueled over the Iraq war in the Senate on Wednesday, exchanging rhetorical jabs as each side sought political advantage on a debate many strategists believed could be a decisive factor in determining which party would control Congress after the November elections .

"What happened yesterday was this: Both parties attacked each other. The L.A. Times piece made this very clear. The N.Y. Times piece, though it did quote a couple Dems criticizing the GOP, essentially downplayed it. It's important to understand that these were editorial choices. The L.A. Times's choice was closer to the whole truth.

"Look, this is admittedly a very small example. But it's indicative of a larger media failing: The frequent depiction of Republicans on offense, and of the Dems on defense; that is, of Republicans winning and Dems on their heels . . . The reality is this: Republicans have a massive albatross around their neck that's getting heavier every day."

As for the preordained vote in the Senate yesterday:

"An overwhelming majority of the chamber's Democrats backed a resolution that urged President Bush to start the troop redeployment by the end of this year but stopped short of setting a deadline for complete withdrawal," says the Los Angeles Times . "Some Democratic leaders hailed the support for the proposal -- designed to signal to Iraqis that they need to assume more control of their country -- as an expression of party cohesion."

Is there anything the administration isn't snooping into?

"Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks," says the New York Times , "counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials."

But at least "government officials say" the program only affects people suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda.

But hey, what about those WMD? Professor Bainbridge isn't buying:

"In the midst of fighting an election campaign, Senator Rick Santorum announced intelligence data allegedly showing that:

"Since 2003 Coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent.

"Everybody knows Saddam used chemical weapons on the Kurds and in his war with Iran. It would be astonishing if we hadn't found some munitions. But there's nothing new here to suggest that Iraq had a WMD program sufficiently threatening to justify the war . . .

"Why is a politico in the middle of the election fight of his life making this announcement instead of the Administration? It looks like more GOP politicization of intelligence.

Salon's Gary Kamiya finds new evidence of Bush mendacity:

"If there are any observers who still deny that the Bush administration is the most secretive, vengeful, reality-averse, manipulative and arrogant government in U.S. history, they will have a lot of fast talking to do after reading Ron Suskind's new book, 'The One Percent Doctrine.' A meticulous work of reporting, based on interviews with nearly 100 well-placed sources, many of them members of the U.S. intelligence community, Suskind's book paints perhaps the most intimate and damning portrait yet of the Bush team.

"At this point, one could forgive readers for asking, 'How many more damning portraits of the Bush administration do we need?' From yellowcake to Joe Wilson to Abu Ghraib, the list of Bush scandals and outrages is endless, but nothing ever seems to happen."

HuffPoster Alex Koppelman tries on the garb of the Angry Left:

"I don't need coffee to wake up in the mornings anymore. As a member of the mainstream media ('MSM,' for those in the know) I have an internal alarm clock. My all-consuming hatred for President Bush -- my 'Bush Derangement Syndrome,' if you will -- and the consequent desire to see the United States lose in Iraq in order to embarrass the president, gets me going. It's been great -- I save at least $6 a day on Starbucks.

"As a proud part of the monolithic mass of groupthinkers that makes up the MSM, I am just one of many who are actively rooting for, even working towards, the humiliating defeat of U.S. troops in Iraq. That's why we all made sure to trumpet the Washington Post's recent release of a cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, marked sensitive and headlined 'Snapshots from the Offfice: Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord.'

"Oh, wait.

"You'd think that if the press really were the band of rabid defeatists some right-wing media critics make us out to be, we might have tried to jump on the party thrown for President Bush in the wake of the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by trumpeting the release of a missive -- sent under the name of the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq -- that paints a picture far darker than ever previously acknowledged, even implying that the Embassy cannot protect its own employees."

A big development in Maryland politics, as noted by the Washington Times and many others:

"Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan yesterday unexpectedly quit his campaign for governor, saying his once-secret battle with depression forced him from the race."

I bet he would have been a lot less depressed had he not been trailing badly in the campaign.

There may be plenty of smoke and little fire in this question of whether Kos and his co-author, Jerome Armstrong, were influenced in their blogging by political payments. Kos says he disclosed that he worked for Howard Dean for a time, and Armstrong has reached a settlement with the SEC on a related question. Now the New Republic's Jason Zengerle is questioning why the two popular bloggers and their allies aren't saying much:

"Why the strange silence in the face of such damning allegations? Well, I think we now know the answer.

"It's a deliberate strategy orchestrated by Kos. TNR obtained a missive Kos sent earlier this week to 'Townhouse,' a private email list comprising elite liberal bloggers, including Jane Hamsher, Matt Stoller, and Christy Hardin Smith. And what was Kos's message to this group that secretly plots strategy in the digital equivalent of a smoke-filled backroom? Stay mum! He wrote (emphasis added below):

"The YearlyKos media people have already forced corrections at Slate and NY Times (Suellentrop's blog). There has been some serious overreach by the few outlets that picked up this story (which as I mentioned before has been shopped around). It was interesting how this one piddly-ass story was used to try and smear Jerome, me, AND YearlyKos. So the only paper to run this as a news story is the disgraceful NY Post. Others who picked up on it have had to backtrack from their original sensationalistic claims.

"I am exploring legal options against some of the wingnut bloggers who are claiming I'm syphoning netroots money into consultants and my own pockets. Note how Glenn Reynolds is fueling it with his typical passive aggressive, 'I don't think it's a big deal, but let me provide links to everyone who thinks this is THE BIGGEST STORY EVER!' And Jerome's case, if it could be aired out, is a non-story (he was a poor grad student at the time so he settled because he had no money). Jerome can't talk about it now since the case is not fully closed. But once it is, he'll go on the offensive. That should be a couple of months off.

"This story will percolate in wingnut circles until then, but I haven't gotten a single serious media call about it yet. Not one. So far, this story isn't making the jump to the traditional media, and we shouldn't do anything to help make that happen. My request to you guys is that you ignore this for now . . . If any of us blog on this right now, we fuel the story. Let's starve it of oxygen. And without the 'he said, she said' element to the story, you know political journalists are paralyzed into inaction. Thanks, markos.

"So far, Kos's friends in the fiercely independent liberal blogosphere seem to have displayed a sheep-like obedience to his dictat ."

Or maybe they just don't think there's much worth writing about.

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