Man Without Qualities

Friday, May 17, 2002

All Negative, All the Time ... Again.

The Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz is usually an excellent reporter and columnist, so when he doesn't include a disclaimer that Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs emitted gales of laughter when he said "Journalists have been waiting for a chance to be their old, aggressive, hard-nosed selves," with respect to the Bush Administration's handling of terrorism, I believe Mr. Lichter meant his statement to be taken seriously.

But the conceit that American journalists have been cowed into Presidential deference since the events of September 11 would be highly laughable if it were not such a serious subject. American mainstream journalists did not relax their overwhelming hostility to the Bush Administration for a moment following September 11. As hilariously lampooned by another Washington Post columnist, Michael Kelly the media remained "All Negative, All the Time" while the President took on Al Qaida in Afghanistan.

The record is clear: American reporters were fearless. They assiduously reported on how the "brutal Afghan winter" rendered the military effort foolhardy and dangerous. They produced constant comparisons to Vietnam. They offered criticisms of the United States for moving in ways that might "endanger the fragile coalition." Or "inflame the Arab Street." Or permit resumption of the "butality" and "chaos" that preceded the Taliban rule. Then there were the media predictions made by their "seasoned reporters" that the war would just be getting going in the Spring. Would "inevitably" bog down.

Did all that reflect "deference" by reporters and the media to the Administration? No. Reporters and the media defied the possibility that constantly second guessing an Administration engaged in an active war might be unpatriotic. They cared not a wit that their constant carping might burden the military effort. Nor did their almost unbroken record of serious and pervasive error and bad predictions slow down their criticisms of the President's efforts. They seemed to live by a motto: "Neither patriotism, nor accuracy, nor prudence, nor common sense stays these couriers from the swift completion of their self-annointed screeds." If what the media and their reporters did was "non-aggressive" to the White House previously, then "aggression" would have to look like the Palestinians' treatment of the Church of the Nativity.

To suggest that the media is coming out of a "deferential" period is grotesque. They are just up to the same old tricks. All Negative, All the Time ... Again... and Still.

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