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April 24, 2005 - The Grownups Will Tell You What You Need to Know

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This is what our president said in Washington on April 14, 2005 –


We look forward to analyzing and working with legislation that will make - it would hope - put a free press's mind at ease that you're not being denied information you shouldn't see."


Fine – but whatever is he talking about?

We won’t be denied information we SHOULD NOT see – we’ll see it all – and will NOT BE SHOWN information we should see?  And this is supposed to “put a free press's mind at ease?”

Ah, you get the general idea.  He’s not good with words.  It’s a Texas thing.  Grammar is for sissies – and in a participatory democracy YOU get to decide what he meant.  This keeps citizens involved in how things are run.  He presents puzzles.  We solve them.  It’s kind of fun.

Elsewhere in these pages - in April 24, 2005 - The End of Outrage? - we find a fellow quoting our president saying that "in a society that is a free society, there will be transparency."  And we take that to mean that we have a government where the public gets to see as much information as possible about its government.

But then there’s the puzzle.

Think about this previously cited –


- Knight-Ridder reports today [April 16] that the Bush administration announced yesterday that it has decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered."

- When unemployment was peaking in Bush's first term, the White House tried to stop publishing the Labor Department's regular report on mass layoffs.

- In 2003, when the nation's governors came to Washington to complain about inadequate federal funding for the states, the Bush administration decided to stop publishing the budget report that states use to see what money they are, or aren't, getting.

- In 2003, the National Council for Research on Women found that information about discrimination against women has gone missing from government Web sites, including 25 reports from the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.

- In 2002, Democrats uncovered evidence that the Bush administration was removing health information from government websites. Specifically, the administration deleted data showing that abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer from government websites. That scientific data was seen by the White House as a direct affront to the pro-life movement.


So the words spoken by our president above may just be to assure us none of that happened, or if it did, it was for our own good.  Or something.

We are NOT being not being denied information we shouldn't see.

No, wait.  He obviously meant we would never be denied information we SHOULD see.  He’s not good with words, but you get the idea.

This is all very puzzling. But he does want put a free press's mind at ease.  Or maybe not.  You have to guess – kind of like high school English class where you had to explain what some dumb poem really “meant.”  It keeps you on your toes.

Ah, and this free press is so… pesky?

Eric Alterman has the cover story in the new issue of The Nation and he’s got a different take on things. His title - Bush's War on the Press - says it all. Eric is not happy.

The opening?


Journalists, George Bernard Shaw once said, "are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization." How odd, given the profession's un-equaled reputation for narcissism, that Shaw's observation holds true even when the collapsing "civilization" is their own.

Make no mistake: The Bush Administration and its ideological allies are employing every means available to undermine journalists' ability to exercise their First Amendment function to hold power accountable. In fact, the Administration recognizes no such constitutional role for the press. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card has insisted that the media "don't represent the public any more than other people do.... I don't believe you have a check-and-balance function."


George Bernard Shaw aside, Alterman does lay out the evidence, from Bush himself, more than once, telling reporters he does not read their work and, as Alterman puts it prefers to live inside the information bubble blown by his loyal minions.


And yes, Vice President Cheney said a nasty thing about a New York Times reporter and tosses reporters he don’t like off his press plane, although not literally. And John Ashcroft did refuse to speak with any print reporters during his You’ll-Just-Love-the-Patriot-Act travels – and only spoke to the local television folks. And finally –


As an unnamed Bush official told reporter Ron Suskind, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." For those who didn't like it, another Bush adviser explained, "Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered two to one by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read the New York Times or Washington Post or the LA Times."


Trash talk?  Alterman thinks it is more than that.

He says these guys are taking “aggressive action” – and he has a list!


- preventing journalists from doing their job by withholding routine information; deliberately releasing deceptive information on a regular basis

- bribing friendly journalists to report the news in a favorable context

- producing their own "news reports" and distributing these free of charge to resource-starved broadcasters

- creating and crediting their own political activists as "journalists" working for partisan operations masquerading as news organizations.


Okay, and then we have an Administration-appointed special prosecutor, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, now “threatening two journalists with jail for refusing to disclose the nature of conversations they had regarding stories they never wrote, opening up a new frontier of potential prosecution.”

It is pretty obvious that there is the obvious labeling Alterman notes – attaching the label "liberal bias" to even the most routine forms of information gathering and reportage (for a transparent example in today's papers, see under "DeLay, Tom").

So what?  They can handle it.

But Alterman says there is a system problem here.


The right wing's media "decertification" effort, as the journalism scholar and blogger Jay Rosen calls it, has its roots in forty years of conservative fury at the consistent condescension it experienced from the once-liberal elite media and the cosmopolitan establishment for whom its members have spoken. Fueled by this sense of outrage, the right launched a multifaceted effort to fight back with institutions of its own, including think tanks, advocacy organizations, media pressure groups, church groups, big-business lobbies and, eventually, its own television, talk-radio, cable and radio networks (to be augmented, later, by a vast array of Internet sites). Today this triumphant movement has captured not only much of the media and the public discourse on ideas but both the presidency and Congress (and soon, undoubtedly, the Supreme Court as well); it can wage its war on so many fronts simultaneously that it becomes nearly impossible to see that almost all these efforts are aimed at a single goal: the destruction of democratic accountability and the media's role in insuring it.


Well, I guess we shouldn’t have been so condescending.  The chickens are coming home to roost.

You can click on the link and see the discussion, with evidence, of the three primary components of all - Secrecy, Lies and Fake News.  It’s long – and it’s not cheery.

And the press is losing.


The net result of this one-sided battle is the de jure destruction of the balance that has characterized the American political system since the modern, nonpartisan media began to emerge a century ago. And unless journalists find a way to fight back for the honor, dignity and, ultimately, effectiveness of their profession, the press's role in American democracy and society will continue to diminish accordingly, to the disadvantage of all our citizens. Bush adviser Karen Hughes has explained, "We don't see there being any penalty from the voters for ignoring the mainstream press." And there's been none to date. Speaking to Salon's Eric Boehlert, Ron Suskind outlined what he sees as the ultimate aim of the Administration upon which he has reported so effectively. "Republicans have a clear, agreed-upon plan how to diminish the mainstream press," he warns. "For them, essentially the way to handle the press is the same as how to handle the federal government; you starve the beast. When it's in a weakened and undernourished condition, then you're able to effect a variety of subtle partisan and political attacks."

"Two cheers for democracy," wrote E.M. Forster, "one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism." But the aim of the Bush offensive against the press is to do just the opposite; to insure, as far as possible, that only one voice is heard and that no criticism is sanctioned. The press may be the battleground, but the target is democracy itself.


Really?  Most folks don’t much care for it, it seems.  They like the guy.

So this NYU professor with his fancy PhD and many books, quoting George Bernard Shaw and E. M. Forster, is worried.  Bush is – perhaps a tad condescendingly - telling him not to worry.  Just the words of a parent to an overly sensitive child who feels he’s being left out of things: Don’t worry – The grownups will tell you what you need to know, so don’t worry about the rest.

Bubba ain’t worried.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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