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As Reporters Suck Up, Laura Bush Slaps Them Down

Laura Bush can teach Dems a lesson: with the facts squarely against her, shebashes the media.
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As reporters continue to suck up to the White House, Laura Bush slams the press and denies the polls: "First lady Laura Bush said on Sunday she does not believe opinion polls showing her husband's approval ratings at record low levels.... Mrs. Bush complained that when her husband's popularity was high, newspapers did not put that on the front page. Now it was low, they took great delight in highlighting the fact. Asked if she thought the media had been unfair, Mrs. Bush said: "No, I don't think it's necessarily unfair. I think it's just, you know, I think they may be enjoying this a little bit."

Laura Bush's remarks are par for the course for any rightwinger. Attacking the media is second only to demonizing liberals in the rightwing playbook. Facts don't matter. Laura could refresh her memory by reading Eric Boehlert's Lapdogs or Media Matters' description of the fawning coverage of Bush's aircraft carrier photo-op.

Recently I've been writing about the dangers of being lulled by Bush's Nixonian poll numbers, arguing that those who think the media will stop brown-nosing are in for a rude awakening.

A perfect example is this latest Newsweek article about the NSA spying scandal. Mark Hosenball and Evan Thomas make sure to tell us how sincere Bush is about protecting us and how insincere his critics are (pertinent sections highlighted):

"[A]fter 9/11, president George W. Bush wanted fast action. He believed that most Americans thought their government should do whatever was necessary to catch terrorists before they struck again. Though the details remain highly classified, the "National Security Presidential Directives" issued by Bush called for an all-out war on terrorism, including, it is generally believed, expanded electronic surveillance. Out went the old rules--a 1980 document called "U.S. Signals Intelligence Directive 18," which sharply limited domestic surveillance; in came a new, still dimly understood regimen of domestic spying.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures. In times of war, open societies have been willing to accept the need for secret spy services. Americans now spend upwards of $40 billion a year on intelligence. Given a hard choice between security and privacy, most Americans would probably choose to sacrifice some of the latter to get more of the former. The harder question is whether the techno wizards at the NSA, overwhelmed by tidal waves of digital data, searching for tiny poisonous fish in a giant sea, can provide true security from another 9/11.

"There can be no doubt that Bush correctly read the public mood in the days and weeks following the 2001 attacks. And had the president sent a bill up to Capitol Hill giving the NSA broad powers to wiretap and eavesdrop inside the United States, in all likelihood, the lawmakers would have shouted it through. But the president did not ask for public support. Instead, like most chief executives charged with running the modern national-security state, he chose the path of secrecy. True, the administration's spymasters confidentially briefed congressional leaders on the new eavesdropping program. But some of the lawmakers now claim they were confused, or misled, or somehow did not fully understand what the spooks were telling them. Perhaps the legislators weren't fully informed. Or perhaps they didn't really want to hear what they were told."

Another example of pro-administration reporting is a questionable Washington Post poll (later undermined by a Newsweek poll) discussed here by Jane Hamsher:

"The headline blazing across the Washington Post this morning reads: "Poll: Most Americans Support NSA's Efforts." It was written by Richard Morin, and we've been down this road before. Just days after the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal broke, before people had become wise to what was going on (and long before Clinton's popularity soared during the congressional hearings), Morin was polling on impeachment with carefully worded questions. He got the results he was looking for, and long after public opinion had turned they existed as a bulwark against any change in conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill."

Jane's money quote: "People are getting wise to how the ground game is being run. That awareness is becoming part of the zeitgeist, around which conventional wisdom is also being formed. The chattering class might be as clueless as ever, but the listening class is getting wise."

Despite endless examples of pro-Bush and anti-Dem spin chronicled by bloggers and by Media Matters, folks like Laura Bush gleefully attack the media, repeating the stale "liberal bias" mantra. Paul McLeary at CJR Daily deconstructs a couple of those attacks: "In the latest battle between 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the media, the White House has taken to sending out flurries of press releases attempting to explain where and how individual reporters got it wrong... This rapid response and counterattack is more reminiscent of the Republican National Committee's performance during the 2004 presidential campaign than it is of the bumbling White House press office during the reign of the hapless Scott McClellan. And it's already clear that Snow is both more nimble and more adept than the shambling McClellan. But he has yet to show that he's any more correct."

Democratic leaders and strategists are pathologically incapable of going after the media. As Eric Boehlert's chapter on the Swift Boat attack suggests, the Kerry campaign's mistake was not simply that it didn't hit back early enough, but that it trusted the press to ignore and/or fact-check an obvious smear campaign. (As Kerry's online rapid response and blog outreach director, I can say that Boehlert is on target with this argument).

Laura Bush can teach Dems a lesson: with the facts squarely against her, she still bashes the media. With the facts on their side, Dems shouldn't be reluctant to hold reporters to task for pro-GOP spin.