The Washington Post: Journalists Should Always Get the Last Word


Reviewing my book about Bush and the press in Sunday's Washington Post, Michael Getler insisted it's not possible to prove that the press has rolled over for Bush because I didn't interview lots of Beltway journalists; because I don't know "what was inside the heads of producers and editors at the time their news decisions were made." Basically, Getler argued my point about the press can't be confirmed until I get their side of the story.

I don't buy it. Journalists should be judged on the work they produce, not what's inside their heads while they're producing it.

And Getler's swipe isn't just aimed at "Lapdogs," it's really targeted at a whole generation of media criticism being done online, where lots of liberal writers are holding the press accountable and doing it through old-fashioned fact-checking, not by distilling "what was inside the heads of producers and editors." We're not trying, or often even interested, in reading the minds of journalists. We're simply documenting, again and again, the extraordinarily double standard adopted by this press corps for covering the current Republican administration as compared to the previous Democratic one, and how the press has rolled over for Bush--consistently adopting factually-challenged narratives that benefit Bush.

No offense to Getler, who did some sharp work while he served as the Washington Post's ombudsman, but the cushy, can't-lose scenario he sets up for journalists--you can't say they rolled over for Bush unless you interview them and they admit it on the record--just doesn't fly. Does Getler really think journalists are going to confess to going soft on Bush. And what about journalists who refuse to talk about their work, especially to bloggers? In Getler's world there's no way to prove journalists who remain mum did anything wrong because they won't tell us what was "inside [their] heads."

Today, sites like Media Matters, Firedoglake, Crooks and Liars, Altercation, Atrios, Digby, Talking Points Memo, the Daou Report, Eat the Press, the Daily Howler, Daily Kos, the Horse's Mouth, and scores more factually catalog the disheartening phenomena of the D.C. lapdog press. And they do it based on what the MSM has printed and broadcast--not the wordy, insider back story about why reporters did what they did. (After all, most news consumers are never privy to those back stories.) I do the same thing for 300 pages:

• When the New York Times for five weeks during the 2000 campaign refused to even acknowledge the Boston Globe's page 1 story detailing how Bush had walked away from his Texas Air National Guard duties, that's rolling over for Bush.

• When CNN made sure to obtain prior approval from the Pentagon for the retired generals it was going to use during its Iraq war coverage, that's rolling over for Bush.

• When nearly ever major news organization in American announced in 2004 that Bush had secured a re-election "mandate," despite the fact he clung to the narrowest win for a sitting president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916, that's rolling over for Bush.

• When "Nightline" during the first two years of the Valerie Plame investigation devoted just three programs to the topic, compared to the 19 Whitewater programs "Nightline" did during the first two years of that investigation, that's rolling over for Bush.

• When CNN reported last year that anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan had been arrested outside the White House along with "several others," when in fact she was arrested along with nearly 400 people, that's rolling over for Bush.

• When ABC's The Note announced earlier this year that Bush's newfound rhetorical flourishes were sure to restore his "approval rating back over 53% any day now," that's rolling over for Bush.

• When the Washington Post falsely reported that Jack Abramoff had given money to Democrats, that's rolling over for Bush.

• When Time magazine reported in January that Bush had suddenly "found his voice"
and that relieved White House aides "were smiling again," just weeks before the president began his collapse in the polls, that's rolling over for Bush.

Getler says press critics have to talk to journalists; get inside their heads. But you know what, sometimes their work speaks for itself.

UPDATE: Over the weekend Todd Gitlin raised similar questions about Getler's logic.