[Mb-civic] Flip-flopper in Chief

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Fri Sep 10 17:52:12 PDT 2004

Flip-flopper in Chief

By David Brock and Jamison Foser, AlterNet
 Posted on September 8, 2004, Printed on September 10, 2004

³The Bush campaign has been remarkably successful at getting the press to
buy the notion that John Kerry is a flip-flopper. ... But reporters have
been much less quick to look at various Bush reversals of policy through the
same lens.²
­ Columbia Journalism Review, July 15, 2004.

³Bush now has solid advantages over Kerry in the perceptions that he is a
strong and decisive leader, stands up for what he believes in, and can
manage the government effectively.²
 ­ Gallup News Service, August 31, 2004.

The Los Angeles Times described the ³central message² of the Republican
National Convention as the argument that President George W. Bush ³is a
strong, decisive leader who, unlike Democratic opponent John F. Kerry,
steers a steady course through shifting tides of public opinion.²

 That image of Bush as a ³strong, decisive leader² has been driven home
relentlessly by the Bush-Cheney Œ04 campaign all year, and it has clearly
been successful. According to a Gallup poll conducted Aug. 23-25, 54 percent
of people say the phrase ³strong and decisive leader² applies more to Bush
than to Kerry, while only 34 percent say it applies more to Kerry. Among
Independents, the margin is even wider: 54 percent say it applies more to
Bush while only 25 percent say it applies more to Kerry.

While these poll results are no doubt encouraging for Bush chief political
aide Karl Rove, they should be dispiriting to anyone who cares about the
media¹s role in democratic elections.

As Columbia Journalism Review, Media Matters for America, and countless
others have noted, the media has applied an alarming double standard in
covering Bush¹s and Kerry¹s changes in position ­ a double standard that has
been particularly noteworthy in recent weeks.

An Aug. 30 Washington Post article demonstrated the sometimes subtle ways in
which media coverage of the candidates¹ position-switches tends to favor the

Republicans draw a sharp contrast between what they portray as Bush's
directness and what they call rival John F. Kerry's tendency to worry issues
to death. Š He [Bush] has also not hesitated to switch positions when
necessary, such as when he first opposed, then backed, the creation of a
Homeland Security Department.

The Post used Bush¹s own words to describe his opponent¹s character trait:
Kerry tends to ³worry issues to death.² Meanwhile, the newspaper presented
Bush¹s decision-making far more charitably: "Unlike the indecisive Kerry,
Bush changes positions only ³when necessary.² The Post didn¹t explain why
Bush¹s change in position about the creation of a Homeland Security
Department was anything other than a classic ³flip-flop²; nor did the
article include an explanation of why Bush¹s flip was ³necessary² ­ though
we can assume that political considerations played a sizable role.

The Associated Press has been more overt in promoting the idea of
Bush-as-steady-leader. On Sept. 2, the wire service ran an article
headlined, ³Steadfast, disciplined, Bush sees himself as unchanged by events
of presidency.²

But recent events do little to support the description of Bush as

For example, the president recently flip-flopped dramatically on the subject
of political advertising by 527 groups. In 2000, Bush strongly defended such
advertising as "what freedom of speech is all about"; he now condemns such
ads (and, apparently, "freedom of speech") as ³bad for the system.² Yet
while the media gave heavy play to Bush's condemnation of 527 advertising,
his recent support for them went virtually unmentioned.

Just days before the AP article ran, Bush flip-flopped (and then flipped
back again) on the question of whether the United States would win the war
on terrorism. For years, he has made firm pronouncements such as "Let me be
clear about this: We will win the war on terrorism." Time after time, Bush
has said we would win the war on terror. But in an interview that was
broadcast on Aug. 30, Bush abruptly changed his mind. When he was asked "can
we win" the war on terror, Bush said, "I don't think you can win it." The
very next day, the steady, resolute Bush went back to the position he had
previously touted, declaring: "We will win" the war on terror.

But Bush¹s shocking uncertainty on this question of utmost importance
apparently wasn¹t enough to shake the Associated Press¹s opinion of Bush as
³steadfast.² In fact, it was the subject of relatively little media

How little attention? Less than Teresa Heinz Kerry's request that a hostile
right-wing reporter "shove it." That's right: Teresa Heinz Kerry's comment
shows up in 681 news reports available on Lexis-Nexis for the first four
days after she said it. Bush's abrupt change in opinion ­ that the United
States can't win the war on terror ­ was only mentioned in 397 news reports.

Bush¹s new opinions on 527s and the war on terror are only the most recent
examples of his many flip-flops on cornerstone issues. He has switched his
position on gay marriage, on carbon dioxide emissions, on patients¹ rights
legislation, on an investigation of WMD intelligence failures, on the
creation of an independent 9-11 commission, on ³nation building,² and on the
assault weapons ban.

 He even seems to have flip-flopped on the importance of capturing Osama bin
Laden. In September 2001, Bush said he wanted bin Laden ³dead or alive²; in
March 2002, he said during a press conference, ³I just don't spend that much
time on him. ... I truly am not that concerned about him.² And in 2003 and
2004, according to Dan Froomkin, who writes The Washington Post¹s White
House Briefing column, ³Bush has mentioned bin Laden's name on only 10
occasions.² Indeed, in his speech to the Republican National Convention,
Bush did not mention bin Laden¹s name once.

But despite the president¹s countless flip-flops on issues of highest
importance, the media fails to focus on his changes in position as they do
on Kerry¹s. The Aug. 23-25 Gallup poll results showing that more people
consider Bush a strong and decisive leader than Kerry, therefore, are not
surprising. The poll is just the predictable result of a media double
standard that could determine the result of the 2004 presidential election.

 © 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
 View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/19800/

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