[Mb-civic] Flip-flopper in Chief and the "liberal" media

ean at sbcglobal.net ean at sbcglobal.net
Fri Sep 10 20:52:26 PDT 2004

Two important stories about the media and its profound effect on this Presidential 
race.  But first, from Guru Singh:

This is a great site to state by state track the ZOGBY poll which is by far 
the most accurate http://www.electoral-vote.com/

In 2000 it was the only poll that showed the fact that Gore would win the 
popular vote


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 president:

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
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

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


It's Like Iraq, All Over Again

By Danny Schechter, MediaChannel.org
 Posted on September 9, 2004, Printed on September 10, 2004

During the run-up to the war in Iraq and through the US invasion, it was
obvious that our media system had signed up as an unofficial megaphone for
war. There was a uniformity of perspective, a reliance on the same
"facts," and a dismissal of critics and dissenters.

 Journalists outside America compared our TV coverage to that of a
"state-run media" even though most U.S. media outlets are in private hands
and nominally competitive with each other.

A year and a half later, some journalists and newspapers took a second
look at their coverage and acknowledged it had been flawed. There were
admissions of misreporting, especially on supporting the government's
allegations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

 These media admissions never rose to the level of institutional
post-mortems or real mea culpas. They haven't led to more diversity of
perspective, investigative journalism or dissection of government claims.
The modalities of coverage continue.

The New York Times spent more time and space exposing the fraudulent but
minor inventions of a troubled reporter, Jayson Blair, than on its own
role in the selling of a war that its own public editor Daniel Okrent
would later pinpoint as an "institutional failure."

The Washington Post's ombudsman Michael Getler selectively critiqued his
newspaper's coverage, as did media correspondent Howard Kurtz.
Editorially, the newspaper said little and refused to mount an internal

The three television networks that most Americans rely on for their news
and information about the war also said little or nothing. They moved on
to other stories without any acknowledgement that the modes of coverage
that we saw during the war need to be changed fundamentally.

Mili-tainment Goes Political

The administration, which successfully mobilized the media and public
opinion behind their military venture in Iraq, are using the same
techniques to fight a political war against their Democratic opponents.
The embedded reporters may be gone but the routines of political coverage
and their deferential approach can be relied on to achieve the same

 A new book analyzing the White House spin assesses why the
media machine is so successful. In "All the President's Spin," Ben Fritz,
Bryan Keefer and Brendan Nyhan explain: "Bush's White House has broken new
ground in its press relations strategy, exploiting the weaknesses and
failings of the political media more systematically than any of its
predecessors. The administration combines tight message discipline and
image management ­ Reagan's trademarks ­ with the artful use of half- or
partial truths and elaborate news management ­ Clinton's specialties ­ in
a combination that is near-lethal for the press."

 The authors cite four "key weaknesses" of the press that helps a
media spin operation get its message ­ and none other ­ through: " First
and foremost, reporters are constrained by the norm of objectivity, which
frequently causes them to avoid evaluating the truth of politicians'
statements. In addition, because reporters are dependent upon the White
House for news, the administration can shape the coverage it receives by
restricting the flow of information to the press. The media are also
vulnerable to political pressure and reprisal, which the Bush White House
has aggressively dished out against critical journalists. Finally, the
press' unending pursuit of scandal and entertaining news often blinds it
to serious issues of public policy."

The White House handles the press the way TV producers package
information: with careful pre-planning, structured themes and packaged
infomation. And so the "mili-tainment" we saw during the war has given way
to "electo-tainment." The dynamics of coverage remain largely the same:
simplistic, superficial and uncritical.

Only a few commentators in the media have even commented on the
"Iraqization" of our domestic election coverage. Paul Krugman of the New
York Times is one of them, writing: ". . .the triumph of the trivial is
not a trivial matter. The failure of TV news to inform the public about
the policy proposals of this year's presidential candidates is, in its own
way, as serious a journalistic betrayal as the failure to raise questions
about the rush to invade Iraq."

Preceding the war, there were months of demonization of Saddam Hussein. A
dictator in a sanctions crippled society that the U.S. had put in power in
the first place and armed for years was pictured as prepared to attack the
United States or the world, take your pick. He was compared to Adolph
Hitler. Time Magazine even redid a 1930's cover once used to chastise the
Fuhrer, replacing his face with the "butcher of Baghdad."

 The Hollywood Playbook

To sell its war the administration dipped into the playbook of Hollywood
narrative technique, relying on story-telling, not sloganizing. A master
narrative was concocted that fit the good guy/bad guy formula that works
so well on the silver screen. The narrative was simplified into themes
justifying pre-emptive intervention as the only recourse. Corporate PR
pros helped plan and execute the strategy. Andrew Card, the President's
top aide compared the launch of the war to a "product roll-out."

With some modifications, they are doing it again. This time their media
plan relies on demonizing John Kerry with repeated charges like "flip
flopper" and distorted information about his military service, knowing
that a media that readily accepted their WMD claims will do little to
scrutinize attacks on the Democratic candidate's character.

We heard them endlessly: "The war was forced on us;" "We will either fight
them there or here;" "Saddam Hussein was a weapon of Mass Destruction;"
"Kerry was for the war until he was against it;" etc., etc.

The GOP convention showcased all of these techniques built around vicious
personal attacks, and distorted arguments that ignored any and all
information that had earlier debunked them. They also used techniques
honed in Qatar to build the case for their own political cruise missile:
"Dubya." In fact, the administration official who supervised the coalition
media center in Doha was brought in to run the GOP's convention press

 This master narrative for The Garden was a tale of a humble Texan whose
character was forged by an epiphany of Biblical proportions after America
came under attack by a foreign evil, and who by attacking Iraq has kept
American families safe from terror. The conveniently added subplot:
bringing freedom, "a gift from the almighty," to those poor Arabs
suffering under ruthless extremists in the Middle East.

 It was as if the 9-11 Commission had never happened, or the Senate
Intelligence Committee report was never issued. The Republicans paid no
respect to the facts; instead they hammered home a simple, made for TV
narrative that delegates could mindlessly repeat like a mantra of received

Media Shy Away from a Hard Truth

Perhaps you would expect that from politicians but what of the media? Were
news organizations fact checking and debunking distortions? A few did but
most did not. When their keynote Zell Miller finished his rant, he did
find himself challenged aggressively by a few journalists ­ Chris Matthews
on MSNBC and Wolf Blitzer on CNN. That was it. John Stewart featured the
confrontations as a high point on his Comedy Central show without
mentioning that their challenges were the exception to uncritical

The Washington Post's sometime liberal columnist called Miller's
"diatribe" a "Category Five lie," and characterized the speech as "as mad
an eruption of hate as I have witnessed in politics. Some time back, Kerry
must have dissed Miller. This was personal."

 But was it? Miller actually published a book that most of the press corps
had not bothered to dig out called "A National Party No More," In it he
trashes all the Democratic White House hopefuls at the time in the
nastiest terms. The Republicans knew where Miller stood even if the press
corps didn't bother to find it.

Most of the convention was then treated as a triumph for Bush because of
his "likeability." His speech was not scrutinized. The largest protest at
any convention in American history with more than l,800 arrests, as
opposed to 600 in Chicago in l968, was contained by police state tactics,
treated as a nuisance by the GOP and ignored in most of the press, except
on the Sunday before the event began.

 Ignoring the Protesters at Your Gate

The streets around The Garden came to resemble Baghdad's high security
Green Zone. There were protests against the media coverage in New York
that went largely ignored.

 I know. I spoke at one outside Fox News and down the block from CNN
studios. The only wire story that I read about the event was by Agence
France Press on a Turkish news website. I was interviewed by Canadian
public radio, not NPR. One newspaper was there: The Toledo Blade.

The Blade's Jim Drew wrote: "For those of us with the 'limited access'
credentials that couldn't get us on the convention floor, the streets were
an option. And the guerrilla reporters found by far the most important and
interesting story. In the age of international terrorism, the patriotic
right of political dissent in the United States is in crisis."

He quoted Peter Hart, of Fairness and Accuracy in Media, which helped
organize the march: "Mr. Hart said activists 'demand a more accountable
media,' and they marched to the headquarters of 'corporate media' to
celebrate the independent and alternative press."

 "These are the people who sold us a war. The biggest media companies get
bigger and bigger based on favors from the government. They sell ideas;
that assistance to the poor must be reformed, and free trade is the only
way. These are the ideas that the mainstream media are selling ­ and we're
not buying," Hart told Drew.

I was quoted too saying, "I've never seen the level of defensiveness in
the major media, the level of disenchantment, and the level of dread;
journalists on the front lines representing the public in some way feeling
they can't play that role."

And why? Because their bosses and the culture of corporate news makes it

 At least some media outlets have not lost the spirit of independence and
crusading that the US press used to be known for. The Toledo Blade's
coverage of the protests mirrored its relentless and award winning
coverage of war crimes in Vietnam.

Not the alleged "crimes" of John Kerry being blasted inside The Garden but
real crimes committed in Vietnam 35 years ago by an American military unit
that had all but been ignored by major media then and now. The Blade
uncovered massacres by US troops and bravely made it news. And now the
Pentagon is being forced by their persistence to reopen the issue.

And so, once again, the coverage of war or lack of coverage is linked ­ in
this case by a heroic example of a newspaper in a small Ohio city in the
heart of a battleground state.

 The media battle, the political battle and the fight for truth about war
have been joined.

 © 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
 View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/19838/


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