Any close observer of the Bush administration cannot help but note their quasi-dictatorial control over the White House media. Both supporters and denouncers are amazed at the level of immunity this president has received from the mainstream and right-wing media. The reason for this immense command is the Bush team’s tactics; they are practically professional puppeteers, providing the script for the fearful American media. I write “fearful” because they (the White House corps specifically) are just that.Helen Thomas, the most senior member of the White House press corps, has sat in the front row in daily briefings and press conferences for decades now. Traditionally, questions for the press secretary or the president began with her, but not in this White House. After forty years she has been relegated to the back of the room and her questions are rarely, if ever, accepted, let alone answered. The reason for her punishment was her audacity to ask unforgivingly difficult and straightforward questions after the 2000 election.
Evidence of the administration’s disregard of the non-loyal media is manifested in the daily press briefings which frustratingly yield nothing but pre-written answers and tired cliches.
An example came last Friday when a reporter asked, “Could the records [Bush’s National Guard records] be incomplete?”
“I’m sorry?” responded press secretary Scott McClellan.
“Could the records be incomplete?” the reporter again questioned.
“Direct that question to the National Guard,” McClellan deflected the question in a classic maneuver.
Possibly the most axiomatic aspect of the White House silence is the number of presidential press conferences. A few weeks ago The New Yorker compared the number of Bush press conferences to those of his predecessors. In a comparable period, Eisenhower held seventy-four, Kennedy sixty-five, Johnson eighty, Nixon twenty-three, Ford thirty-nine, Carter fifty-three, Reagan twenty-one, Bush Sr. seventy-one, Clinton thirty-eight and George W. Bush has thus far hosted just eleven. The stark difference between his accessible predecessors and this reclusive president are very real; every move he makes is calculated and every word scripted, though they often come out askew.
Remember the grandiose spectacle of the aircraft carrier landing last May? Or the legions of trustworthy media who accompanied the president to Iraq for an hour on Thanksgiving when he visited approximately 500 of the 130,000 troops there? There was also the speech he made before Mount Rushmore in which his head coincidently aligned itself neatly alongside Lincoln’s, Washington’s, Roosevelt’s and Jefferson’s in a derisively subliminal message. These propaganda-saturated commercials are the crafty work of Karl Rove, the president’s right-hand man. The use of tax payers’ money to design these extravagant charades is questionable. He is essentially campaigning while on duty.
Setting up elaborate speeches is one thing; it is dishonest, but generally harmless. However, recently the president has taken far greater liberties with tax payers’ money and his campaign run. Paul Krugman, economics professor at Princeton, noted last Friday in The New York Times that the president’s recently published budget proposal included at least 27 glossy photos of the president in heroic Kodak moments. “Bill Clinton’s budgets were illustrated with tables and charts, not with worshipful photos of the president being presidential,” Krugman wrote. Glossy photos are strange in their efficiency, since they only reach the most politically astute researchers, most of whom are already loyal or disloyal to the White House and could not be swayed by mere photographs.
Another, more disturbing tactic comes in the name of the new medicare legislation pushed and passed by Republicans in recent months. Television commercials have begun appearing across networks promoting the Medicare plan as a progressive and well-meaning change for seniors. In the political spectrum, the Medicare bill was highly controversial and the $9.5 million the republican government is spending to promote the plan is nothing more than a free advertisement for Bush. Incredibly, the media placement company which created the ads is the same employed by the Bush/Cheney re-election committee. The General Accounting Office, Congress’ investigative arm, has been barraged with complaints and requests to examine whether the administration should be using taxpayer money to air such commercials. In response, CBS (who refused to air moveon.org’s anti-deficit commercials during the Super Bowl because they were “political”) immediately pulled the ad while other networks have requested small changes and are awaiting the GAO review.
It should not be a surprise that the president would contort the media to his liking when not ignoring it completely. Remember, the president admittedly does not read newspapers. It is the essence of arrogance that surrounds this administration, their disunity with the American people that concerns a growing number of the population. He is the president of a republic, a free society intended to be monitored by the people. Why then does he run the country like a autocrat would?