Did you know that some members of the major news media have been meeting in secret “off-the-record” sessions with President George W. Bush? To accept the Presidential invitation where “iced tea, water, and soda” were served, the media had to agree to not publicly discuss the meeting. Something like a solemn pledge of silence or death.
As Katherine Q Seelye writes in today’s New York Times, starting last Thursday, Bush has been inviting groups of 6 or so at a time to come to the White House. They have included newspaper reporters, television reporters, news agencies and magazines.
The problem is – you won’t read about what was said at any of these sessions. That is despite the fact that they “discussed a variety of issues including the war in Iraq” at these sessions.
Philip Taubman, the Washington bureau chief for The Times, said in a statement last night: “The Times has declined this opportunity after weighing the potential benefits to our readers against the prospect of withholding information from them about the discussion with Mr. Bush. As a matter of policy annd practice, we would prefer when possible to conduct on-the-record interviews with public officials.”
At least the New York understood what was happening, unlike many others in the media.
This isn’t the first time Bush and the media have done this. And Bush isn’t the first President to do it. But Bush has probably worked harder than any other President to control what the media has access to or not, including the President.
The Washington Post wrote about “Bush’s Secret Dinner — With the Press” last August:
“About 50 members of the White House press corps accepted President Bush’s invitation last night to come over to his house in Crawford, eat his food, drink his booze, hang around the pool and schmooze with him — while promising not to tell anyone what he said afterward”
Later in the article in the Washington Post they note that Karl Rove has also held several “off-the-record” dinner gatherings with the news media.
Maybe all this fraternity brothers like cozying up with secret barbecues and dinners with Bush and Rove explains some of why why the media has been so ginger with them. Bye, Bye invitation to the next one if you say something not approved as the official Bush line.
In an article published in the New Yorker in 2004 Ken Auletta referred to it as “Fortress Bush“. It is a tightly controlled process by the Bush people to stage set the Bush Presidency just like a movie set.
One reason why is that the Bush media control machine doesn’t trust the press and doesn’t even seem to believe it. Auletta starts his article out with the following incident.
” Bush has let it be known that he’s not much of a television-news watcher or a newspaper reader, apart from the sports section; and during a conversation with reporters he explained, perhaps without intending to, why his White House often seems indifferent to the press. “How do you then know what the public thinks?” a reporter asked, according to Bush aides and reporters who overheard the exchange. And Bush replied, “You’re making a huge assumption – that you represent what the public thinks.”
Andrew Card, who is just departing the White House, is then quoted saying essentially the same thing of the press:
“They don’t represent the public any more than other people do. In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election. I don’t believe you have a check-and-balance function.”
With this attitude of the Bush people it behooves even more that the media be independent and report to the public what they see and hear. This hasn’t been the case for the last five years.
Members of the media now cozying up to Bush for “iced tea, water and soda” and promising not to report on their conversations with el Presidento make a mockery of themselves.
So far few of them have done the hard work of reporting to the people, instead they are content with parroting back the official Bush Media Machine line without critical analysis. They are not independent. Instead they become like puppets dancing on the strings that Bush manipulates.
And Bush is laughing as he thinks to himself how easily they agreed to meet and schmooze with him, for a little” iced tea, water and soda.” How easy.