Friday, February 09, 2007

Two Years Left Of 'Packing Up The Desk' To Go

Bush Raises Only Disinterest With The US Media

There's a consensus that seems to be growing amongst the US media, and it's one already well explored by media across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

President Bush is over. He's had his final big moments in the spotlight. Since the State Of The Union address in January, he's become less and less a front page media prize. This means he has lost his cache. The media seems vastly uninterested in what he's doing now.

The focus has shifted completely to Iraq and to the new US Congress, and their battles to supposedly end the war and rein in Bush's war spending.

It's a silly argument in many ways, that Bush has become a non-story, and will remain so for the next 22 months of presidency.

A war on Iran, another huge terrorist attack in the US, a withdrawal from Iraq, or something close to a tangible victory in that war will turn all the world's media attention back on him again.

Of course, none of those key events may happen, and Bush may well continue to be of next to no interest for the mainstream media.

But again, in other ways, the claims that Bush has worn out his newsworthiness, for now, is also true. He has announced he will be working with Congress to reform social security, immigration, energy use and resources and Medicare, primarily, before his days in the White House draw to a close. And he may make great or even extraordinary progress on all four key reform issues.

But homeland reforms of this nature are rarely ever international news.

And Bush has been pushing social security, immigration and Medicare reform from his first year in office. The feeling, or vibe, in the Letters To Editor pages across traditional Red and Blue American states is : "Just shut up and get on with it."

Does the media itself feel betrayed by Bush, particularly the right wing conservative media, now that Bush is pumping reforms and ideas that have long been within the domain of Democrats and progressives?

Is President Bush really yesterday's news?

This piece in the Washington Post further explores how the spotlight is drifting away from President Bush :

These days, many in the media seem to be writing off President Bush.

"The American people basically fired George Bush in the last election," writes New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. "We're now just watching him clean out his desk."

"A lot of Americans consider this presidency over," says CNN's Bill Schneider.

"If America were a parliamentary democracy, we would have a no-confidence vote and a new prime minister by spring," writes New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin.

Are these and other pundits giving us the unvarnished truth, that we are witnessing the historic collapse of a presidency? Or is this the triumph of quick-draw, poll-driven journalism?

"If we had a straight dictatorship," writes the New Republic's Jonathan Chait, "Bush would long ago have been dragged out of the White House either by an angry mob or by disgruntled generals." (Not that he's in favor of either.)

Chait agrees in an interview that the president still has power, but notes: "Psychologically, it does feel that people are starting to move past Bush. No one has changed his mind about Bush in the last two years. It's kind of boring to write about him anymore because he's so unchanging."

The media, as always, are mesmerized by polls. When Bush was riding high in the "Mission Accomplished" days of 2003, some of the coverage was almost giddy. If Bush's current approval ratings were at 50 percent, his media portrayal would look very different. With the president having sunk as low as 28 percent in a CBS News survey, it is all too easy to dismiss him, even as he mounts an escalation of the war in Iraq.

That war, of course, is the reason why the mainstream media see no possibility of Bush bouncing back. Things are a mess in Iraq; the country has turned against the war; and few journalists think the "surge" is going to work. Therefore, the reasoning goes, Bush will continue to sink into the quagmire of the war he chose to wage.

Other unpopular war presidents have staggered to the ends of their terms -- Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson come to mind -- and Bush may do the same. But because Iraq is now widely viewed as having been an unnecessary personal crusade on Bush's part, there seems to be an extra element of derision in the political commentary, especially from the left.

Bush's father recently vented his frustrations with the coverage. "It's one thing to have an adversarial . . . relationship -- hard-hitting journalism. It's another when the journalists' rhetoric goes beyond skepticism and goes over the line into overt, unrelenting hostility and personal animosity," the former president said.

Actually, even some of the journalists who are especially aggressive in their coverage of Bush like him in private settings, where the president has a joshing manner and enjoys handing out nicknames. But professional resentment may still be behind some of the increasingly negative coverage. "In the press corps," Chait says, "there's a little bit of a realization that they had been played."

From Iraq, where the media fell down on the WMD debate, to Bush's 2000 campaign persona as a compassionate conservative, many journalists now believe they were led astray. That has given an extra edge to their stories and columns on Bush being out of touch and has fueled an effort to vindicate their darker picture of the war. In short, the mainstream media no longer give this president the benefit of the doubt.