By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
One of the few redeeming pleasures of the Clinton presidency was watching morality czar Bill Bennett galumph onto the talk shows and bray, ”Where‘s the outrage?“ I guess I shouldn’t have laughed at him. Only seven months into the Bush Era, I‘ve started braying the same thing.
Last week, the L.A. Times ran a piece by Judy Pasternak that paints a damning portrait of our new administration. Titled ”Bush’s Energy Plan Bares Industry Clout,“ this devastating expose demonstrates that the White House energy task force, headed by Dick Cheney, was little more than a game preserve for Republican donors and lobbyists. Pasternak reveals levels of logrolling, back scratching and legalistic pussyfooting that might lead an uninformed soul to believe he was reading a dispatch from Mobutu‘s Zaire or Suharto’s Indonesia.
If revelations like this had come out about Clinton, everyone from Drudge and Fox News to The Wall Street Journal would‘ve pounded the war drums 247 until we begged for mercy. But this story of Bush administration corruption sank as quickly and surely as a Soviet sub, ignored by the mainstream media (isn’t it supposed to be liberal?) and unmentioned by Democratic congressmen who were eagerly hopping on camera to talk about Gary Condit (whose real crime was supporting Bush‘s tax cut).
Now this abject lack of attention to a major piece obviously reflects badly on the L.A. Times’ precise standing in the national media hierarchy and the East Coast bias of news media in general. Had Jeff Gerth broken exactly the same story in The New York Times, it would‘ve gotten a lot more play. But this failure to pick up on Pasternak’s story also underscores another, larger truth: The media have been giving Bush an easy ride. Never was this more obvious than during his recent vacation at his 1,600-acre ranch in Crawford, Texas, a trip that his press staff officially termed ”Home to the Heartland“ (which sounds a bit like a tour by Eddie Rabbit).
Like nearly everything presidents do these days, Bush‘s holiday was all about symbolism, with each dawn sprouting a carefully calibrated new piece of iconography for Today or the Nightly News. Here was virile Dubya clearing a path, playing the Reaganesque rancher; there he was toting around that fat bio of John Adams, to display his inquiring mind. One day, he flaunted his blue-jeaned decency by pounding some nails (and bloodying his finger) with Habitat for Humanity; another he proved that he’s an ordinary guy by sitting in the snack bar at Target. Hoping to shore up support in swing states, he flew off to Albuquerque and read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to schoolchildren and stood before a location-scouted Colorado Rockies vista waxing Green for a crowd as stocked with Republicans as the tourist fishing streams are stocked with trout.
Naturally, the reporters who follow any president know such events are PR fictions -- they exist only to be put on TV -- and they talk about such meaningless photo-ops with the weary cynicism of streetwalkers discussing a lovestruck john. I‘m still haunted by the image of the honorable old CBS veteran Bill Plante standing in front of a barn and some bales of hay, while the dust whipped around in the background. His mouth may have been talking about the president, but his tired eyes were saying, ”What the hell am I doing here?“
The answer, of course, is that he was helping create the official version of the Bush presidency. Year after year, the networks and big papers still cover these pseudo-events as if they were actual news. They never show the messy or unscripted stuff you get on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, where you can see the unguarded Dubya picking sod from his golf-shoe cleats with arrogant disdain as he babbles to reporters about the Middle East. No, showing such a thing on the news would be considered disrespectful, a sneaky form of editorializing. The closest any real reporter got to revealing the truth of Bush‘s vacation was Frank Bruni in The New York Times, who described how those New Mexico schoolchildren wouldn’t let Bush get away with saying he came from the Heartland. Each time he asked them where he was from, they shrieked, ”Washington, D.C.“
Meanwhile, back at the ranch -- er, Washington, D.C. -- Bush‘s cowhands were showing how little compassion and conservation actually fit into compassionate conservatism. Even as the president’s road show led the newscasts, the back pages of daily papers carried what was really going on. How his administration has zapped its plans to provide medical aid for uninsured children. How his nominee for director of the Bureau of Land Management, Kathleen Burton Clarke from Utah, is gung-ho for opening public land to energy companies. How his secretary of health and human services wants rollbacks on Clinton‘s policy of Medicaid for the poor and the disabled.
And the front-page vacation headlines were far worse. Not only did Bush announce his desire for a $33 billion increase in defense spending -- the biggest since Reagan sought to topple the evil empire with his arms buildup -- he termed it ”incredibly positive news“ that his $1.35 trillion tax cut had completely wiped out this year’s budget surplus. As one who opposes government programs (unless they assist corporations), he was delighted that there will be no extra money for such suspect activities as building schools, honoring his promise to provide medicine for the elderly or getting up-to-date radar systems into our airport towers.