Loose lips are not likely to sink George W. Bush‘s ship of state anytime soon. From its ferocious stonewalling over the release of Dick Cheney’s Enron papers (or even revealing his post--September 11 whereabouts) to the press lock-down in Afghanistan, the White House has been about as open as any East Bloc information ministry during the Cold War. Even the past seems off-limits now, with Bush decreeing 68,000 pages of Ronald Reagan‘s White House archives too sacred for the defiling gazes of the press or electorate. Yet big media couldn’t seem more content as they doze by the Oval Office hearth, stirring now and then to produce fawning profiles of the president and his Cabinet, a la February‘s Vanity Fair cover ”exclusive“ or reporting fluffy anecdotes about Bush, such as his quip to a West Virginia official that waging war is easier than raising his twin daughters.
No surprise, then, that when the Project for Excellence in Journalism released its report on September 11Afghan-war coverage Monday, it found that ”The press heavily favored pro-Administration and official U.S. viewpoints -- as high as 71 percent early on.“ Not only that, but as combat began, objective reporting shrank, and ”analysis and opinion swelled -- so much so that the level of factualness declined to levels lower than those seen in the middle of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.“ But there was a payoff for the fourth estate, as it received its first positive approval-from-the-public rating in 15 years: ”More Americans suddenly considered the press accurate, professional, moral, caring about people and patriotic.“ Reporters, anchors and pundits are only human and just want to be liked, right? Perhaps that’s why, ”On talk shows, journalists often seemed to luxuriate in sounding not like knowledgeable experts on TV stages, but like anyone else standing in a barroom.“
Since September 11, this particular barroom has been open for a permanent happy hour, even though the administration‘s refusal to part with facts and access, and big media’s reluctance to gain them, only hurts the public. According to the study, ”The evidence strongly suggests that coverage is more factual when journalists have more information and becomes more interpretative, perhaps ironically, when they have less.“ Whether it‘s news about U.S. bombing of Afghan civilians (Oops! We did it again!), Saudi Arabia’s Gastarbeiter problem (our troops) or an L.A. anarchist having his home raided by the FBI (see below), mainstream news coverage has gone from the ridiculous to the supine.
NO PILLOW MINTS FOR JIHADIS
The following remarks are published or broadcast comments about the status of Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
”Now, these people are not at Club Med, they are not at the Guantanamo Hilton, they are being treated in a humane fashion, but they are being treated as suspects for acts of terrorism . . .“
The residential side street in the San Fernando Valley normally doesn‘t see the kind of action that sends neighbors out to their front lawns to talk about it. Last week it did. At around 4 p.m. on January 24, members of a Joint Anti-Terrorist Task force surrounded a house with weapons drawn. They had come for an 18-year-old anarchist who runs the activist Web site www.raisethefist.com.
”I was sleeping at the time,“ says Sherman, who prefers to use only his surname. ”My sister woke me up and said there were tons of FBI and undercover people on the street. She wouldn’t answer the door.“
Sherman says that when he looked out the window he saw a couple of dozen members of the FBI, Secret Service, LAPD and Sheriff‘s deputies. ”Everyone had windbreakers and bulletproof vests,“ he says. ”Some had machine guns and shotguns. They seemed really scared or concerned that I’d give them a lot of trouble -- they had the garage blocked off with a bench and a door rammer ready.“