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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Media Double Standard

Back during the '08 presidential campaign, my take was that then-President Bush had set the bar so low that anyone who took the White House and managed not to put out the sun would be considered a great success. It was sort of tongue-in-cheek, but also somewhat serious. After all, the media cut Bush a lot of slack, reporting obvious crimes as "controversies" and treating the completely unnecessary invasion of Iraq with zero skepticism and 100% orgasmic glee. You'd think that a media so fawning toward the previous president would measure the current one by the same yardstick.

But this hasn't been the case. All the excitement that had previously been reserved for the bombing of innocent people for no good reason has now been applied to Obama's approval ratings and a special election in Massachusetts that didn't go the way the pressident's party would've liked. A mere one year in, cable news has all but declared the Obama presidency a failure.

To be fair, I would've liked to see the previous president get the level of scrutiny the current one receives. CNN, for example, has a special project tracking stimulus money. OK, good. But the Bush administration literally shipped pallet loads of money -- 363 tons of bills, totaling $12 billion -- into Iraq, where $8.8 billion of it just disappeared.

"Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman at the time. Other wastes and abuses were spending on contractors who delivered shoddy construction work, fed soldiers rotten food, exposed military personnel to toxic fumes from open burn pits, and electrocuted soldiers in their showers. "They were handing out tons of cash from the back of pick up truck," Rep. Peter Welch said. Given all this, was there a special project to track money in Iraq?


At this point, anyone still complaining about the "liberal media" is just ignoring the obvious. Or they're crazy or dumb or all of the above. We've got President Obama under a microscope, but Bush was viewed through the wrong end of a binoculars. Here's a crazy idea, how about we put every president under that microscope?

To give you an idea of just how bad things got under the Bush administration and just how much the media missed, we turn to Justin Elliot at Talking Points Memo and a story that is, sadly, no surprise at all:

When the Pentagon's internal think tank decided in 2004 it needed a better understanding of Al Qaeda, it turned to an unlikely source: the terrorism analyst Laurie Mylroie, who was known as the chief purveyor of the discredited idea that Saddam Hussein was behind Sept. 11 and many other attacks carried out by Al Qaeda.

Mylroie was paid roughly $75,000 to produce a 300-page study, "The History of Al Qaida," for the Defense Department think tank, known as the Office of Net Assessment, a DOD spokesman tells us. The study, which is dated September 2005, was posted on an intelligence blog last month.

It documents the development of Al Qaeda and spends many pages dancing around the theory that has defined Mylroie's career -- that key Qaeda leaders acted at the behest of the Iraqi regime. She also argues that group-think among U.S. analysts has obscured the true nature of the terrorist group.

Also not surprisingly, Mylroie is widely considered a "crackpot" by the intelligence community. "I think that she has zero credibility on these issues," says terrorism expert Peter Bergen. When we learned that Sarah Palin couldn't get it out of her head that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, this was proof of what a ridiculous boob she is. Yet here's someone working for the Pentagon who makes the same mistake in intelligence reports.

It might be easy to blame this on the Pentagon themselves, but the evidence shows that Mylroie was hired at the administration's behest:

Mylroie's allies in the Bush Administration included Iraq hawks Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and others. "The elaborate conspiracy theories she had propounded--dismissed as bizarre and implausible by the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities--would have enormous influence within the administration," reported David Corn and Michael Isikoff in their book Hubris.

That's right, someone wrote a book that showed the Bush administration relying on a lunatic to make the case for invading Iraq. Remember what a big deal that was?

Yeah, that's because it wasn't. Gossipy books about what a lightweight Sarah Palin is and how the Edwards fought on the campaign trail -- now that's news.

I really can't complain that Obama's getting the scrutiny he's getting. But I'd hope that they'd do the same to the next president and the next. George W. Bush wouldn't have gotten away with half the stuff he did if the media didn't let him. Stick everyone under that microscope and we'd all be better off.

But somehow I doubt that'll happen. Despite all the Republican whining about a "liberal media," recent history shows that it's not. What we've got is a TV-driven culture and a media obsessed with ratings. War is good for ratings, so the "war president" gets cut some slack. Which, of course, gives presidents an incentive to go to war.

I don't see that changing any time soon.


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1 comment:

vet said...

You can't really call Obama's coverage "scrutiny". The media is obsessed with one story - "who's going to win the next election?" - and everything they report revolves around that. It's the only thing they think matters.

And that's because your country's insane political campaigning laws incentivise the media to think that way. The media make huge steaming heaps of cash out of every candidate who thinks they've got a chance. Is it any wonder they're looking forward to it, and spend the whole time positioning themselves to collect that money when the time comes?

What you need is a sane Supreme Court and some rules that limit campaign spending, both by candidates and everyone else. And when I say "limit", I mean "limit hard". If you see more than one political ad per party per day during the campaign season, that means there's too much money sloshing around for the system to be honest.