Paul Krugman’s latest Op-Ed explains in clear, succinct terms what is going on with the media coverage of President Bush and his administration.
There are typical reasons for the media being easy on Bush, including many that I have elaborated on before and that have been written about in a lot of books that the public never hears about dealing with corporate ownership of media, the introspective nature of the press, etc. There are also, of course, those stemming from Sept. 11:
The truth is that the character flaws that currently have even conservative pundits fuming have been visible all along. Mr. Bush’s problems with the truth have long been apparent to anyone willing to check his budget arithmetic. His inability to admit mistakes has also been obvious for a long time. I first wrote about Mr. Bush’s “infallibility complex” more than two years ago, and I wasn’t being original.
So why did the press credit Mr. Bush with virtues that reporters knew he didn’t possess? One answer is misplaced patriotism. After 9/11 much of the press seemed to reach a collective decision that it was necessary, in the interests of national unity, to suppress criticism of the commander in chief.
Another answer is the atmosphere of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt put forth by the White House, vitriolic conservative pundits, and well-meaning Americans, who attacked “negative” or critical coverage. Journalists who reported the “wrong” story would quickly see their sources dry up, their access revoked, and their sponsorship pulled.
Another factor that Krugman does not consider but that media critics are well aware of is the institutional nature of reporting — generally reporters don’t look report controversy unless it is put forth by public figures. If the scared and confused Democrats had put out some serious criticism, the press would have picked it up. But without “important” actors putting out opposition, the press will not do it either.
Krugman seems to think that that is all about to change, and I say it’s about time. After this Iraq mess, everyone, including the Times, is looking back at the last couple years and wondering where iit all went wrong, and how they can rebuild their shattered reputations. That introspective nature of the press is working for good, for once.