Friday, November 23, 2007

McClellan and the Government-Media Echo Chamber

The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

There was one problem. It was not true.

I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the President himself.

And so reads, in it's entirety, a brief excerpt from Scott McClellan's upcoming book, What Happened: Inside the Bush Whitehouse and What's Wrong With Washington, due out in April from PublicAffairs Books.

The MSM covered but largely buried the admission from Bush's former press secretary that Bush was "involved" in passing along "false information" regarding who was involved in the outing of Valarie Plame as a covert CIA agent.

The progressive media, however, was all over it. Demanding impeachment. Demanding to know why the MSM wasn't covering the story more prominently. This was the smoking gun that came in the form of a confession from a former high level Whitehouse official.

The Whitehouse itself in response demurred, "The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information." And an editor for the publisher downplayed the meaning of the excerpt.
Peter Osnos, editor at large of Public Affairs Books, said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening that McClellan doesn't believe Bush deliberately lied to him about Libby's and Rove's involvement.

"He told him something that wasn't true, but the president didn't know it wasn't true," Osnos said.

So is it much ado about nothing?

As usual the Whitehouse denial isn't much better than the thing they're denying. The President was out of touch and out of control, unaware of what his top aide, his Vice President and the VP's top aide were doing when it came to committing treason - and unwilling to accept responsibility for what comes out of his administration unless you can prove incontrovertibly that The Decider was directly involved.

Whether Bush knew or didn't that Rove, Libby and Cheney had committed a crime, Bush is still responsible for the actions of his administration. Even if it were true that Bush didn't know then, he knows now. To date, no one involved has been held to account. Libby came close, but Bush's one decisive action in the whole affair was to quickly ensure that this one brush with accountability was averted. And whether Bush was actively involved in the cover up or passively avoiding uncovering the truth, the Decider in Chief failed at an essential test of leadership. He vowed that "if there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of." There was a leak. It did break the law. Take care of it already.

I will, however, admit that McClellan's teaser in itself is not enough to warrant the apoplexy it received from some quarters on the Left. The normally sensible Thom Hartmann devoted much of his Thanksgiving show to importance of McClellan's revelation and demands that the "corporate media" cover the story with more prominence.

By way of comparison, I still have vivid memories of press coverage of the first minor leaks from the grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky case. With far less to go on than is available in the present instance, all of the networks and the 24/7 cable news outlets declared that the Presidency was In Crisis - complete with splashy graphics and round the clock speculation.

Perhaps more than shedding light on corruption and deceit in the Bush Whitehouse, the reactions to McClellan's statement sheds light on the differing attitudes the Left and the Right have toward and expectations they have for the press. I have zero doubt that had the entire matter played out exactly the same excepting the parties of those involved were reversed, the MSM would have all over the story. More splashy graphics. More unwarranted speculation.

But that isn't based on a belief that the MSM is somehow inherently biased toward Republicans. Rather it's based on the belief that Republicans are just better at playing the MSM game. The MSM has a problem with news or information that seems to clearly favor one political party over the other. Covering the news straight might make them seem biased, un-"balanced". The Right knows this. They know that if the GOP leadership and the RW Noise Machine, in concert, raise a fuss over any event, no matter how unfounded, the MSM will feel obliged to cover it. The Right has figured out that the work-around for this problem that the MSM has adopted is that so as they are merely repeating someone else's partisan attacks that they, the MSM, cannot be accused of bias.

In contrast, as evidenced by the expectations expressed by Thom Hartmann that the MSM cover the McClellan story simply because of it's significance, the Left still seems to think that the MSM ought to practice journalism. How very quaint.

The MSM didn't run with this story simply because Pelosi, Reid, Clinton, et al failed to irresponsibly seize on McClellan's tidbit and loudly and indignantly renew demands for impeachment.

Headlines such as Former Press Secretary Points Finger at Bush, Cheney for Deceit in CIA Leak Scandal are about as far as they can go. Heck, they're just saying what the guy said. The MSM relies entirely on someone else to do the heavy lifting of making a case for the significance of the story.

Not unlike Bush, the MSM has responded to the illegal outing of an undercover CIA agent with complete passivity. Both the government and press have their own ethical obligations to actively seek truth and justice. And neither are willing to accept the responsibility.

For that matter, McClellan's statement too reads less like an accusation and more like a denial of responsibility in itself.

Heck, they all say, I just repeated what I was told. So if everyone is just repeating the claims of others, and no one will accept responsibility for uncovering the truth...

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