Will media challenge first lady's criticisms of media -- now refuted by conservatives -- during interviews?

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Given that conservatives such as Rich Lowry and Tony Blankley have challenged Laura Bush's assertion that the media have failed to cover "a lot of good things that are happening" in Iraq, will the media similarly take on the first lady's baseless -- and at times outright false -- attacks on the media?

Following first lady Laura Bush's December 14 interview with MSNBC chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell, in which Bush asserted that the media have failed to cover "a lot of good things that are happening" in Iraq, National Review editor Rich Lowry, Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley, and New York Times columnist David Brooks have all weighed in, disputing the charge. As Media Matters for America noted, during the December 14 interview, O'Donnell did not dispute Laura Bush's assertion, consistent with a practice, also documented by Media Matters, of journalists not challenging the first lady's criticisms of the media's coverage of the Bush administration. Media Matters asks: Will the media generally take the example of Blankley, Brooks, and Lowry and take on the first lady's baseless -- and at times outright false -- attacks on the media?

President Bush himself offered further ballast for the media to challenge the first lady going forward, acknowledging in a December 19 interview with The Washington Post, that "[w]e're not winning, we're not losing" in Iraq, a statement the Post noted "was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, 'Absolutely, we're winning.' "

During the December 14 MSNBC interview, Laura Bush asserted, "I do know that there are a lot of good things that are happening [in Iraq] that aren't covered, and I think the drumbeat in the country from the media, from the only way people know what's happening, unless they happen to have a loved one deployed there, is discouraging." As Media Matters noted, beyond pointing out that "there are a lot of deaths every day," O'Donnell did not dispute the first lady's assertion; rather, she prompted her to elaborate on "some of those good things that people should know about," at no point mentioning that President Bush himself acknowledged, during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on December 7, that the United States needs a "new approach" because "[i]t's bad in Iraq."

Writing about Laura Bush's statement during the interview, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz observed in his December 20 "Media Notes" column, "I no longer see most conservatives making this argument," a fact he described as "telling." Kurtz noted that Lowry and Brooks disputed Laura Bush's comments.

In his December 19 column, Lowry wrote, "The mainstream media is biased, arrogant, prone to stultifying group-think and much more fallible than its exalted self-image allows it to admit. It also, however, can be right, and this is most confounding to conservatives. In Iraq, the media's biases happen to fit the circumstances. ... The 'good news' that conservatives have accused the media of not reporting has generally been pretty weak."

On the December 17 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked Brooks to respond to Laura Bush's criticism of the media. Brooks said:

BROOKS: Get off of it. I mean, we've got a hero in our newspaper, [New York Times Baghdad bureau chief] John Burns. Another hero, [reporter] Dexter Filkins, a whole series of heroes over there. They're not biased about this. They want the best for the Iraqi people, they want democracy. Listen to what they're reporting. They're reporting chaos. You have 100 -- I don't know what it is, 1.6 million people leaving Iraq. You've got 9,000 Iraqis every week who are moving to their Shia homeland, or to their Sunni homeland. This is a country -- it's not civil war, it's just disintegration. So the idea that this is some media concoction, you -- I said that a year ago or two years ago. But at some point, face reality.

In addition, on the December 19 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson asked Blankley whether "this is fair criticism for Mrs. Bush, that this is actually much more positive in Iraq than we know?" Blankley responded, "[I]t is now unambiguously the case -- I've talked with enough people who are pro-war, who have been there to agree that the general perception that things are going very badly is accurate. And to say that that's no longer correct reporting


whatever the media did badly in the past, I don't think is valid."

Media Matters has previously documented unchallenged attacks on the media by Laura Bush. On May 14, several media outlets left unrebutted Laura Bush's false claim that, when President Bush's approval ratings were "really high," or "when [his] poll numbers were good," "they weren't on the front page" of major newspapers. In fact, as The American Prospect's Greg Sargent noted on the Prospect's Tapped weblog at the time, The New York Times and The Washington Post published at least nine front-page articles touting President Bush's formerly high approval ratings and his lead in polls taken during the 2004 presidential campaign.

While interviewing Bush during the August 29 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, co-host Robin Roberts allowed her to dismiss an August 28 New York Times article documenting the widespread view that President Bush's handling of the aftermath on Hurricane Katrina has adversely affected his image. Roberts noted that the Times article referred to Bush's handling of Katrina as a "mark" on his administration and predicted that it "will be in every textbook," to which Laura Bush replied, "[T]hat's not right, of course, and I think we should consider the source." But Roberts did not note that the original "source" for the "mark" comment was not the Times, but James A. Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, who was quoted in the article as saying: "This is a real black mark on his [Bush's] administration, and it's going to stay with him for a long time. ... It will be in every textbook.'' Roberts likewise did not note that the Times article examined the lasting effect of the federal government's shortcomings in responding to Katrina as perceived by Americans, reporting that polling showed 44 percent of American has "little or no confidence at all" in the government's "ability to respond to another natural disaster." The Times also noted that 39 percent of Americans described themselves as "dissatisfied with progress in the region," and "an additional 11 percent said they were angry."

From the December 19 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: Very quickly, Tony. I mean, do you think this is fair criticism from Mrs. Bush, that this is actually much more positive in Iraq than we know?

BLANKLEY: Look, I mean, the media is almost always not completely accurate on almost every topic.

CARLSON: Right.

BLANKLEY: There's no doubt that in the early years of this war that the media was not getting out in the countryside and reporting some of the good news that was then occurring. However, it is now unambiguously the case -- I've talked with enough people who are pro-war who have been there to agree that the general perception that things are going very badly is accurate.

CARLSON: I agree.

BLANKLEY: And to say that that's no longer correct reporting -- whatever the media did badly in the past, I don't think is valid.

CARLSON: Right. I agree with you.

From the December 17 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: It's been an interesting week in terms of the media and our coverage of Iraq. Both the first lady and the secretary of defense made suggestions as to what we should be doing. Let's watch the first lady first on MSNBC.

LAURA BUSH [video clip]: I do know that there are a lot of good things that are happening that aren't covered, and I think the drumbeat in the country from the media, from the only way people know what's happening unless they happen to have a loved one deployed there, is discouraging.

RUSSERT: A drumbeat that is discouraging. Here's the secretary of defense on Friday.

DONALD RUMSFELD (former secretary of defense) [video clip]: I mean, if you, if you just watched what's happening every time there's a bomb going off in Baghdad, you'd think the whole country's aflame. But you fly over it, and that's just simply not the case. There are people out in the fields working, and there's cars in the gas lines waiting to get fuel.

RUSSERT: What do you think?

BROOKS: Get off of it. I mean, we've got a hero in our newspaper, John Burns. Another hero, Dexter Filkins, a whole series of heroes over there. They're not biased about this. They want the best for the Iraqi people, they want democracy. Listen to what they're reporting. They're reporting chaos. You have 100 -- I don't know what it is, 1.6 million people leaving Iraq. You've got 9,000 Iraqis every week who are moving to their Shia homeland, or to their Sunni homeland. This is a country -- it's not civil war, it's just disintegration. So the idea that this is some media concoction, you -- I said that a year ago or two years ago. But at some point, face reality.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, NBC, ABC
Person
Tucker Carlson, Tim Russert, David Brooks, Robin Roberts
Show/Publication
Good Morning America, Tucker
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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