CommunityPam's House Blend

There’s a great Frank Rich editorial in Sunday’s NYT on one of my pet peeves in terms of self-censorship by the news media in the wake of Bush’s extreme secrecy fetish:

“Like the Nixon administration before it, the Bush administration arrived at the White House already obsessed with news management and secrecy. Nixon gave fewer press conferences than any president since Hoover; Mr. Bush has given fewer than any in history. Early in the Nixon years, a special National Press Club study concluded that the president had instituted ‘an unprecedented, government-wide effort to control, restrict and conceal information.’ Sound familiar? The current president has seen to it that even future historians won’t get access to papers he wants to hide; he quietly gutted the Presidential Records Act of 1978, the very reform enacted by Congress as a post-Watergate antidote to pathological Nixonian secrecy.”

…The current White House has been practicing pre-emptive media intimidation to match its policy of pre-emptive war. Its F.C.C. chairman, using Janet Jackson’s breast and Howard Stern’s mouth as pretexts, has sufficiently rattled Viacom, which broadcast both of these entertainers’ infractions against “decency,” that its chairman, the self-described “liberal Democrat” Sumner Redstone, abruptly announced his support for the re-election of George W. Bush last month. “I vote for what’s good for Viacom,” he explained, and he meant it. He took this loyalty oath just days after the “60 Minutes” fiasco prompted a full-fledged political witch hunt on Viacom’s CBS News, another Republican target since the Nixon years. Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, has threatened to seek Congressional “safeguards” regulating TV news content and, depending what happens Nov. 2, he may well have the political means to do it.

Viacom is hardly the only media giant cowed by the prospect that this White House might threaten its corporate interests if it gets out of line. Disney’s refusal to release Michael Moore’s partisan “Fahrenheit 9/11” in an election year would smell less if the company applied the same principle to its ABC radio stations, where the equally partisan polemics of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are heard every day. Even a low-profile film project in conflict with Bush dogma has spooked the world’s largest media company, Time Warner, proprietor of CNN. Its Warner Brothers, about to release a special DVD of “Three Kings,” David O. Russell’s 1999 movie criticizing the first gulf war, suddenly canceled a planned extra feature, a new Russell documentary criticizing the current war. Whether any of these increasingly craven media combines will stand up to the Bush administration in a constitutional pinch, as Katharine Graham and her Post Company bravely did to the Nixon administration during Watergate, is a proposition that hasn’t been remotely tested yet.

To understand what kind of journalism the Bush administration expects from these companies, you need only look at those that are already its collaborators. Fox News speaks loudly for itself, to the point of posting on its Web site an article by its chief political correspondent containing fictional John Kerry quotes. (After an outcry, it was retracted as “written in jest.”) But Fox is just the tip of the Rupert Murdoch empire. When The New York Post covered the release of the report by the C.I.A.’s chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, it played the story on page 8 and didn’t get to the clause “while no stockpiles of W.M.D. were found in Iraq” until the 16th paragraph. This would be an Onion parody were it not deadly serious.

…Like the Nixon administration before it, the Bush administration arrived at the White House already obsessed with news management and secrecy. Nixon gave fewer press conferences than any president since Hoover; Mr. Bush has given fewer than any in history. Early in the Nixon years, a special National Press Club study concluded that the president had instituted “an unprecedented, government-wide effort to control, restrict and conceal information.” Sound familiar? The current president has seen to it that even future historians won’t get access to papers he wants to hide; he quietly gutted the Presidential Records Act of 1978, the very reform enacted by Congress as a post-Watergate antidote to pathological Nixonian secrecy.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding