Howard Fineman spent the first five years of the Bush presidency (also known as Apocalypse Now) serving as court hagiographer and presidential fluffer. The master of creating the first draft of conventional wisdom completely at odds with reality, Fineman’s entire body of work read like an audition by a overly enthusiastic White House intern looking to land that great official biographer gig in the sky. Everything that Karen Hughes and Karl Rove spooned into his gaping maw was crapped out later in a Newsweek column, or on MSNBC, as pearls of received wisdom at which point we assume Karen or Karl gave him a kibble and a scratch behind the ear.
Let’s look at some of his greatest hits:
Meanwhile, those aspects of Bushâ€™s performance that the White House was clearly anxious to call attention to were reported enthusiastically. It was obvious that Bush had been coached to dispense with two of his favorite public speaking tricksâ€“his perma-smirk and his finger-waving cowboy one-liners. Bushâ€™s somber new “war is hell” act was much commented upon, without irony, in the post-mortems.
Appearing on Hardball after the press conference, Newsweekâ€™s Howard Fineman (one of the worst monsters of the business) gushed when asked if the Bush weâ€™d just seen was really a “cowboy”:
“If heâ€™s a cowboy heâ€™s the reluctant warrior, heâ€™s Shaneâ€¦ because he has to, to protect his family.”
Newsweek thinks Bush is Shane?
About which James Wolcott wrote:
Journalism’s most lyric poet of the Pecos is Howard Fineman, who yodels from the pages of Newsweek and on MSNBC, his smirk eerily mirroring Bush’s. It’s as if they share the same nasty secret of snotty self-esteem. Fineman has been foremost in fluffing Bush as a hero on horseback who casts a lean shadow. No sooner had the president’s zombie press conference staggered to a close than Fineman could be heard caroling on Hardball, “If he’s a cowboy he’s the reluctant warrior, he’s Shane…because he has to, to protect his family.”
Not much of a poet, Fineman is an even poorer scholar of the sagebrush genre. Alan Ladd’s reluctant and repentant gunslinger wasn’t protecting his family; he was strapping on the holster to defend the family for whom he toiled as a hired hand. Shane also made it a point of honor to never be the first to draw. It was the bad guys and yella’ bellies who went for their guns to get the jump on the decent folk.
Howard was also adept at the art of knocking someone down to build up the man who calls him “Fine”:
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, we suppose it was inevitable that the media would “rally ’round the president” to a certain degree. (Why, he’s got the best qualities of Reagan, FDR, and Lincoln â€” with the rugged good looks of JFK to boot!) But in case you haven’t yet been convinced that Bush/43 strides the globe like a proverbial giant, Howard Fineman has got conclusive proof â€” proof! â€” that you are not only an idiot, but also a shameless partisan who just needs to get over that whole 2000 election thing. The Newsweek/MSNBC “journalist” (and Whore of the Week at Media Whores Online) has given all of us one more reason to bow down before the altar that is Dubya: All of Al Gore’s Top Advisors are “relieved” that our current president is George W. Bush, and not that other guy with the beard who lied all the time about inventing the Internet. Says not-so-Fineman: “with almost audible sighs of relief, some top people who worked for Al Gore privately tell me they are glad (relieved might be a better word) that George Bush â€” not Bill Clintonâ€™s veep â€” is in the White House now.” Never mind that he only quotes four people â€” all anonymous. (Editor’s note: Remember how Gore ran that presidential campaign last year with only four people?) Fineman’s real kicker is the reason that they are glad that Gore is not in charge: “The Republican Right would have been all over us.” Did you catch that, folks? Gore would have done a bad job, because Republicans can’t put aside their hate, even in a time of national crisis
Leave it to Howard to stretch as far as he could to get around Al Gore’s cold dead body in order to give George Bush a reach around.
But that was then and this is now. And now isn’t looking too good for the Bushies and Howard has taken to acting like he wasn’t around during Dubya – The Cowboy Years:
Can George Bush win back the press?
For the first time in his political career, George W. Bush finds himself in an uncomfortable position: he has to deal with the press on its terms, not his. For such a proud, controlling â€“- and, some would say arrogant -â€“ guy, meeting the media at least half way wonâ€™t be easy. But he has no choice if he wants the last third of his presidency to amount to much. Bush has the charm to succeed, but the effort may require more candor than he can afford, more humility than he has, and more changes in policy than he will allow.
For Bush and his handlers, the challenge was never to attract the media beast, but to guide and tame it. To do the latter, the Bush method was and is to see the media â€“ as every other sphere of life â€“ in black and white terms: there are friends andâ€¦everyone else. Access, such as it was, went to friends, to familiar people with whom Bush had dealt and for whom he had built up a modicum of trust.
In the 2000 campaign, he dealt with the media by turning his press plane into a fraternity/sorority house â€“ BTB, Beta Theta Bush. Charming and self-deprecating when he wants to be, Bush understood the psychology of the plane, which was that, if you can be a decent enough fellow, most of the reporters who commit a year or more to covering your campaign eventually â€“ whether they realize it or not â€“ conclude that they want you to be president. Drawing on his Yale frat-president skills, he effectively anesthetized the plane.
As a result, Bush came to Washington with his press theory fixed: I donâ€™t need the coverage, and to the extent I do, I can control it from the top down â€“ from the forward cabin back. Of course, things donâ€™t work that way in the White House. The world is too big, the press corps is too various, the issues come too fast and furious. Itâ€™s not black and white; you confront a world of suspicious gray.
The new president was on the verge of discovering that grim (but necessary) reality when 9/11 struck. That event put Bush back in firm control of press dynamics, and gave him the chance to assert new news-management power in the name of security. Suddenly, Bush was at the center of â€“ and controlled access to â€“ the biggest story of our time, the rise of Bin Ladenism and Americaâ€™s military response to it. Bush suddenly had control of what everybody wanted: access (or at least information about) what was going on in busy, fateful Situation Rooms in Washington and battlefields across the planet.
Once again, it seemed, the press needed Bush more than Bush needed them. Deftly, shrewdly, his White House rationalized (and rationed) access to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and won praise from the media outlets favored with the new condition called â€œembedding.â€ It seemed like a triumph. And the â€œwar presidencyâ€ remained in top-down, friends-versus-enemy media mode for a long time.
Good lord. It’s almost as if during those years Howard was a giant floating head hovering above the White House press corp tsk-tsking so much that his tongue started to blister and bleed. Now Howard may have kicked George to the curb without mentioning that wild weekend in Crawford when the moon was full and the mai tais flowed, but he isn’t above giving George a few tips on how to sweet talk those other suckers who can still be bought for a nickname and a headrub:
Put him back on the campaign plane, so to speak. The press corps is a global phenomenon â€“ the whole planet is an unwieldy â€œplane.â€ And the reporters are unhappy. I got a sense of that recently by participating in an Aspen Institute panel at the State Department with top reporters from around the world. Their attitude toward America (and the American press corps) was nothing short of acidic. Bush has no choice but to try to create a shared sense of mission, in this case for the survival of freedom. And that means more contact with them than he has ever had as president â€“ in circumstances where he canâ€™t be in full control
Bush has spent six years treating the White House press as if they were something to be scraped off of the soles of his Tony Lamas, and now he’s going to sit down with them and tell that he only slapped them around a bit because he loves them and he promises to never ever ever lie to them again?
If so, we should set up a house for abused journalists where they can go for awhile and regain their self-esteem, heal, and maybe think back on why they became a journalist in the first place. We could call it Howard House, and Fineman could stop by every once in awhile and give inspirational talks about how one can be a respected White House journalist without sleeping with the enemy and waking up feeling dirty in the morning.
Not that he ever did, mind you.