Tuesday, June 21, 2005

June 20, 2005

Just Answer the Damn Question – OR ELSE

I know. It’s become a cliché for bloggers to rag on the mainstream media (MSM.) Like all such broad-brush criticisms the rap MSM is taking from those of us in the Peanut Gallery is partly fair, partly unfair and part cheap shots.

But the press, like any other profession, benefits from criticism. As a former member of the MSM I can tell you, good reporters and editors know when criticism is deserved, and they hate themselves when it happens.

The Washington press corps has been a special target of critical bloggers, this one included. And it’s been well-deserved criticism too. We have not missed the irony that reporters who are writing now how the CIA botched intelligence on WMD, are some of the same reporters who were like little kittens before the war, lapping up any bowl of warm milk the administration put out for them supporting those bogus WMD claims.

They even rolled over when President Bush unilaterally declared that he would no longer answer follow up questions at his news conferences. Imagine that. Reporters allowing the President of the United States, at a time of war, to answer the most important questions of our time with pre-cooked, pre-chewed, pre-focus-grouped, pabulum. Shocking, bordering on criminal, a dark moment in the history of a free press.

I suggested at the time that reporters in the White House Press Corps make a pact. If they were not allowed follow ups then the next journalist would agree to pick up right where the previous one left off -- re-ask the question, and keep doing so until the little bastard answers it in his own words – or stalks off the stage like the clueless, spoiled little would-be despot a growing number of voters is coming to understand he is.

The day I wrote that I got an email from the brother of ABC’s White House correspondent, Terry Moran, suggesting I might want to watch ABC news because Terry was cut of better clothe. Good advice and I pass it on to you, because he was right.

Last Friday at his daily briefing, White House press spokesman, Scott McClellan’s job was to try to spin new poll numbers. Bush is now at the lowest approval rating since his father was on his way out. The war in Iraq is wearing thin on voters. McClellan told White House reporters that the President was going to “bring sharper focus” to the war.

That was going to be it… a “sharper focus.” This from a man who has shown so little interest in the mess he unleashed that he has not attended a single one of the 1700 funerals for US soldiers killed in Iraq. Not one. Zip. Nada.

But now, his spokesman wanted to assure reporters, the Commander-in-Chief was ready to “sharply focus” on the war – and he thought he was going to get away with it, because he had so often before.

His statement raised more questions than it answered. Can we then assume then that, until now his focus on the war he started has been “fuzzy.”? What a comfort for the parents of those killed in Iraq to know their child died because their Commander-in-Chief had been unfocused. That he started a war, sent their kid over there and then focused on other things, like tax cuts for the rich, letting tobacco companies off the hook for killing millions, gutting Social Security, that kind of thing.

But I digress. Back to the White House press room. This particular day one reporter, ABC’s Terry Moran, wasn’t buying. He wanted a real answer to his question; “Are we defeating the insurgency in Iraq, as VP Cheney claimed last week, or not?”

Here’s the exchange:

Moran: Scott, is the insurgency in Iraq in its 'last throes'?

McCLELLAN: Terry, you have a desperate group of terrorists in Iraq that are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to democracy. The Iraqi people have made it clear that they want a free and democratic and peaceful future. And that's why we're doing everything we can, along with other countries, to support the Iraqi people as they move forward….

Moran: But the insurgency is in its last throes?

McCLELLAN: The Vice President talked about that the other day -- you have a desperate group of terrorists who recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. A free Iraq will be a significant blow to their ambitions.

Moran: But they're killing more Americans, they're killing more Iraqis. That's the last throes?

McCLELLAN: Innocent -- I say innocent civilians. And it doesn't take a lot of people to cause mass damage when you're willing to strap a bomb onto yourself, get in a car and go and attack innocent civilians. That's the kind of people that we're dealing with. That's what I say when we're talking about a determined enemy.

Moran: Right. What is the evidence that the insurgency is in its last throes?

McCLELLAN: I think I just explained to you the desperation of terrorists and their tactics.

Moran: What's the evidence on the ground that it's being extinguished?

McCLELLAN: Terry, we're making great progress to defeat the terrorist and regime elements. You're seeing Iraqis now playing more of a role in addressing the security threats that they face. They're working side by side with our coalition forces. They're working on their own. There are a lot of Special Forces in Iraq that are taking the battle to the enemy in Iraq. And so this is a period when they are in a desperate mode.

Moran: Well, I'm just wondering what the metric is for measuring the defeat of the insurgency.

McCLELLAN: Well, you can go back and look at the Vice President's remarks. I think he talked about it.

Q Yes. Is there any idea how long a 'last throe' lasts for?

McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Steve....(Pointing to a different reporter)

I reproduce this transcript because this is what I want to see every time this administration tries to use a press briefing or a news conference as a propaganda tool. It’s what they press is there to do.

Let’s let bygones be bygones. The press may be excused for trusting these guys early in their run. But how many times do you have allow yourself to be used to pass along lies to Americans before you start insisting on more information? I mean there is not a real reporter left in Washington who does not now know for a fact that this administration lies like rug. They lie, lie, obfuscate, lie, obfuscate, dissemble, lie, distort, lie, dither, lie, confuse, lie, lie and, when all else fails, lie again.

A big part of the reason the media allowed this to happen is because the right has been so successful in painting the media liberal shills. So, they have bent over backwards to prove otherwise. Eventually though they bent so far over backwards they ended up with their heads up their asses. While at the same moment FOX “News” became the best-funded rightwing propaganda tool in history. It was another win for the word-twisting right. Like tagging Democrats as “tax and spend liberals,” while Republicans got away with becoming borrow and spend conservatives.

I don’t care if the answers the press extracts from government officials supports left of right wing positions. I just want goddamn answer out of them -- a real answer. Is that too much to ask in democracy? And, since the rest of us can’t do it, we rely on the reporters do it for us. Otherwise, they should get better paying jobs writing press releases.

So, a big hooray to Terry Moran. Now let’s see the same kind of gumption during a Presidential news conference. Make that little chimp tap dance. I want to see him earn his living. I want to see that condescending smirk disappear and beads of sweat rolling down his forehead five minutes into the next news conference.

Here are some suggested questions for that news conference.

- After first discovering there really were no WMD in Iraq, and now the Downing St. memos, why shouldn’t the American people believe you lied to them and led them into war on false pretenses?

- If it is ever proven beyond a doubt that a president knowingly lied to take this country to war, would you consider that an impeachable offense?

- Don’t you think that supporting our troops during war includes their Commander-in-Chief showing concern and respect for those who made the ultimate sacrifice by attending the occasional funeral?

- Women now serve in frontline military positions. Several have died doing so in Iraq. Can you tell Americans what your two service-age daughters doing these days, besides modeling ball gowns for Vogue?

- You have said that the war on terror will be a long one, and that Americans must be prepared to make sacrifices if we are going to win it. Can you tell us specifically what sacrifices the Bush and Cheney families have made for the war effort?

- A follow up sir: Can you tell me what sacrifices the top 1% of American income families have made for the war effort. How much in the billions of tax cuts they received have they contributed to young working families that lost a mother or father over there?

- Dozens of cases of fraud involving US contractors, like Halliburton, working in Iraq have been confirmed. Can you explain why not a single official from one of those companies has been criminally prosecuted for these frauds. Is government contract fraud no longer a prosecutable crime?

- A follow up please. How does letting cheating private sector officials and their companies off with just civil fines fit with your oft-stated position on personal responsibility? Individuals engineered those frauds but they go un-prosecuted. Do you think this sends the right message to America’s young – America’s next generation of corporate executives?

- You have made an issue of your strongly held Christian beliefs. So, can you explain how you believe Jesus would have responded to 9/11? Would He have counseled restraint, turned the other cheek, or bombed someone?

- A follow up please. Do you think Jesus would agree with your economic policies, that providing more money to the rich while cutting government services to the poor is the way to lift mankind out of misery?

And if he doesn’t answer a question the first time, keep asking. If he refuses a follow up the reporter that asked the question should state, “I’m sorry Mr. President, but if you are just going to answer my questions with pre-prepared statements there’s no reason for me to be here.” He/she should then stand up and walk out. The same for the next reporter, and next, and next, until the President either answers reporter’s questions in his own words, or is left blowing Karl Rove’s prepared PR smoke into an empty room.

Now, that’s a real news conference.

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