At least since 9/11 the major American media corporations have given President George W. Bush more than merely the benefit of the doubt. If the positive-spin stories were Christmas presents for President Bush, nearly every day would be Christmas morning, and the stocking hung by the chimney with such carefully-managed care would be overflowing with good will toward our man in the White House.
Seldom have the major networks and newspapers devoted intensive analysis to the entire Iraq “war” debacle. From the invasion’s embedded accolades to the current constitutional smoke-and-mirrors convention, the Bush Administration has been granted more than a little leeway. During press briefings and press conferences, President Bush and his spokespeople have rarely had to face rigorous questioning, and seldom have answers to tough questions been answered in a meaningful way. George W. Bush has been so pleased with the non-pressing press that he recently invited a gaggle of them into the sanctuary of his besieged Crawford ranch for a chummy, elbow-rubbing down-home picnic.
As Hurricane Katrina was moving toward the Gulf Coast, President George W. Bush was heading in the opposite direction, where backed by a battleship he repeatedly compared his “war” in Iraq with World War Two. And still the historically-challenged journalists failed to challenge his absurd assumptions.
It took Ruth, an 84-year-old woman from Potsdam, New York, whose husband had served in the Pacific, to brilliantly sum up the Bush analogy. Calling in to Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” radio program, Ruth expressed amazement that “this man is facing a group of World War Two veterans, and they are listening! He must have collected them from the Alzheimer ward. . . We might as well be listening to Donald Duck. . . What he’s asking us to ‘rise to’ is the disaster that he created in Iraq . . . This president is dishonoring both the survivors and the victims . . .” Then the caller from Potsdam broke down in angry tears. (On Point: Framing the War on Terror. August 31, 2005 )
Two days before Ruth called Tom Ashbrook and spoke so powerfully, Hurricane Katrina had come ashore to create a disaster strong enough to force even some Republicans and conservative editors to dump on President George W. Bush and his administration for their couch potato response to Katrina’s destruction. Even more important, reporters and camera operators on the scene in areas hardest hit by Katrina gave graphic and detailed accounts not only of the wreckage but of government’s tardy response to the large-scale tragedy. These were the kinds of accounts too-often missing in the network and newspaper reports from Iraq, and they riveted the attention of the nation and called attention to the stumbling, insensitive response of President George W. Bush to his own nation’s calamity.
A different woman in her 80s became incensed as she heard our president on the ground in New Orleans jokingly recall that this is where he partied in his youth. She said, “So this is where he used to come to get drunk.” And as an afterthought added, “Asshole!”
At last the corporate-dominated media were giving George W. Bush a lump of coal in his Christmas stocking, and they were for the most part doing it without ever directly criticizing George W. Bush. To further damage his own incredulous credibility, the president claimed that no one foresaw the New Orleans levees might break. Later, trying not to indicate any personal responsibility, George W. Bush tepidly asserted response to the disaster had been “unacceptable.”
Some spinners and commentators from both left and right urge that now is not the time to cast blame, but the damage to the Bush Administration and its feeble FEMA director have been done, not by the critics, but because of the “unexpected” disaster wrought by a hurricane and the lack of a “preemptive” life-saving response (preemption having been a trademark of Bush Administration strategy). Besides, it seems tragically laughable for dry and well-fed outsiders to plead for a moratorium on complaints when speaking of those suffering and dying in the American South. Fortunately, most of the victims have been unable to hear or to read this “no-finger-pointing” advice, or there would have been finger-pointing aplenty from the thousands still alive, still hungry, still thirsty, still homeless, still hurting and dying.
As the Bush Administration finally begins to receive the lumps it deserves, perhaps it is time to take up where Ruth from Potsdam left her listeners, and say, “Yes, George and Dick and Karl– There is no Santa Claus.”
DOUG GIEBEL is a writer and analyst who lives in Montana. He welcomes comment at firstname.lastname@example.org