Monday, October 10, 2005

why media coddles Bush: business and browbeating

There's a simple and depressing reason why so much of the media has gone easy on Bush: their owners are have received and hope to receive favors in the form of deregulation, as this snippet from a story on the financial status of the Tribune newspapers mentions.

Clinton signed the last big telecommunications bill that deregulated media, but public outcry would make Democrats unlikely to go further if they were in control. By contrast, rank and file Republicans don't know or care about media consolidation, and even if they did, Bush would ignore them and do favors for those who can pay for them.

The flip side of this is how the Bushies deal with individual reporters, a combination of bribes, threats, and browbeating. Most American reporters are so familiar with this that they play by the Bushies' rules, and when someone strays even an inch like Dan Rather did, they are drummed out of the business.

An Irish reporter tried to do a real interview with Bush, and the response of Bush and his staff seem petulant, vindictive, and fascinating. Some excerpts from the story are below.

Incentive for Chicago Tribune & Los Angeles Times to go easy on Bush:

Tribune newspapers, which include the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, account for far more revenue than its television holdings. But while the stations account for 28 percent of the company's revenue, they account for 45 percent of its profits.

Mullen's departure comes at a time of setbacks for Tribune Co. The company's share price is down 21 percent this year amid long-standing worries over the erosion of newspaper readership.

Last week, Tribune paid off the $880 million federal portion of a $1 billion tax bill it inherited with its 2000 purchase of Times Mirror, following a U.S. Tax Court ruling it plans to appeal.

Also hanging over the company and its television group are delays in the proposed loosening of the government's media regulations that restrict ownership of a TV station and newspaper in a single market. If such a change doesn't come, Tribune might be forced to divest itself of assets.
The rest of the story...

From an Irish journalist's description of interviewing Bush:

“We’re not supposed to tell you this yet, but we are trying to set up an interview with the first lady.”

She indicated that the White House had already been in contact with RTE to make arrangements for the interview at Dromoland Castle, where the president and Mrs Bush would be staying. As an admirer of Laura Bush’s cool grace and sharp intellect, I had requested interviews with her several times previously without any reply. Now the first lady of the United States was being handed to me on a plate. I could not believe my luck.

“Of course, it’s not certain yet,” MC added. And then her sidekick dropped his second bombshell. “We’ll see how you get on with the president first.”

I’m sure I continued smiling, but I was stunned. What I understood from this was that if I pleased the White House with my questioning of the president, I would get to interview the first lady. Were they trying to ensure a soft ride for the president, or was I the new flavour of the month with the first family?

Having noted the tone of my questions, the president had now sat forward in his chair and had become animated, gesturing with his hands for emphasis. But as I listened to the history of Saddam Hussein and the weapons inspectors and the UN resolutions, my heart was sinking. He was resorting to the type of meandering stock answer I had heard scores of times and had hoped to avoid. Going back over this old ground could take two or three minutes and allow him to keep talking without dealing with the current state of the war. It was a filibuster of sorts. If I didn’t challenge him, the interview would be a wasted opportunity.

“But, Mr President, you didn’t find any weapons,” I interjected.

“Let me finish, let me finish. May I finish?”

With his hand raised, he requested that I stop speaking. He paused and looked me straight in the eye to make sure I had got the message. He wanted to continue, so I backed off and he went on. “The United Nations said, ‘Disarm or face serious consequences’. That’s what the United Nations said. And guess what? He didn’t disarm. He didn’t disclose his arms. And therefore he faced serious consequences. But we have found a capacity for him to make a weapon. See, he had the capacity to make weapons . . .”

I was now beginning to feel shut out of this event. He had the floor and he wasn’t letting me dance. My blood was boiling to such a point that I felt like slapping him. But I was dealing with the president of the United States; and he was too far away anyway. I suppose I had been naive to think that he was making himself available to me so I could spar with him or plumb the depths of his thought processes. Sitting there, I knew that I was nobody special and that this was just another opportunity for the president to repeat his mantra. He seemed irked to be faced with someone who wasn’t nodding gravely at him as he was speaking...


At the studio I handed over the tapes. My phone rang. It was MC, and her voice was cold.

“We just want to say how disappointed we are in the way you conducted the interview,” she said.

“How is that?” I asked.

“You talked over the president, not letting him finish his answers.”

“Oh, I was just moving him on,” I said, explaining that I wanted some new insight from him, not two-year-old answers.


“You were given an opportunity to interview the leader of the free world and you blew it,” she began.

I was beginning to feel as if I might be dreaming. I had naively believed the American president was referred to as the “leader of the free world” only in an unofficial tongue-in-cheek sort of way by outsiders, and not among his closest staff.

“You were more vicious than any of the White House press corps or even some of them up on Capitol Hill . . .The president leads the interview,” she said.

“I don’t agree,” I replied, my initial worry now turning to frustration. “It’s the journalist’s job to lead the interview.”

It was suggested that perhaps I could edit the tapes to take out the interruptions, but I made it clear that this would not be possible.

As the conversation progressed, I learnt that I might find it difficult to secure further co-operation from the White House. A man’s voice then came on the line. Colby, I assumed. “And, it goes without saying, you can forget about the interview with Laura Bush.”

MC also indicated that she would be contacting the Irish Embassy in Washington — in other words, an official complaint from Washington to Dublin.

“I don’t know how we are going to repair this relationship, but have a safe trip back to Ireland,” MC concluded. I told her I had not meant to upset her since she had been more than helpful to me. The conversation ended.

By the time I got to the control room, the Prime Time broadcast had just started. It was at the point of the first confrontation with the “leader of the free world” and those gathered around the monitors were glued to it. “Well done,” someone said. “This is great.”,,2766-1817008_2,00.html

, , , , , public relations, , , , ,

No comments: