Bush Fortunes Improving? Blame 'Absence of Bad News'

In Monday’s Washington Post, reporter Peter Baker’s front-page political analysis on President Bush’s improving fortunes carries a strong whiff of Hate to Admit It:

In many ways, the shifting political fortunes may owe as much to the absence of bad news as to any particular good news. No one lately has been indicted, botched a hurricane relief effort or shot someone in a hunting accident. Instead, pictures from Iraq show people returning to the streets as often as they show a new suicide bombing.

That’s just wrong. The Big Kahuna of bad news has always been Iraq, which has always cast a dark cloud over other news. Left out of Baker’s analysis: how much the media spin has affected most of these stories (leave out Iraq for the moment).

How much of Bush’s "bad news" has been magnified by the liberal media? Ask yourself: if these happened in the Clinton years, how much "bad news" would have been emphasized, let along Cover-of-Time-and-Newsweek exploited? Several cabinet officials and business partners were indicted, and they were often close to being ignored by the national media. Under Clinton, the media wouldn’t dream of blaming a natural disaster on the President, even if FEMA or the Corps of Engineers mishandled the situation. The hunting accident would probably never happen, since that would have seemed too John Kerry-phony, even for Clinton. But imagine if Al Gore’s adventures in Buddhist temples and then complaining there was "no controlling legal authority" and his Iced Tea Defense had been treated toughly instead of softly.

Baker’s analysis as a whole is a grudging admission that Bush right now is on firmer political ground, that the return of the Democrats to the majorities in the House and Senate is giving him a foil. That’s safe conventional wisdom, and he quotes Republicans slamming the Democrats. But Baker also emphasized the thought (hope?) that Bush may never recover enough to be popular:

Neither [Clinton nor Reagan] had sunk as low as Bush, whose numbers are the worst of any president in decades. Just 33 percent of Americans approved of his performance in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, a rating that matches his record low and has not changed in four months. Potentially ominous for Bush is the economy. Only 35 percent of Americans rated it as good this month, a seven-point drop since spring and the lowest in two years.

That, too, has a lot to do with media spin. For the other side of the story, see Donald Lambro.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis