In his Monday "Media Notes" column, long-time Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz was perfectly comfortable separating ideological New Media from "objective" Old Media. Just before a tidbit asserting that "conservative journalist" Richard Miniter is bringing fresh reporting to the Pajamas Media website, which "has leaned heavily to the right," Kurtz defended David Gregory in one of his look-at-me battles with Tony Snow. Kurtz suggested Gregory was not "partisan" in pressing Snow to acknowledge that the Iraq Study Group utterly rejected Bush’s policy with "stay the course is not working" lingo. No liberalism there?
In fact, it’s quite easy for Snow to hear Democratic talking points in Gregory’s question. Congressman Silvestre Reyes summarized what Democrats have been saying as group shorthand in the Saturday Democrat radio address: "Their report confirms what most of us have known for some time: President Bush’s policy of ‘stay the course’ is not working.’"
Kurtz’s general point was merely a restatement of the conventional media wisdom, that newly leaked memos from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley demonstrate that the media was right to be gloomy on Iraq, since administration officials are gloomy in private. (Left unassessed is whether these reports were leaked to prove the administration isn't so out of step with the media.) The media template holds that any statement of hope for victory in Iraq is ridiculous, just insincere sales chatter. Here’s how Kurtz summarized the Gregory exchanges:
When asked by NBC's David Gregory why the president wasn't "saying publicly what top members of this administration who were running the war were saying privately," press secretary Tony Snow said Bush had made clear that "things are not getting well enough fast enough."
Snow also accused Gregory of being "partisan" last week after a question in which the correspondent merely summarized the recommendations of the Baker group and quoted co-chairman Lee Hamilton. Snow was arguing that the report was not a rejection of the president's Iraq policy, as it was depicted by nearly all news organizations.
It’s always rich to see someone depicted as not partisan because he reflects the world "as it was depicted by nearly all news organizations." Let’s review what Gregory first asked, as Matthew Sheffield noted here on NewsBusters:
"On the evaluation in the report it says the following -- the co-chairs say the following: ‘Stay the course’ is no longer viable. The current approach is not working. The situation is grave and deteriorating. Chairman Hamilton says he is not sure whether the situation can be turned around. Can this report be seen as anything other than a rejection of this President's handling of the war?"
First, let’s note that Gregory’s politicized hardball here is asserting that the Baker-Hamilton report can not be seen in any other way than as a rejection of President Bush’s "handling of the war," a phrase lifted precisely from the common pollster approval-rating question. It can be argued (and Snow did) that the report supports Bush’s goal of creating a sustainable self-governing democracy in Iraq. It can also be argued (and Snow did) that the report urged less finger-pointing and partisanship on Iraq. As for the partisans, on their blog, the DNC singled out Gregory's exchange and fussed at Snow, as if Gregory were the DNC blogger on the scene.
Gregory grew petulant when Snow said his tone was partisan, saying these were all "quotes from the report." In fact, they’re not all in the report’s press materials. "Stay the course is no longer viable," Gregory’s favorite, is not in the report’s executive summary or letter from the Co-Chairs. It is, more predictably for reporters on the go, from James Baker’s press conference statement. The liberal media quickly plucked that out for headlines (see, for example, the Los Angeles Times.) The text of the report was too dry and diplomatic for reporters. They wanted Bush-has-failed echoes.
That's nitpicking, perhaps. But it's not at all shocking for Snow to assert that Gregory used the most aggressive, liberal-pleasing "framing" in his question, that Bush is a failure in Iraq and positively everyone acknowledges it.