On Friday night's edition of Inside Washington airing locally on Washington PBS station WETA, the first topic was whether the media's been unfair to President Bush, given his abysmal approval ratings. NPR reporter Nina Totenberg said Bush received a "free ride" for years, so now the worm has turned and the coverage is fierce. Then the host turned to Newsweek's Evan Thomas, who was frank in his assessment of the media's role:
Gordon Peterson: "What do you think, Evan? Are the mainstream media bashing the president unfairly?"
Evan Thomas: "Well, our job is to bash the president, that's what we do almost --"
Peterson: "But unfairly?"
Thomas: "Mmmm -- I think when he rebuffed, I think when he just kissed off the Iraq Study Group, the Baker-Hamilton Commission, there was a sense then that he was decoupling himself from public opinion and Congress and the mainstream media, going his own way. At that moment he lost whatever support he had."
The message in that is very simple: the president must never "decouple" himself from the "mainstream media," because they are the key players in maintaining public opinion. Remember, Thomas also believed this "mainstream" media would be worth "maybe 15 points" to John Kerry in 2004, which didn't exactly work out. But Newsweek's polling clearly demonstrates Newsweek's desire to throw him out, in appearance if not in reality. Their end-of-January poll questions included:
-- "In general, do you think George W. Bush will have enough support over the next two years to make a difference in getting things done in Washington, or not?"
-- "Do you think President Bush's decisions about policy in Iraq and other major areas are influenced more by the facts or more by his personal beliefs, regardless of the facts?"
-- "At this point in time, do you personally wish that George W. Bush's presidency was over, or don't you feel this way?"
Now try to imagine Newsweek asking anything this anti-Clinton in its polls in 1999. From there, Thomas went on to make excuses for the congressional Democrats for not having a position, as Charles Krauthammer begged for a "second idea" on Iraq. NPR reporter Nina Totenberg drew a harder line of disgust at the Democrats for being too easy on the freedom-depriving Bush administration:
Thomas: "The Congress has never been comfortable about leading the way on war, since the Spanish-American War when they got McKinley. Since then, they basically follow the executive branch…."
Nina Totenberg: "They got suckered on the war, there was no W.M.D., It was in the aftermath of 9/11 they gave up huge amounts of their power and our freedoms, in my view, when they did that, and opened up the administrations hands to take even more power, and now they're stumbling around. I have somewhat limited sympathy for them, because they don't want to take back some of the powers that they could take back more easily."
Then they discussed the Scooter Libby trial, but Thomas seemed to clam up pretty quickly:
Gordon Peterson: “Evan, tell us about it.”
Evan Thomas: “I think it’s impossible for a normal person to follow. I can barely follow it and I’m supposed to know something about it.” Nina Totenberg: “You should try writing about it. It’s really hard.”
Thomas: “It’s – we’ve long since lost what this thing was all about.”
Colby King: “Didn’t you get an honorable mention also in the trial?”
Nina: “Yeah, yeah. They didn’t reach him. They tried to reach him where he could be a witness. If they reached you, you might be a witness. (Evan shrugged and deferred to Krauthammer).
Did someone see this and call him in? Thomas grew cryptic in the 6:30 am half hour of Imus In The Morning on MSNBC's simulcast Monday morning:
Imus: “The Scooter Libby trial. Just jumping around here because we have to cover a bunch of stuff. I didn’t have any interest. I read Frank Rich yesterday and Frank made me think maybe I should have an interest in it because it's gonna, you know, pry the lid off all of these lies about why we went got into the war, but then don't we already know that. Or what’s your view of that?
Thomas: “Uh, you know, I really can't talk about it because I might have to testify.”
Thomas: “Yeah.” [Awkward pause for several seconds]
Imus: “Wow. What did you do?”
Thomas: “I can't talk about it, I might have to testify.”
Charles McCord, joking: “Going to jail?”
Thomas: “I'm not going to jail.”
Imus: “I didn't know – I didn't know you were involved in all this.”
McCord: “No, I didn't, either.”
Thomas: “I'm barely involved. But I may have to briefly testify this week.”
Imus: “How cool is that?”
Charles: “That's great.”
Thomas: “Not cool, but I just can't talk about it.”
Imus: “It makes it cool that you are involved with it, like russert. So we know if you are involved in this, we know that you are a player, not some chump on the periphery.”
Thomas: “You don’t want to be a player in the Scooter Libby trial.”
Imus: “But I like the fact you are going to be in there under oath.”
Thomas: “I may be.”
Imus, ending interview: “All right, well, thank you very much.”