A "revelatory" article by Elisabeth Bumiller in today's New York Times article is laden with unanswered questions, assumptions and peculiarities.
Beginning with the lede, we get the “theme” of the article – the “erosion” of President Bush’s political capital.
“President Bush said Tuesday that the war in Iraq was eroding his political capital, his starkest admission yet about the costs of the conflict to his presidency, and suggested that American forces would remain in the country until at least 2009.”
Is that what he said? Let’s see what he actually said:
“In a quick remark at a White House news conference about the reserves of political strength he earned in his 2004 re-election victory — "I'd say I'm spending that capital on the war…”
Where was the word “erosion” in that quote? I would assert that characterizing the use of his Presidential authority to conduct the war is somehow an “erosion” of that power is not entirely accurate. Bumiller attempts to qualify this in the remainder of the sentence:
“ …-Mr. Bush in effect acknowledged that until he could convince increasingly skeptical Americans that the United States was winning the war, Iraq would overshadow everything he did.”
Oh – so he didn’t say his political capital was “eroding” – that was you, Miss Bumiller. I will go out on a limb to assume that Bumiller is using public opinion polls to back up her assertion that Americans are “increasingly skeptical.” Considering that the news media has been caught red handed in recent months over-sampling Democrats in their polls to try to create news stories, I take opinion polls with two grains of salt. Remember the polls indicating Kerry victory in 2004? How close were they to reality? Did you hear about the other polls indicating a Bush victory?
Next, we have this stark admission by Bumiller:
“The president's news conference was part of a White House campaign to convince Americans that there is good news in Iraq, not only the daily bloodshed they see on television.”
I’ve read enough Bumiller and NYT to know that she is not merely repeating and reprinting what the President said. Interestingly, Bumiller (perhaps unintentionally) admits that bloodshed is what the American people are seeing on TV. She does not challenge it, so she must accept the assertion’s veracity. This vindicates many complaints by media critics that the war coverage is one-sided and lacking in context. And, of course, this is merely “a tactic” and nothing more.
“The speech tactic worked in late 2005 when another series of Iraq addresses helped to stabilize the president's poll numbers temporarily."
Of course, President Bush, rather famously, does not govern according to the ebb and flow of slanted public opinion polls, unlike some administrations of the recent past.
Moving right along here, we get to a description of the President’s “testy” exchange with "imperial dean" of the White House Press, Helen Thomas.
“Mr. Bush's mood at the news conference alternated between relaxed and testy, although he appeared to be trying hard not to show his irritation at some reporters. In one exchange, Helen Thomas, the longtime White House correspondent and Hearst newspaper columnist, asked Mr. Bush why he really wanted to go to war with Iraq.”
Loaded question / opinion much, Helen? What angle you approaching from (text and audio)? And the mainstream press wonders why it is losing influence.
Also interesting in this piece (and this is a personal issue) is a subtle attempt (I'm not sure on whose part, but I can fathom guesses) to change the meaning of some words in the English language. One of these is the attempt to change the title of “Democrat Party” to the “Democratic Party.” One can easily see that this is to imply that the Democrats are “democratic.” Are the Republicans more “republican?” Democratic is an adjective, not a noun. It may be a little thing to some, but it is worth noting these awkward linguistic subtleties that bleed into major newspapers of record and into public discourse without much more than a shrug. President Bush unwittingly mouths the line as well, showing just how pervasive this lingual faux-pas is. Here are two examples (one by the reporter, another by President Bush):
“At another point, he took on a peevish tone when asked about Democratic measures in Congress to censure him for his secret surveillance program…”
"I did notice that nobody from the Democratic Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program," Mr. Bush said
It happens again, this time complete with typical journalistic insinuations:
“He used the same question to take on Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic minority leader, over the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act, although no reporter had brought up either the Patriot Act or Mr. Reid.
Well, since it wasn’t asked, I guess it should not have been noted at all. And if Bumiller consciously allots the space to note this in her piece, I take it that she takes some kind of issue with the fact that the President was answering questions that no reporter asked (a favorite pasttime of biased reporters). No reporters were asking about the reconstruction efforts in Iraq either. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. I guess that’s why these things have to be pointed out to the media at times. Bumiller did manage to include a response from Harry Reid’s office, however:
“Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, responded that Mr. Bush's remarks were "part of his standard talking points, but the reality is that Senator Reid strongly supported the bill that was signed into law by the president." Mr. Reid also issued a statement on Tuesday with the headline, "We see no end to Bush's dangerous incompetence."
Apart from the fact that Harry Reid and company were applauding the stifling of the Patriot Act on the floor of the Senate last month, these are Democrat talking points. There is no attempt to question, qualify or balance anything asserted there. And that, ladies and gents, is the NYT at work.