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January 18, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Didn't the New York Times Used to Be a Newspaper? Department)

Sam Rosenfeld of TAPPED marvels at the latest of many Inigo Montoya moments committed by Elizabeth Bumiller and Richard Stevenson. Whatever "quietly shopped around" means, it cannot be applied to Richard Cheney's campaign to unseat Treasury Secretary John Snow:

TAPPED: January 2005 Archives: EVER LURKING. One is forced to wade through the requisite Bumillerian puffery in Elisabeth Bumiller and Richard Stevenson’s piece on Dick Cheney’s influence over domestic policy. (I especially like their characterization of the VP as “a professional worrier” regarding the economy, just "as he is on national security matters” -- a nice way of making recklessness and radicalism sound like sage caution.) But the gist of the piece is important, if unsurprising: Cheney plays a role in this White House that is truly unprecedented in the history of his office, and he is consistently a force pushing for the maximally crazy policy option on every major issue. One might quibble with this passage, however:

Mr. Cheney wields considerable influence over personnel issues, and late last year quietly helped shop around for a possible replacement for Mr. Snow before Mr. Bush decided to keep him on for the start of his second term, Republicans familiar with the situation said.

Quietly shopped around, huh?

What Sam is referring to are stories like these: the attempted deposition of Snow was as noisy an event as ever seen in Washington:

CNN.com - Torturing John Snow - Dec 9, 2004: Snow had not heard one word on whether he should leave or stay as secretary of the treasury until Wednesday, when President Bush asked him to remain, at least temporarily. The White House had not repudiated the torrent of leaks suggesting that Snow must go, sooner rather than later...

Bush to Change Economic Team (washingtonpost.com): President Bush plans to overhaul his economic team for the second time in two years and wants to tap some prominent replacements from outside the administration to help sell rewrites of Social Security and the tax laws to Congress and the country, White House aides and advisers said over the weekend. Aides said changing four of the five top economic officials -- including the Treasury and Commerce secretaries, with only budget director Joshua B. Bolten likely to remain -- is part of Bush's preparation for sending Congress an ambitious second-term domestic agenda.

Posted by DeLong at January 18, 2005 06:22 PM


What drives me nuts is that there's a whole press corps out there who treat this administration as though they're not pod people. Laugh, but I mean this quite seriously. Gollee gosh, just another Prez and Veep we woikin joy-nalists get to know and write nice things about. Whee.

Posted by: PW at January 18, 2005 07:30 PM

Reporters who only tell us what we want to hear and only say those things about people in power that the people in power want to be said; what good?

Posted by: ken melvin at January 18, 2005 08:21 PM

Maybe it is not an Inigo Montoya "You keep using that word--I do not think it means what you think it means" moment.  Maybe Bumiller & Stevenson are using "quietly help shop around" in a hip ironic sense, parroting Administration talking points so as to lull their sources to sleep whilst signaling to their colleagues their horror at the lies they are expected to regurgitate....O.K., perhaps it is a bit of a stretch...

Posted by: MTC at January 18, 2005 10:15 PM

"For this is an infallible rule: a prince who is not himself wise cannot be well advised, unless he happens to put himself in the hands of one individual who looks after all his affairs and is an extremely shrewd man." -Niccolo Machiavelli

Posted by: B. Setzer at January 19, 2005 03:25 AM

I hate how the press treats every statement from the administration as a pronouncement from God, not subject to fact-checking or reality. It's no wonder we have such messed-up policies, we can't even find the truth.

Posted by: Unstable Isotope at January 19, 2005 03:35 AM

When I read that article, my response was: the evidence they present makes it obvious that Cheney is in fact running most of the White House policy, and has a controlling influence over personnel. The article's authors mostly tip-toe around that, at one point even saying openly that they are NOT claiming that Cheney is the real President...but everything they say suggests the opposite.

And I wondered: are the authors being ironic...one message for Cheney and his ilk, who will read it as a puff piece and preen, another message for any sensible citizen who will be alarmed and outraged? After all, the evidence and the hints (even in the forms of denials) are so brazen that it's hard to believe they didn't know what they were doing. Or are the authors really so in thrall to their "access" and connections that they really WERE writing a puff piece, and didn't see the irony of their own message. That has a nice po-mo ring, but it's hard to believe.

More disturbing: NYT reporters should be doing NEITHER: neither ironic multi-message manipulative court reporting, nor self-absorbed puffing.

One can only get at the oddness of this article by going up a level of abstraction from what it says, therefore: what in heaven's name did the NYT think it was doing??

Posted by: PQuincy at January 19, 2005 10:12 AM

You seem to pounce on every poorly written article in the NY Times as if the entire paper is ruined beyond repair, but you completely ignore well written articles on the same topic.

[Oh, if you only knew. 1%? If that...]

Did you see the NY Times Magazine cover article on Social Security last weekend? As far as I can tell it was very well written and clearly presented facts and not administration quotes. I'd love to hear criticism or praise about that article.

[Lowenstein is very good, and I do want to write something about it in my copious spare time.

But that Roger Lowenstein is a great and careful writer and thinker does not redound to the credit of Elizabeth Bumiller and company, or of those who employ her.]

Posted by: anonymous at January 19, 2005 11:58 AM