Tuesday, October 11, 2005

During the Reagan years, and even during the Gingrich years, the central complaint about the mainstream media by conservatives was that they misrepresented the substance of our policy proposals. A 4.5 percent budget increase (after adjusting for inflation and the size of the beneficiary class) of the hot-lunch program was characterized by the media as a cruel cut in the program that would leave poor little children hungry and with empty tummies, thus causing empty minds. (The second part was true, but that was due to the damage caused by National Education [sic] Association — not the government-provided nutrition programs.) A guarantee that the current-law traditional Medicare program would remain available for any beneficiary who wanted to participate in it was called an end to such benefits. Increases in spending were called cuts. Guarantees were called broken commitments.

President Reagan’s war efforts to defeat Communism and create democracies in Central America were called support for fascism and brutal right-wing regimes.

(Funnily, the effect of his “support of fascism” resulted in an unprecedented blossoming of democracies in Central America.) Oh, for the good old days. Then, at least, the media cared about the substance of our proposals — even if they lied about them. (Of course they also calumniated the personalities of conservative leaders, but that was only part of the coverage. We should have been grateful.) Today, big media has lost interest in policy substance almost altogether.

Analysis of major policy announcements is viewed almost exclusively through the prism of polling numbers.

If the president were to call for two plus two to equal four, the media would report that such a proposal had the support of only 42 percent of likely voters, and a slippage of even conservative support from 87 percent to 63 percent. Perhaps on the jump page, in the 38th inch of the story in the New York Times, they might get around to quoting a professor of mathematics from MIT to the effect that in fact the president was right that two plus two still equals four. But for television and radio break news, the story would end at the polling result: bad news for the president.

What brings this melancholy observation to mind was the grotesque non-reporting of President Bush’s arguably historic remarks last week concerning the nature of the enemy in the “War on Terror,” that until last week was the enemy of which we dared not mention the name.

For the first time the president of the United States named the enemy: “Islamofascist” and “radical, militant Islam.” He compared it to the Nazi and Communist ideological threat of the previous century.

I and others had been calling for precisely such language. From what one had heard, there had been a powerful debate going on within the administration for over six months on the advisability of such verbal boldness. So long as political correctness blocked even the president from naming the enemy, he — or future presidents — would be unable to provide leadership to the nation.

If a president could not name the enemy, how could he provide the vital war-leadership of explaining the danger and advising the public on the necessary strategies? How could the progress or lack of progress be rationally discussed with the public? And in this shadow war that lacks the classic war battles that told previous war generations of victory or defeat, how could the public begin to even understand that in fact there is nonetheless a battle raging that may define their lives and safety for generations to come?

There were serious arguments against such language being used. Reasonable people feared that any mention of Islam in the context of the war on terror might needlessly outrage and estrange countless millions of non-radical Muslims around the world — thus driving them into the enemy camp.

Countering that argument, I and others made the case that, to the contrary, by defining precisely and explicitly the enemy as only the radical, jihadist, fascist element, we were narrowing the scope of our definition of the enemy. And anyway, even unstated, doubtlessly millions of people falsely had assumed we thought we were at war with an entire religion — rather than only with those who espoused and acted on their violent ideology.

But million-dollar nincompoop television news stars led with the absurdly ignorant observations that there was “nothing new” in this speech, and that the President was not likely to improve his reduced 35 percent public support for the Iraq war.

Having decided that the speech (which they manifestly did not substantively understand or report) was not going to make the president immediately more popular, their reporting trailed off into a rehash of his other current political problems.

One doesn’t mind, so much, mainstream journalists being b*st*rds. It’s being such dumb b*st*rds that one finds so irksome.

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