From the AP:
Bush Teleconference With Soldiers Staged
WASHINGTON — It was billed as a conversation with U.S. troops, but the questions President Bush asked on a teleconference call Thursday were choreographed to match his goals for the war in Iraq and Saturday’s vote on a new Iraqi constitution.
My friend Chris Kilmer, a producer for “Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg”, writes, “Am I the only one underwhelmed by this headline? How long have we known now that ALL presidents in this country ALWAYS choreograph EVERY encounter with the media to the highest degree possible? Why report on this like it’s some breaking story.”
I agree. There is definitely an element of “gotcha” to this story about what is a pretty routine practice. Still, I thought CNN military analyst Gen. David Grange got it exactly right. After telling CNN’s Lou Dobbs that he had recently visited with the troops and reporting that “they are very positive about their mission, they are very positive about the success,” he said:
What I don’t like about this particular interview is that it was pretty much staged, and we don’t have to do that with the kind of soldiers that we have today in our armed forces. Naturally, it would have just come out, very positive answers from these soldiers. It did not have to be done that way. It was a failure in information operations.
In other words, if your soldiers are positive about the mission anyway, why play into the hands of the gotcha-loving press?
UPDATE: I should have pointed out that, of the many media outlets playing this story for all it’s worth, the AP report mentioned above was exceptionally bad. Consider this excerpt:
The president told [the soldiers] twice that the American people were behind them.
“You’ve got tremendous support here at home,” Bush said.
Less than 40 percent in an AP-Ipsos poll taken in October said they approved of the way Bush was handling Iraq. Just over half of the public now say the Iraq war was a mistake.
A majority of Americans may no longer support the war, but it’s absurd to assert, using that cynical juxtaposition, that Bush was lying when he said the troops have “tremendous support here at home.”
Chris noted, “I NEVER supported this war, but my dad was activated from Air Force reserves and spent six months in Europe doing airlift. You bet your sweet ass I “supported” him. You can totally tell that [this reporter] thinks she’s like, a brilliant social commentator. She just let her statement hang there by itself, like its meaning was so heavy and important that it required no further analysis.
“I mean, it’s so obvious to you and me — this is NOT a news piece. This is a stark-raving fell-out-of-the-sky hack job. Why is this permitted to be printed as news?”
I have a guess. It’s because the facts by themselves are true. Even though this reporter arranged the facts in a way that’s meant to imply that Bush was lying, she can hide behind the assertion she just reported the truth. Reporters do it all the time. It’s why we need to drop the pretense of “objective news” and restore intellectual honesty to reporting.