I haven’t finished reading Eric Boehlert’s Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, which Salon excerpted today. I’ll be reviewing the book for NRO, but I would like to briefly comment on the excerpt – specifically Boehlert’s description of a March 6, 2003 press conference in which he writes that the press corps’s “barely-there performance… remains an industry-wide embarrassment.” Boehlert writes:
… for any viewers who held out hope that members of the assembled mainstream media (hereafter, “MSM”) would firmly, yet respectfully, press Bush for answers to tough questions about the pending invasion, they could have turned their TVs off at 8:05 p.m.
This characterization doesn’t square with a review of the transcript from that night, in which one finds plenty of “tough questions about the pending invasion.” For example:
Q Mr. President, you have, and your top advisors — notably, Secretary of State Powell — have repeatedly said that we have shared with our allies all the current, up-to-date intelligence information that proves the imminence of the threat we face from Saddam Hussein, and that they have been sharing their intelligence with us, as well. If all these nations, all of them our normal allies, have access to the same intelligence information, why is it that they are reluctant to think that the threat is so real, so imminent that we need to move to the brink of war now? […]
Q Thank you, Mr. President. How would — sir, how would you answer your critics who say that they think this is somehow personal? As Senator Kennedy put it tonight, he said your fixation with Saddam Hussein is making the world a more dangerous place. And as you prepare the American people for the possibility of military conflict, could you share with us any of the scenarios your advisors have shared with you about worse-case scenarios, in terms of the potential cost of American lives, the potential cost to the American economy, and the potential risks of retaliatory terrorist strikes here at home? […]
Q Thank you, sir. May I follow up on Jim Angle’s question? In the past several weeks, your policy on Iraq has generated opposition from the governments of France, Russia, China, Germany, Turkey, the Arab League and many other countries, opened a rift at NATO and at the U.N., and drawn millions of ordinary citizens around the world into the streets in anti-war protests. May I ask, what went wrong that so many governments and people around the world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power? […]
Q Mr. President, to a lot of people, it seems that war is probably inevitable, because many people doubt — most people, I would guess — that Saddam Hussein will ever do what we are demanding that he do, which is disarm. And if war is inevitable, there are a lot of people in this country — as much as half, by polling standards — who agree that he should be disarmed, who listen to you say that you have the evidence, but who feel they haven’t seen it, and who still wonder why blood has to be shed if he hasn’t attacked us. […]
Q Thank you, Mr. President. As you know, not everyone shares your optimistic vision of how this might play out. Do you ever worry, maybe in the wee, small hours, that you might be wrong and they might be right in thinking that this could lead to more terrorism, more anti-American sentiment, more instability in the Middle East?
The transcript shows that reporters questioned the imminence of the threat, quoted Sen. Kennedy’s accusation that Bush was personally obsessed with Iraq, confronted Bush with the accusation that his actions had caused the world to view America as arrogant, cited polls showing ambivalent support for the war, and asked him whether invading Iraq would make America less safe. Boehlert doesn’t try to explain why we shouldn’t consider these to be tough questions. He asks the reader to take his word for it.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m mentioned in Boehlert’s book in a chapter called “The Press Haters,” which is ironic considering I’ve never written a book about the press described as “Riveting in its sharp denouncement.”