As it is Wednesday, I am now up to the “Week In Review” section of the NY Times I bought on Sunday. Don’t judge me. It’s still relevant, in the middle of the next week.
So I am not one who normally opens up the newspaper expecting to be wowed. Mostly I expect to be angered and disgusted and disappointed. So imagine my surprise as I stood in the crowds of yesterday afternoon’s 4 train reading Frank Rich’s Op-Ed (subscription link) “All the President’s Press.” He was talking about the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Sounds stupid and boring, right? Right. Exactly. That was his point. Specifically, that it is a ludicrous unconscionable event that further leads to the corruption of the news media.
They [journalist revelers] served as captive dress extras in a propaganda stunt, lending their credibility to the presiden’t sanctimonious exploitation of the Virginia Tech tragedy for his own political self-aggrandizement on national television. Meanwhile the war was kept as tightly under wraps as the troops’ coffins.
Yow. I have to admit, he lost me a little on the details. I didn’t follow the Pat Tillman situation, but I guess the basic gist was that Tillman, a football star serving in Afghanistan, was reported by the Pentagon and later the White House as being killed heroically, but was actually killed by friendly fire. In 2004 at the press dinner Bush eulogized about Tillman’s sacrifice in order to distract from the recently-released Abu Ghraib photos and Ted Koppel reading the names of the war dead on “Nightline.” Basically,
The Washington press corps that applauded the president at the correspondents’ dinner is the same press corps that was slow to recognize the importance of Abu Ghraib that weekend and…..even slower to label the crimes as torture.
So I guess what happened at this week’s dinner was more of the same, as “this year Mr. Bush made a grand show of abstaining [from doing his own comic shtick], saying that the killings at Virginia Tech precluded his being a ‘funny guy.’ Any civilian watching on TV could formulate the question left hanging by this pronouncement: Why did the killings in Iraq not preclude his veing a ‘funny guy’ at other press banquets…?”
The real kicker, though, the thing that to me felt actually exhilarating to read (so exhilarating that I missed my stop) was when Rich outlines the difference between the press’ (minus Rich’s) perception of Iraq and Rich’s (and maybe the NY Times’?) perception of it:
…much of the press still takes it as a given that Iraq has a functioning government that might meet political benchmarks (oil law, de-Baathification reform, etc., etc.) that would facilitate an American withdrawal. In reality, the Maliki “government” can’t meet any benchmarks, even if they were enforced, because that government exists only as a fictional White House talking point. As Gen. Barry McCaffrey said last week, this government doesn’t fully control a single province. Its Parliament….has passed no major legislation in months. Ira’s sole recent democratic achievement is to ban the release of civilian casualty figures, lest they challenge White House happy talk about “progress” in Iraq.
Mmmm. I know I’m not the only transitional democracy buff out there. Reckles, I’m looking at you….
Mr. Rich finishes it off by saying that the Times won’t continue participating in such events. I hope they will continue participating in this kind of fucking awesome truth-telling and…. dare I say…. muckraking. You go baby. You rake that muck.
I know, I know, a mainstream journalist deriding other mainstream journalists, it smacks of a Paris-Nicole showdown. But if that means next up in the ring is Frank Rich v. Ann Coulter, then bring it on bitch, bring it on.