October 23, 2003


Bush's Filtered News (Michael Kinsley, October 17, 2003, Washington Post)

Every president complains that the media are blocking his message, and the media complain that every administration wants to manage the news. It's not only presidents. Everyone who has something to say in our media-saturated culture (and who doesn't?) longs for ways to get that message out unmediated by someone else. In this media cacophony the president probably has more ability to deliver his message without a filter than anyone else on Earth. Anything the president says is automatically news. If he wants to commandeer all the TV networks for a speech in prime time, he can usually do it. The president can even hold a news conference, although this president rarely bothers. [...]

Bush doesn't really want people to get the news unfiltered. He wants people to get the news filtered by George W. Bush. Or, rather, he wants everyone to get the news filtered by the same people who apparently filter it for him. It's an interesting question how our president knows what he thinks he knows and why he thinks it is less distorted than what the rest of us know or think we know. Every president lives in a cocoon of advisers who filter reality for him, but it's stunning that this president actually seems to prefer getting his take on reality that way.

Bush apparently thinks (if that is the word) that the publicly available media contaminate the news with opinion but Condi Rice and Andy Card are objective reporters. Anyone who has either been a boss or had a boss will find it easier, knowing that Bush believes this, to understand how he can also believe that things are going swimmingly in Iraq. And where does the Rice-Card News Service obtain its uncontaminated information? Bush conceded his shocking suspicion that Rice and Card "probably read the news themselves." They do? Whatever's next?

The president noted, though, that Rice and Card also get "news directly from participants on the world stage." ("Hi, Ahmed -- it's Condi. What's going on there in Baghdad? What's the weather like? And how's traffic? Thanks, I'll go tell the president and call you again in 15 minutes.") The notion that these world stagers are sources of objective information while newspaper reporters are burdened by unsuppressible opinions and hidden agendas is another odd one.

Mr. Kinsley's frustration -- at the fact that he studies and opines about the President but the President blithely ignores him -- just comes shrieking out of this essay. No small part of the reason the press admired Bill Clinton was that they mattered to him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2003 1:36 PM

Bush's adamant refusal to invite celebrities to the White House to hobnob with or hold fancy state dinners every other month is also one of the main reasons behind Maureen Dowd's descent into journalistic insanity...

Posted by: John at October 23, 2003 2:15 PM

President Eisenhower read three newspapers thoroughly every morning before beginning work (NYT, the old NY Herald-Tribune, and the Washington Post). An energetic, curious, and intelligent man like Ike can figure out the biases of journalists and take them into account. He did not rely solely upon his aides to keep him informed. If he had no outside sources of knowledge, how could he judge whether they were doing a smart and unbiased job of feeding him information?

Posted by: Steve Sailer at October 23, 2003 3:25 PM

President Bush reads the papers. He's just not going to endorse one or the other publicly. The question asked of him was (paraphrased) "what news programs do you watch or newspapers do you read to find out what's going on?" Bush said he relies on his aids to tell him what's going on.

What else is he going to say? "I watch only Fox News and You Should Too!"

Posted by: NKR at October 23, 2003 3:49 PM

The error is assuming there's such a thing as unfiltered news. I suppose GWB is supposed to review every event occuring on earth in the last 24 hours each morning?

It reminds me of an old, um, joke or koan from the MIT AI lab:

In the days when Sussman was a novice Minsky once came to him as he sat hacking at the PDP-6. "What are you doing?", asked Minsky.
"I am training a randomly wired neural net to play Tic-Tac-Toe."
"Why is the net wired randomly?", asked Minsky.
"I do not want it to have any preconceptions of how to play"
Minsky shut his eyes,
"Why do you close your eyes?", Sussman asked his teacher.
"So that the room will be empty."
At that moment, Sussman was enlightened.

Posted by: Mike Earl at October 23, 2003 4:15 PM

Let's say it all together now: "Michael Kinsley is over-educated and under-appreciated". Will that make him feel better?

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 23, 2003 4:30 PM


The inverse makes me feel better.

Posted by: RDB at October 23, 2003 6:35 PM