Entry from February 13, 2004

Full marks to the mainstream media for refusing to report even a single word of the scurrilous gossip going around about John Kerry’s love-life. They’re not even reporting that Matt Drudge is reporting it, which is the usual way which these ugly rumors get into circulation by the back door. It reminds me of the CBS producers at the Superbowl who refused to turn their cameras, even with discreet editing, on a streaker — so automatically removing the incentive for anyone else who might be tempted to try the same thing.

But just as it would have been expecting too much for the CBS bosses to have provided a similar disincentive to the Janet Jacksons of the world by banning any subsequent appearances by her on the network after her breast-baring stunt during the live half-time show, so it is apparently expecting too much of the news media to extend their courtesy to Senator Kerry also to President Bush. This they could have done by refusing to report the equally scurrilous, and at least equally unfounded allegations about Bush’s having been AWOL during his National Guard service in Alabama.

Of course there are no prizes for guessing the reason for this disparity of discretion. It is not news either that the politics of media-folk are overwhelmingly Democratic or that the Democrats really, really hate George W. Bush. What is new is the openness of their contempt, the refusal even to pretend to show the President — never mind the courtesy, even the basic respect that ought to be his due as the holder of the highest office in the land. Here, for example, is a little snippet of a White House press conference, taken from the website of the invaluable Media Research Center in which John Roberts of CBS News was interrogating the President’s spokesman, Scott McClellan, about his service records:

McClellan: “John, the records that you’re pointing to, these records are the payroll records; they’re the point summaries. These records verify that he met the requirements necessary to fulfill his duties. These records — “
“That wasn”t my question, Scott.”
“These payroll records —”
“Scott, that wasn’t my question, and you know it wasn”t my question. Where was he in December of ‘72, February and March of ‘73? And why did he not fulfill the medical requirements to remain on active flight duty status?”
McClellan: “These records — these records I’m holding here clearly document the President fulfilling his duties in the National Guard. The President was proud of his service. The
President —”
Roberts: “I asked a simple question. How about a simple answer?”
“John, if you”ll let me address the question, I’m coming to your answer, and I’d like — “
Roberts: “Well, if you would address it — maybe you could.”

And it goes on like that as several other reporters throw in their equally disrespectful two cents’ worth. It’s worth noting that we expect some deference to be shown to civil magistrates not because we like them or agree with their politics but because without it the foundations of civic culture are undermined. That’s why judges and other officials are designated “the honorable”: because it is essential for the functioning of authority in a democracy continually to remind ourselves that power is not merely arbitrary. President Bush should appear at the next press conference in person in a Lear-like passion to ask: “Who stocked my servant?” And with more than Lear-like power, he should clear out this nest of vipers and revoke the press credentials of those who behaved so disrespectfully.

Of course he won’t do it. Admirable as the President is in many ways, even he hasn’t the nerve so to defy the media, whose overweening arrogance seems to grow more offensive with each passing day. A lovely illustration of this arrogance was to be found in the Washington Post earlier in the week when Howard Kurtz tried to make a scandal out of the fact that Donald Rumsfeld’s daily press briefing routinely excludes the press’s criticisms of him — as if the media’s own conceit of its constitutional role as watchdog on the government required him to pay minute attention to the strategic insights of a pack of jumped up scribblers who — as Colin Powell put it in a related case of Bush-bashing this week — don’t know what they’re talking about. That Kurtz tried to sell this as a case of “censorship” is so grotesque an example of media self-importance that it is time for us reluctantly to conclude that the lot of them should be packed off for a spell in Guantanamo.

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