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Long Blog Post-White House Correspondents Event

October 28, 2007

For my long blog post, I decided to go to the event in Bender Arena that featured a moderated discussion between White House Correspondent David Gregory and Hearst columnist and former White House Correspondent Helen Thomas. The discussion revolved around a debate between the two on whether or not the White House Press Corps had failed the American public in its coverage of the Iraq war, specifically whether or not the hard questions were asked in the reasoning behind the war and if the press had given President Bush a free ride rather than seem anti-American or pro-terrorist.

Helen Thomas took the position that the press corps failed miserably, giving the president carte blanche approval to wage the war in Iraq under false pretenses without the slightest amount of journalistic inquiry or opposition but instead allowing Bush to use the press as an instrument by which to carry his message to the American people unabated and un-scrutinized. Thomas’s stance was one of a virulent and unapologetic ultra-left wing Bush hater. For a good example of her political stance, take a look at one of the columns she has written at http://www.koat.com/helenthomas/8192106/detail.html.

David Gregory, as a current White House Correspondent, tried to remain politically neutral while maintaining that “the hard questions were asked.” For information on Gregory, go to http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3688588/.

The debate was a very interesting one, albeit very polarized. In the blue corner we had the unapologetically Bush bashing Thomas and in the red corner we had the neutral and defensive Gregory.

To Gregory’s credit, he made the excellent point of saying that the American people in general and Congress in particular were the ones who truly allowed Bush to invade Iraq. But beyond that, the only point he really seemed capable of making was that “the hard questions were asked.” He also pointed out the niche culture mass media and particularly the internet have created that allows people to hear only the news they want to hear and only from the sources who present in a way they agree with.

Beyond those points however, Gregory said little that was truly substantive and not once did he ever say what questions were asked, only that they were. Truthfully, Gregory’s defense of himself and the journalistic community came across as a very hollow one. His justification of how everyone let Bush get away with Iraq? “The country was in a different place after 9/11.” To add insult to injury, when describing how news gets out, of all the possible sources and stations, newspapers and sites for information, one of the few examples he used for that venue was Fox News.

Thomas was not exactly perfect herself. While I completely agree with her anti-war statements, they came across as so strong that one might wonder if she’s allowed herself to be blinded by her hatred of Bush. And then there was the point she made that while they were not in recent times, the hard questions were asked in Vietnam. Alas, they cut questions short before I could ask how she justified that statement even though the dissident press was decrying the war as early as 1954 while the mainstream didn’t begin anti-war coverage until January and February of 1968 and that coverage was a virtual clone of the arguments the dissident press had been making for a decade or more.

Curious how historical retrospect can change present opinions. Scary as it may seem, press coverage seems to have actually improved since Vietnam. If you take Thomas’s advice and absorb what she says with a grain of salt, the hard questions of Vietnam were asked , but not until 1968. It took 14 years for the mainstream to start against the war back then, it took much less for the modern press to pick up with anti-war coverage. Maybe progress has to come in very small increments over very long periods of time.

I feel obligated to try and tie this whole think back to my group’s particular subject, being candidates positions. As far as that goes, you have to wonder what exactly a candidate or actual elected officials position is on the press. The press can and has been manipulated both here and abroad as both an instrument of support and opposition to those in power. All those running for office want the press to cover them more, and to do so in a positive light. The mark of a good journalist, I think, is how much said journalist allows those men and women to get away with it.
That is not to say journalists should automatically oppose those running for and holding office, only that they should be weary of being anyone’s instrument save for the truth.

Newt Gingrich and subsequently Rick Tyler are of the position that the press should at most serve as time keeper in political debates, that the press coverage should only report, never introduce the topic of discussion. And whether or not the press highlights the topics that aren’t as important as what the candidates want to discuss is a valid question. Other candidates treat the press with a similar attitude, and still others just want them to be carry their message to the masses for assimilation and subsequent support.

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