Today, I caught the first few minutes of a “Hardball” segment before I growled to my husband to turn it off lest I physically attack him to gain control of the remote. The topic of the day was President Bush’s recent campaign to paint the press as the bad guys in the Iraq War. (It must be mentioned here that we are on vacation; ensconced in a beautiful little cedar-shingled cabin perched among the treetops overlooking Siltcoos Lake, one of a string of freshwater lakes separated from the Pacific Ocean by the sandy hillocks of the Oregon Dunes. I am here to watch the birds, inhale the scent of laurel blossoms, and search out the perfect Oregon coast dining experience. Not to have my stomach soured and my blood pressure raised fifty points by the latest Bush Administration campaign to transfer blame for its history-changing fuck-ups on to anything but its own incompetence.)
It took a few days of following Mr. Bush all over the country, and having veteran Washington analysts gush about how (why?) he unexpectedly set aside his extreme aversion to informal and unrehearsed interaction with the press, to figure out exactly what his game is. Out of one side of his mouth, he is joking, cajoling, bantering, and buddying up to the press. And, out of the other side, he is blasting them for focusing on pessimistic reports coming out of Iraq. Somewhere in there, he is attempting to salvage the image of the plain-spoken, dedicated War President being wronged by the sensationalist, money-grubbing media which insist upon focusing upon images of death and destruction coming out of a war zone. How un-American of these defeatist reporters!
I guess my answer to that is: Mr. President, if you wanted positive images to come out of Iraq, perhaps you should have sent in a humanitarian force rather than an army. Perhaps you should have focused on building schools and improving infrastructure and promoting diplomatic understanding from the outset, not as “let’s make nice now” damage control after an ill-considered pre-emptive military invasion of a sovereign nation with a complicated and convoluted history which you made no effort to comprehend.
In the early days of the Iraq war, with their embedded reporters and vise-like grip upon the information and images trickling out of the war zone , the Bush Administration was able to tell exactly the story they wanted—no more and no less. They were unquestionably (in their own minds, at least) in perfect control of the message; it was an easy step to believing they controlled not only the perception of the war, but the war itself. A classic and tragic case of believing your own press. Alas…in its own stubbornly contrary fashion, the Iraq conflict did not magically resolve upon the airing of the “Mission Accomplished” speech scarcely two months into the nightmare that was, at that point, only just beginning. Though, admittedly, the ADHD-afflicted American people have been a little slow on the uptake, it has become painfully clear—an additional two years and ten months into the steadily decaying process—that the mission is anything but accomplished.
Control of the media has been, from day one, the most powerful weapon in the GOP’s arsenal. Time and time again, the administration’s gurus have expertly manipulated the message that reached the eyes and ears of the American people. What has gone wrong? Could it be that they’ve gripped the information pipeline so tightly for so long, they’re cramping up? They’re starting to tremble, and dance, and juggle, and look more and more foolish as they struggle to hold on to that weapon that is quickly slipping out of their grasp. Bush and Co. are scrambling to reconcile their early-war “We’re out to save the world” image with the increasingly desperate situation that they can no longer hide. Demonstrating their typical bull-headed inability to change gears when the situation calls for it, they continue to reach for that weapon to which they’ve grown so attached. This time, however, they find themselves in the schizophrenic position of trying to kiss up to the press, and slap it upside the head at the same time. It’s quite the Laurel and Hardy moment. And the American people, treated to this sorry bit of slapstick, are finally ready to turn off the movie and focus on reality.