(continued from the previous post)
If a President's motives are generally considered worthy until proved otherwise, the same can be said of the President's appointments. When he appoints a Defence Secretary, your average American is willing to believe that this man or woman is worthy of trust, worthy of respect. He or she is the choice of the President. The journalists charged with the task of questioning the President and his advisers must work within the bounds of a culture that is willing to give national leaders the benefit of the doubt. Even after Watergate. Even after Monica Lewinsky. Even after Wag the Dog.
That's why the BBC's Correspondent programme caused a minor sensation here when it questioned the veracity of the Jessica Lynch story. Lynch was the 19-year-old West Virginia soldier taken prisoner by the Iraqis and rescued by US special forces during the war. [For the full story, see pages 4-5.] At the time, Pentagon sources said - and the American media reported - that Lynch had fought back against the Iraqis; that she had been stabbed and shot; that she had been abused in hospital.
The BBC team went to the hospital and heard a different story. Her injuries, according to the Iraqis, were caused by a car accident; after the accident, she had been brought to the hospital and treated well. The "rescue" had been unnecessary; the doctors had been trying for some time to hand her back.
It does not matter which story is true. The issue is that there were conflicting accounts but the American media overwhelmingly chose to report the Pentagon's version as fact.
Let's be honest, though: much of the questioning of American motives and purposes in the British press is equally one-sided. My heart sinks when junior producers ring from London, enthused by an article in a British paper that proves that the war was all about oil, or that the Zionists are in charge, or that the Vice-President's former company is taking over the world. The view from this side of the Atlantic is that the Brits have axes to grind.
It's still the case, though, that the US media have not covered themselves in glory in recent weeks. And I am glad to be able to report that the Bush administration is properly grateful. I went to see the Vice-President make a speech a few nights ago. He finished with a reference to the war in Iraq, telling his audience: "You did well - you have my thanks."
Were these troops or government officials he was addressing? Neither, in fact: the occasion was the annual dinner of the American Radio and Television Correspondents Association.
It's all very, very cosy. No wonder the BBC table was No 148. Next to the lavatories and the emergency exit.
Justin Webb is Washington correspondent for the BBC
It's the job of the press in a democracy to hold the Administration accountable. Since the beginnings of my recollection in the mid 1970s, Republican administrations haven't liked being called on Watergate, Iran-Contra, various Reagan administration mini-scandals (James Watt, Ann Burford, etc.), whether ambassador April Glaspie gave Saddam the green light to invade Kuwait, and so on. Thus the myth of the "liberal media" was born. The press was questioning Republican administrations, so it must be liberal!
Hogwash. Back then, they were just doing their job. And now, under the most mendacious and secretive Administration in my memory, the press is incompetent, lazy, cowed or some unsavory combination thereof. For Pete's sake, as a candidate, Bush simply declared that he wouldn't answer any questions about prior drug use. And rather than taking the bait, the so-called "liberal media" simply nodded and acted like good little stenographers.
(via a Daily Kos open thread)