"Wou you guys like us to go without you?" Once again, press corps falls for Bush theatrics

by Jay Rosen, Huffington Post

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had a good question for the White House press corps Monday, when the President--surprise!--flew to Iraq. Reporters on the plane wanted to know if they were trailing along for what was essentially a photo op. "Would you guys like us to come without you?" said they're going.

What individuals in the press can do -- because this is within their rules -- is observe the next day that other individuals, their colleagues, were manipulated into writing phony headlines the previous day. Which is what Howard Kurtz does in Wednesday's Washington Post. (See Falling for the Spin.) We might call this "independence after the fact," made necessary by a refusal to act against an obvious ploy.

No one on that plane thought Bush was going to make any real news in Iraq, and yet they also knew that their bosses weren't about to send them all the way over there and get nothing from it. This made them dependent on what the President decided to say in lieu of making news. So what we got was misleading announcements about possible troop reductions when, as Kurtz wrote, "a troop reduction is no more likely today than it was yesterday." (Even so, reporters left behind were heard griping about being "out of position.")

Hadley was actually taunting them with, "Would you guys like us to come without you?" If he didn't already know that the press corps was incapable of taking an independent decision, he never would have done that. He would have done what spokeswoman Dana Perino did. "There are some people who might try to deride this trip as a photo opportunity," she said. "We wholeheartedly disagree."

I disagree too. "Photo-op" understates and normalizes it. Bush flew to Iraq on a propaganda mission that required the press to complete the mission for him. But this was all above board in the sense that these moves are ritualized. And that's the truly strange part. Tune into this from the President as they all flew on to Australia aboard Air Force One:

If you look at my comments over the past eight months, it's gone from a security situation in the sense that we're either going to get out and there will be chaos, or more troops. Now the situation has changed where I'm able to speculate on the hypothetical.

Indeed.

article originally published at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-rosen/would-you-guys-like-us-t_b_63176.html.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey