Will former White House reporter Helen Thomas ever go away? She's now written up a jeremiad perpetuating the myth that our media are mere whimpering lapdogs of Bush, tinny arfs all around. She hones in on that old, diseased chestnut that the liberal media went all soft in the "rush to war" in Iraq.
Helen's harangue appeared in the appropriate platform: The Nation magazine, which advertises on its website the slogan: "If you think it's time to impeach Bush, then it's time for you to subscribe to The Nation."
In a preview of her forthcoming book on the "waning Washington press corps," Thomas begins the presentation of her evidence for the "naive complicity" of the press with the March 6, 2003 press conference. She howled that one reporter asked Bush if he prayed about going to war. This was April Ryan of Urban Radio Networks -- who also mentioned that the liberal Congressional Black Caucus was urging more diplomacy instead of war. But was this supposed sycophant -- who, like it or not, does not work for a "major media" outlet -- truly representative of this press conference?
No. Helen is just not being factual here, and the record proves it. There was quite sharp questioning that night, live in primetime. Indeed, reporters often sounded like they were reading cue cards composed by Howard Dean. CNN's John King cited Sen. Ted Kennedy's belief that "your fixation with Saddam Hussein is making the world a more dangerous place." Ed Chen of the Los Angeles Times demanded to know that if Bush "trusted the people" with their tax cuts, why not trust them enough to give them an estimate of the war costs? David Gregory of NBC asked if the war could be considered a success if Saddam Hussein escaped capture.
If Thomas studied that press conference, she knew all this. And she knows there's even more. She should know. She was there. The Bush people put her in the back row, and refused to call on her.
But the pounding continued. Terry Moran of ABC pompously lectured the president that he had generated opposition from many countries, opened a rift at NATO and the United Nations, and spurred millions into anti-war protests spanning the globe. He then asked, "May I ask what went wrong that so many governments and peoples around the world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power?" Afterward, Moran continued flashing his trademark arrogance, suggesting to one liberal newspaper that the rest of his colleagues were "zombies."
Then there was Ron Hutcheson of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, now the head of the White House Correspondents Association, who asked this prescient media inquiry to Bush: "As you know, not everyone shares your optimistic vision of how this might play out. Do you ever worry, maybe in the wee, small hours, that you might be wrong and they might be right in thinking that this could lead to more terrorism, more anti-American sentiment, more instability in the Middle East?"
Can Helen Thomas really say these questions show "naive complicity"? Or is this just a political campaign, "working the refs," as former GOP chairman Rich Bond once clumsily put it? Helen does not say these White House reporters are Bush voters or conservatives, just that they're "gullible." She's urging liberal journalists to get less "naive" and more hostile to Bush than they already are now. Helen longs for the good old days of Watergate and Nixon impeachment talk, when the briefing room was a "lion's den."
She writes that the "old pros" like Sam Donaldson used to back her up, but the young whippersnappers dominating the briefing room today (probably defined as reporters under 60) lack "historical perspective on government deception and folly." In short, Helen Thomas wants working reporters to behave exactly like her. God help us if journalists follow that advice.
Helen concludes it's "past time for reporters to forget the party line, ask the tough questions, and let the chips fall where they may." But Helen very much has a party line. She has called Bush "the worst president in all of American history." By contrast, Bill Clinton "built up a great prosperity" and "had great ideals," and she didn't complain about "government deception" and write a book about the "waning press" and how it needs to come out of a "coma" when her hero was president. You can read her party line, right there in The Nation magazine.