Bush One, Loathsome Little Troll Zero? Or Not

Blogs weigh in on the relative success of President Bush's press conference and the media's distortions of the record of the Liberty University debate team.

President Bush threw caution to the wind during yesterday’s press conference and took a question from Hearst News columnist Helen Thomas. Thomas’ question? “Why did you really want to go to war?”

The “ordeal-by-Helen” (to quote the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank) did not go unnoticed in the blogosphere — which is just how the White House wanted it, to hear Creature at The Reaction tell it. Bush calling on Thomas is just another calculated skirmish in the White House’s war on the press, says Creature. Specifically: “There is a new, more aggressive attack afoot and this one appears to be more lethal than Operation Swarmer ever hoped to be. From the vice president this past Sunday on Face the Nation whining about perception … to the president purposefully calling on Helen Thomas to create a clear target for the Right to focus its media anger. … The media war is on. After all, we know that if the Iraq war is lost, it’s the media who lost it. Failed, over-optimistic, incompetent policy had absolutely nothing to do with it.”

According to Van Helsing at Moonbattery, it was Bush who triumphed in yesterday’s Battle in the Briefing Room: “If the dreary poll numbers that have brought so many smug smiles to the press are going to be reversed, it’s high time to take the gloves off and fight back. Bush did so with the perfect touch, never losing his graciousness, much less stooping to the yapping-dog level of his MSM detractors…” Speaking of “stooping,” this is how Van Helsing describes Bush’s handling of Helen Thomas’ question: “[Bush] put the loathsome little troll in her place by patiently yet passionately describing some of the recent historical events that made the invasion of Iraq all but unavoidable,” adding that Thomas “isn’t a sight to take in on a full stomach,” complete with accompanying photo-shopped image of Helen Thomas’s head on an ape’s body.

Over at Rantings of a “Crazy” Liberal, Jim is having a hard time stomaching both the style and substance of Bush’s press conference. On style, Jim fingers what he sees as the president’s “habit of laughing inappropriately, especially when talking about dead soldiers,” calling it “just plain creepy,” and asking, “I mean, WTF IS SO FUNNY???” Substance-wise, Jim focuses on Bush’s comment that “the decision to bring all of the troops home would be decided by ‘future presidents,’” blogging, “Uh, did he just say he won’t bring the troops home in the next three years? Damn right he did. CALL HIM ON IT!!!”

And so they did, as J.R. at Bearing Drift points out, highlighting headlines like the Washington Post’s “Bush Says U.S. Troops Will Stay in Iraq Post ‘08.” Headlines like these, J.R. contends, represent attempts by the media “to portray the Iraq war as a ‘quagmire’ in which American forces will remain occupied for years … If you look at the headlines, one sees a massive footprint in Iraq for years and years. This is not what the president said.” What did the president say, J.R.? “That U.S. forces will train Iraqi forces and promote regional stability for as long as that mission is required.”

Next-day’s press coverage aside, Captain Ed contends that Bush “clearly prevailed yesterday in getting his message across,” noting it was good for the president to speak “in a manner where his words can carry over the cacophony of the media environment.” Although “the broadcast networks are loathe to carry live political speeches unless under certain special circumstances,” Ed blogs, “given the self-love of the press, news conferences such as the one yesterday allow for longer-form media exposure.” Ed also notes that the Washington Post editorial board gave Bush “a glowing review on his press conference yesterday… a surprise for the normally critical Post,” and, to Ed’s eyes, evidence of “the extent to which Bush succeeded in the forum he likes the least.”

And finally, Resolved: that the media’s need to get the compelling underdog story (and the public’s appetite for such stories) supersedes journalists’ obligation to report inconvenient facts that don’t fit into said story. Arguing the “affirmative” was CBS, Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine in the form of their respective stories on the award-winning ways of the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University debate team. Stepping up with the “negative” is Jim from Encyclopedia Hanasiana, who explains why “saying that Liberty University ‘consistently produces one of the nation’s great collegiate debate programs,’” as The New York Times Magazine did this past weekend, is like “calling the best Division III basketball team the NCAA champion, unless of course you’re Liberty’s PR department — or a reporter in search of an angle.” (Read Jim’s post for the specifics, but it has to do with accruing points — which, Jim notes, can be done by “flooding weak tournaments with junior squads and raking in the points” — versus actually winning tournaments. Blogs Jim: “The team to which CBS News attributes ‘a national title’ hasn’t won a single varsity tournament. Hasn’t even placed.”)

Hey, it’s the Blog Report; we never promised you that it would be classy.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.