Who Are These Guys, Anyway?

Last Tuesday’s mid-day press briefing at the White House marked a conspicuous change in the press corps attitude towards White House Press Secretary McClellan. Out of the starting gate, the press corps was uncharacteristically all over McClellan, demanding something other than rote talking points in answer to their queries about President Bush’s National Guard service. The Washington Post, Boston Globe, USA Today, and The New York Times all described the scene as “contentious.”

Later that night, in a display of mock shock over the White House press corps’ new-found aggressiveness, the “Daily Show“‘s Jon Stewart exclaimed, “Where the f!@k have you been?” He, of course, was referring to a widespread perception that the same White House press corps has for the most part behaved like little more than lap dogs for the past three years.

The rest of this week showed a press corps hungry for the truth. They pelted McClellan with questions again on Wednesday in a press briefing and on Thursday in a press gaggle. Then again this morning the press corps spent 15 minutes of a gaggle trying to get McClellan to directly answer a single question.

Insightful reporting accompanied the hard-hitting question and answer sessions. Earlier this week, Richard Serrano and Dana Millbank pressured the administration with strongly worded pieces in the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post respectively, holding Bush to his promises of full disclosure. USA Today moved the story yesterday with this article by raising questions about the “cleansing” of Bush’s national guard records. And this morning The Boston Globe rebuked yesterday’s USA Today story, while The Washington Post found what few had — a former National Guardsmen who said he saw Bush report to duty in Alabama. (In contrast, The New York Times interviewed sixteen former comrades from the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, circa 1972, and found no one who recalled Bush.)

Lastly, Kevin Drum of the blog Calpundit, deserves credit for offering edgy and reported posts on the subject through the week.

Then Friday evening, according to the Associated Press, the president ordered the release of all of the documents pertaining to his National Guard service in Texas and Alabama.

It was a fitting cap to a week in which members of the media were particularly aggressive. However, dumping documents late on a Friday is a classic tactic of both governments and corporations in hopes of avoiding damaging coverage. Let’s hope the press corps continues to act as it should - more like a relentless timber wolf than a well-fed house cat lazing in the sun.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.