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Frank Rich: As the War Turns: A New Soap Opera

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kskiska Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Apr-24-04 10:46 PM
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Frank Rich: As the War Turns: A New Soap Opera
ON Feb. 27, 1968, America's most trusted anchor, CBS's Walter Cronkite, concluded a special report from Vietnam by saying that the "only rational way out" was a negotiated end to the war. To L. B. J., this pronouncement was a political death sentence. "If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Mr. Average Citizen," he confided to his press secretary. A month later he decided not to seek re-election.

If Iraq were Vietnam, then Bob Woodward's appearance on "60 Minutes" last Sunday night might have been when George W. Bush lost "Joe Public" (the current Texan president's preferred term for Mr. Average Citizen). Mr. Woodward, the most famous of American reporters, has not been previously known for being tough on Mr. Bush. If he had been, the president would never have granted him hours of on-the-record interviews. But last Sunday, Mr. Bush appeared to have lost him. Mr. Woodward went so far as to editorialize that "some people" may find the administration's covert financing of the run-up to the war in conflict with the Constitution.


Mr. Bush knows how to defend himself against journalists by shutting them out and demonizing them as elites out of touch with Joe Public. He tries to limit troubling pictures, by either forbidding them (soldiers' coffins) or superseding them with triumphalist tableaus of his own (that aircraft carrier). But faced with a revolt of The Families, he buckles. The Families are Joe Public, and you can see his fear of them from the timing of the sudden prime-time news conference that materialized on April 13. For days, TV had been overrun by the families, and on April 12 the phenomenon was at full tilt. All three morning network news shows, the programs that reach a vast audience of American women of voting age, had reports on the families or interviews with them or their immediate neighbors: either the families of 9/11 victims, the families of American troops (whether those killed in Iraq or those forced to extend their stay there) or the families of Americans taken hostage in Iraq. (Or, in the case of CBS's "Early Show," a smorgasbord of all three.)

These families, with their tales of dead or absent fathers and children, tear up the audience, and the White House, which made the strategic error of keeping the president away from mourning families at the war's outset, is now desperate to get with the program. In his reluctant press conference, Mr. Bush didn't seem in command of much once he was forced to improvise, but he knew to hit his rehearsed talking points about the families a half-dozen times. "I feel incredibly grieved when I meet with family members," he said at one point, adding, "and I do quite frequently." (Message: I care more than my father ever seemed to.) "I've met with a lot of family members," he reiterated later, "and I do the best I do to console them about the loss of their loved one." (Message: I care as much as Bill Clinton did after Oklahoma City.)

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wabeewoman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Apr-24-04 11:19 PM
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1. Excellent article
and it makes a lot of sense. For once, the media is working for the side of good even if it is sensationaling human grief and suffering.
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bemildred Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Apr-24-04 11:56 PM
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2. For the record ...
LBJ never gave a shit about public opinion, he was ELECTED
as an anti-war candidate. He resigned because he could not
win the primaries. McCarthy would have kicked his ass. They
gave us Hubert instead, and as soon as Hubert had the nomination
he started agreeing with Nixon about everything, so he lost.
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