Did media hide anti-Bush protests? Sadly, yes

Doug Gibson’s blog post a couple days ago about the current wave of screaming matches over health care cited anti-Bush riots in Seattle in 2002 and says, essentially, that the so-called “liberal” media didn’t play those protests up, so why are they making such a big deal about noisy protests over health care now?

There is much discussion about whether the protestors, then, were being accused of being unpatriotic, and whether the accusastions by a few  that the protestors now are being un-American are being fair.

There’s no end to that debate, but one poster, Mel, put some interesting discussion up about why would the allegedly liberal media in this nation (and I say allegedly because I don’t think it is liberal at all) hide those protests? After all, if the so-called “liberal” media hates Bush so much, why would it not trumpet such protests from the highest tree?

He then says that maybe the Bush Administration actually had a hand in hiding that news, or stifling it, and says he finds the realization rather depressing. As well he should.

I then put the following up, and repeat it here because I think it is something that hasn’t been talked about much, but needs to be.

There seems to be a general assumption — dating back to Nixon’s very hostile relationship with the media that were exposing his crimes — that the professional media is some sort of liberal plot against the government, and I guess it is if you want to call “finding out the truth” a liberal plot. Nixon, of course, didn’t want the truth of his crimes discovered, so he decided to demonize those trying to discover it, siccing Spiro Agnew and his “nattering nabobs of negativism” ideas.

The goal was to make the press — which in truth is about as coordinated as a herd of cats — into some sort of  unified cabal, a  coordinated enemy that could then be condemned, and while the effort didn’t save Nixon, the premise has survived and is still used today by people who find a “liberal” media to be a convenient straw man to condemn because that distracts people from looking more closely at whatever it is they are up to.

Anyway, Mel apparently assumes this so-called “liberal” media exists, says it was obviously shut up by some unseen power, and says the apparent existence of that power distresses him. 

Here’s my answer (it doesn’t precisely match my answer on Doug’s blog because I took a little more time here):  

It may be sadder than that, Mel — in 2002 the many individual reporters, and corporate entities, who make up the “main stream media” were  thoroughly cowed following the 911 attack , both on a personal and on a corportate level. They kept quiet about dissent out of fear of being accused of not being patriotic because, you may recall, those were a time when patriotism, a desire to pull together, were paramount.

The idea of critical reporting of the government pretty much went by the boards — it was an extremely frustrating time for me, a reporter with 30-plus years of experience, to see my profession essentially roll over and play dead.

The Bush administration didn’t have to control the media — the media controlled themselves.

Example: Remember when Colin Powell gave his wonderful speech at the UN and talked about, among many things, those idiotic tubes Iraq had that were allegedly going to be used to build centrifuges to produce nuclear fuel? The International Atomic monitoring body whose name escapes me. had, a week or two before, issued a finding that those tubes were NOT of the sort that could be made into centrifuges, they were for missiles.

And yet, there was Powell saying they were for centrifuges. Did anyone, anywhere, in the US media question Powell’s assertion? No. Not one. OK, I sat here in the newsroom and raged, but who the hell listens to me?

This is why, several years later (sorry, can’t remember precisely when) both the NYTimes and the WaPost ran very long, 18-inch, apology/corrections for their really abysmal coverage of the runup to the Iraq war. The NYTimes fired at least one key reporter for, as it turned out, being a de-facto PR person for Rumsfeld, a pal of the puppet Iraqi — Chalabi, I think it was – who Rummy had planned to put into power once US troops won the war. This reporter wanted to be the one who reported the victory, thought she had the inside line, and she tossed out critical thinking in the process.

It was astonishingly ugly.

Why weren’t anti-Bush protests that Mr. Gibson cites covered more? No plot, no government control. The media in this country was being patriotic in 2002. It abdicated it’s role in protecting the nation from its leaders in the process, and the result you see, daily, in flag-covered coffins.

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18 Responses to Did media hide anti-Bush protests? Sadly, yes

  1. Tab L. Uno says:

    The media and freedom of speech are a fundamental anchor for the success of democracy in our Country. However, we are also at a critical period of time that tests the “enlightened” voter/public as to their ability to make informed and thoughtful decisions based on this information to take back to their government representatives who in turn are then supposedly to make national policy that will in turn represent the best law in the land (such as on health reform). My fear is that even the best media reporting will not alter the likelihood that it will be the American public that let’s America down in this democracy.

  2. Doug Gibson says:

    I recall massive worldwide protests against a potential war with Iraq all over the world in early 2002. There was a lot of media coverage. Sorry you missed the coverage, friend. I recall a long debate both in Congress and the U.N. over a potential war with Iraq. There was a lot of media coverage on that.

    I’m not a fan of conservatives claiming a media bias conspiracy. It will become pathetic if liberals, who control Congress and the presidency, start to hatch similar conspiracies just because they can’t win popular support over issues such as the war on terror, energy policy or health care.

    A \media bias\ doesn’t exist. The debate is over what gets covered and how it gets covered. Journalists, like anyone else, are susceptible to life experiences and personal opinion shaping how they cover the news and what they choose to cover. My post noted that in regards to the current, mild protests and a more threatening protest in 2002. I appreciate that it has led to so many other media musings.

  3. Doug Gibson says:

    Hazards of not having an editor to catch typos when I post: I meant early 2003, not early 2002.

  4. I would like to submit that if there is no such thing as “media bias”, then why did so many main stream media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, etc. to name a few find it acceptable to continually make “tea bag” jokes when reporting about the well organized, conservative lead tea parties a few months ago? Not trying to be a conspiracies advocate here, but this is only one example of how the main stream media would appear to take a harsher tone or conversely a “take those people less serious” approach when it comes to the conservative view point versus the liberal view point.

  5. Charles Trentelman says:

    i didn’t say the protests weren’t covered, i said that one wasn’t, although it did get some.

    what I DID say is that the war was not questioned, and it wasn’t, not adequately. Covering protests in the classic he said-she said method we all love to hate because it answers nothing — just presents the protests, doesn’t ask if the reasons for the war are valid, doesn’t demand answers, and I saw darn little of that sort of questioning by the media back then.

    Which is why I also said it was no conspiracy, it was pure incompetence. I have never been so ashamed of my profession as i was during that period.


  6. Charles Trentelman says:

    as to mytalkutah question about the lack of media bias — that’s not bias, that’s piling on. Everyone does it. You can see similar things in action when every Republican congressman uses the same talking points to debate issues — conspiracy? Or just too damn lazy to think on their own?

  7. Doug Gibson says:

    Charlie, I respectfully disagree. I think there was robust debate during that period. Many forget that most intelligence agencies believed there were weapons of mass destruction. The CIA director told President Bush that it was a slam-dunk. I recall reading countless articles — pro and con — and news reports that were skeptical of the Bush administration’s claims.

  8. That may be true Charles, but it is uneven to compare the Republican congressman to the mainstream media with “piling on”. Politicians of the same political party will typically back each other up when it comes to the issues. However minus Fox News, I’ve yet to see too many other main stream media outlets pile on from a positive angle as it relates to the conservative side of politics.

  9. Ben Dover says:

    I find it interesting that you are having a dialogue with Doug Gibson on this issue. When false statements were attributed to President Obama in the letters to the editor section and were not corrected or retracted you said that you had no control or input on the editorial side of news.

  10. flatlander100 says:

    Mr. Trentelman’s summary of the failure of American print journalists, on the whole, during the run up to the invasion of Iraq for too long thereafter is accurate, overall. Print journalists largely abandoned the skepticism and determination to dig behind the press release following 9/11. The only real exception I know of [besides alternative journalists writing for things like "Mother Jones"] were some reporters who worked for the Knight-Ridder chain [now McClatchy Papers], particularly I think working out of their Detroit paper. They asked the questions Judith Miller of the NY Times refused to ask; they didn’t trade their critical judgment for access to the corridors of power and private briefings; and they were reporting on exactly the things the rest of the mainstream print media was not, and they did it consistently. Sadly, reporters and editors at the supposed leaders of the industry — NYT, AP, WaPo — did not pick up the Knight-Ridder stories and did not pursue them on their own.

    So, Mr. T, there were some newspaper writers out there doing their job. Just not nearly enough, and not nearly enough editors and publishers who insisted that their reporters do the same. It is not the job, or it shouldn’t be, of newspaper editors and reporters to become mindless flag-wavers in times of crisis. Nor is it patriotic of them to do so. It’s especially in times of crisis that its essential for them to be truly patriotic by fulfilling their guild oaths to question, doubt, dig and report on what they find behind the spin room and press release. If what they find corroborates the story put out by national leaders, fine. The nation will be stronger for knowing that what our leaders are saying stood up to the relentless digging of the press corps. But if it does not stand up, we absolutely need to know that.

    Occasionally, I see a bumper sticker around town that says “Question Authority!” What I can’t figure out is why every reporter, and every managing editor and every news editor of every paper in the state [and nation] doesn’t have one on his or her car. They should.

  11. ctrentelman says:

    Flatlander is correct — there were a few news outlets who were asking the hard questions. problem is, the media in t his country has become like the journalists (i use the term loosely) at white house press conferences — everyone concentrating on his own question, nobody following up or pressing to find out an answer. They ask their question, take their answer (such as it is) and the next guy doesn’t press it because he’s got his own question. The president knows this — he doesn’t have to answer anything becuse he knows he won’t be press if he dodges. Obama is no different.

    On a national scale, a few papers did do good work, but the president found them easy to ignore because nobody else was following up, or even picking up the theme. Factor in the method of the press these days of settling for settling for “two sides” to each argument, no matter how spurious one of those side is, and you pretty much have a formula that clever politicians can manipulate as you see them do so often.

    If someone pushed Bush too hard, he had a well-known system of simply freezing those people out for bad manners, which bush defined as “making Bush look bad.” Since no journalist seems to have the testicles these days to go to his editor and say “I got frozen out for asking too many questions) they all play the game.

    Toss a Judth Miller into the mix, and you end up with a war sold like toothpaste.

  12. Doug Gibson says:

    Charlie, RE: “Factor in the method of the press these days of settling for settling for “two sides” to each argument, no matter how spurious one of those side is, and you pretty much have a formula that clever politicians can manipulate as you see them do so often.”

    Who determines which side is “spurious?”

  13. flatlander100 says:


    Who is to judge what’s spurious and what’s not? Reporters, and their editors, based on the research they’ve done.. Part of their job is [or used to be] exercising judgment , digging out what happened, and drawing conclusions, and their reputations depend on how well, over time, they do that.

    The problem Charlie pointed out leads to things like having geologists quoted in a story about the latest research on the age of the earth, and then including quotes in the name of “balance” from some tub-thumping fundamentalist with zero scientific training or background insisting the earth is only 6 thousand years old because his reading of the bible tells him so.

    Yes, Doug, in that circumstance I’d expect a reporter and his editors to exercise their judgment and conclude that including the young-earther’s comments is not good journalism nor is it “balanced” journalism.

  14. Doug Gibson says:

    I’m not sure there’s too many tub-thumping evangelists quoted by major newspapers reporting on climate change. …

  15. flatlander100 says:


    My example didn’t involve global warming. It involved the age of planet earth. Sometimes it appears in articles about evolution, when a tub-thumper is quoted to the effect that evolution could not possibly be valid because the Bible says the earth is only 6K years old. That may be fine if the subject of the article is evolution-as-controversy — say reporting on the Dover trial.. That’s not fine if the article is about the science per se. Then it is not balanced reporting, and it is, as Charlie suggested, including the spurious for the sake of appearing to be balanced.

    It’s just not so that there are always two sides of even remotely equal substance to every question, even political ones. I doubt you would approve of the SE, every time it mentioned President Eisenhower in a story, adding — for the sake of balance of course — “who the John Birch Society believed was a Communist fellow traveler.”

    Of course, I’m picking examples at the extremes to illustrate my point. I And of course the calls get closer as we move in from the edges, and particularly when we move from the area of verifiable science to the area of politics and public administration . But one of the points I think Charlie was making, — and if he wasn’t, I will — is that main stream print journalists seem averse not only to going after the public statements of those in authority, to fact check them, but they seem averse to drawing conclusions, to making judgments [based on their reporting, their digging], and instead have opted instead for the much easier practice of “he said/she said” journalism which relieves them of the burden of drawing any conclusions at all about the matters they cover. [I don't know if that's what the reporters involved prefer doing, or if that is a policy decision by their editors. The effect on the quality of the reporting is the same: it dilutes and diminishes it. ]

    There’s a line in Charlie’s front page story today on the death Arvin Shreve that damn near jumped off the page as I read it: “Shreve was the subject of a 1984 Standard Examiner investigation which led to the eventual police raids.”

    Does that kind of digging still go on at the SE?

  16. Doug Gibson says:

    Actually, Flatlander, I think I see your point. I maintain that there were many news stories prior to the war with both sides. You are saying that the Times, and others, failed readers by not assigning a reporter to skeptically deconstruct the Bush administration’s case for war prior to the war … fair enough. …

    As for SE, I recall “Towgate” and some tenacious reporting on meetings rules with the Ogden School District, just off the top of my head.

  17. mel says:

    A gigantic point is that the war protesters were right – There were no WMD’s and Iraq was not involved in 911. We attacked a bystander country because we thought it would benefit us. We thought it would be easy and cheap. We diverted attention from Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden. W had a vision that he was sent from God to create Middle East peace. That made lies and war OK. There is a wrong side of history, and W is on it. Historians are not all “liberals”.

    The health care protesters have picked out what they most dislike in the Obama plan. “Death boards and euthanasia” verbiage for hospice and advance directive counseling. They ignore the commonalities with Republican plans, they ignore the parts that are certainly beneficial.

    When judging a plan, it is only fair to COMPARE it to the alternatives. What occurs if we do nothing? What is Romney’s Massachusetts plan like? What did John McCain propose?

    My problem is the blindness, intellectual laziness, and unfairness that mob is showing. I would have a lot more respect for them if they were encouraging real discussion. They are just stamping their feet and saying “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t”.

    Dark ages cycle with Ages of Reason. We’re in a dark age. Emotion and strict ideologies trump everything else. I just hope we come out of it. Maybe there are enough independents, the real majority, out there. Americans sure like to be in a “group” these days, though. Best for fighting the final battle of good vs evil that rages in their heads.

    Lastly,. the war protesters were protesting for the rights of others. The health care protesters are all out for themselves. I respect the former infinitely more than the latter.

    Seen on the wall at back-to-school-night: Decide WHAT is right, not WHO is right.

  18. flatlander100 says:


    As long as we can agree that “skeptically deconstruct” means “investigate to see if the Administration’s case stood up on the evidence,” and does not mean “find ways to criticize the administration’s case for the sake of criticizing it, ” then we’re more or less at the same place on this one.

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