March 05, 2006

White House Focus: Intimidate the Media

Those in power and those who report on those that hold the power have never had the best of relationships. From Nixon's Watergate details being unveiled through the Washington Post to the innumerable quasi-scandals that dogged Clinton during his eight years in office, the press has often considered itself the fourth branch of government (the other three being executive, legislative and judicial of course). Armed with some stories of success and the need to drive ratings through sensationalism, skepticism or controversy, a hostile press can be very damaging to an administration.

Under the Bush White House, the administration's focus on PR tactics gained them a considerable amount of leeway - as following the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, with Bush's approval ratings through the roof (odd how letting that happen helped others opinions of him), the administration marched into Afghanistan and Iraq on a glimpse of reason, while at the same time limiting privacy at home, and engaging in secret activities. While this "honeymoon" lasted the better part of a year or two, the culmination of bad news and bad publicity around the continued War in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the continued lack of finding Osama Bin Laden, and a series of unqualified nominations for every public position from the Supreme Court on down, eventually turned the press to be more inquisitive, and this is driving the Bush White House nuts.

In the last year, the press has gotten ahold of and aired imagery on Abu Ghraib, uncovered secret international prisons run by the CIA, and discussed secret wiretapping of US citizens. Had it not been for the tenacity of the press in these cases, we could likely still be in the dark, as the administration has not exactly displayed a historic level of openness. Now, according to a story in the Washington Post today, the Bush administration has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their potential sources. This inquisition has extended beyond the federal realm in Washington DC, reaching to places including the Sacramento Bee, who has seen FBI agents from Los Angeles target the paper following a story on a terrorism case in Lodi.

The first amendment to the US Constitution protects freedom of the press to disseminate information - and for those leaders in office who make the laws and are expected to be truthful to be attempting to undermine this relationship and go after those who may have inconveniently revealed data they had wanted sealed only makes the situation worse - not that we would expect anything more from the Bush White House who has made bad decisions and idiocy an art unto itself.