Sunday, August 19, 2007

So long, Voldemort

Howard Kurtz - Karl Rove, Insider With an Outsize Reputation -

So, the Dark Lord retired. I think we can all agree this is a positive thing. I'm interested in two comments Howard Kurtz, a columnist for the Washington Post, made in his article about all of the hoopla.

Or perhaps there's a cruder explanation: that some journalists believe Bush lacks the intellectual heft to achieve big things on his own, so they attribute his most consequential decisions to a powerful Svengali at his side.

Whether or not Bush is as dumb as he seems (seriously, can you blame journalists for having low opinions of a guy who can't pronounce "nuclear" and only occasionally can speak in complete sentences?), it seems perfectly clear that his advisers are rather important. The White House certainly went out of its way to create the impression that Rove was a wizard; next to Cheney, Rove was one of the favorite proxies to send to the Sunday morning shows.

I don't think you can blame journalists for having opinions, liberal or conservative. You certainly can blame them for writing those opinions into their coverage, but interestingly, that's not what Kurtz says they did. He interprets the focus and frenzy surrounding the Rove departure as proof of what he says are their unspoken beliefs. Me thinks he doth protest too much: it sounds like he's kind of worried that in fact, Bush might not have the intellectual heft required to order lunch, let alone to plan an invasion and subsequent occupation of a strategically important Middle Eastern country (apparently no one in the Bush administration did, so it's hardly fair to lump all of the blame on Bush) or to deal effectively with a major natural disaster. Granted, he probably doesn't have that intellectual capacity. But what's interesting is that Kurtz projects his fears onto journalists.

In a footnote to his column, Kurtz makes another attack on journalists:

Footnote : In an embarrassment to the industry, some staffers at a Seattle Times news meeting cheered when Rove's resignation was announced. To his credit, Editor David Boardman made the incident public and warned that staff meetings should not "evolve into a liberal latte klatch." Rove responded by sending a basket of cookies to the newsroom, with a note saying "my wife shares in your enthusiasm."

Again, is the implication that journalists aren't allowed to have opinions? No one claims that these opinions made it into the Seattle Times' coverage of the event. Journalists are by definition among the most engaged of our citizens. They form (or used to) the "fourth estate," the check on the government as a whole that the founding fathers envisioned. They should care about politics. They should have opinions about our leaders. They should not be punished for voicing those views.

I'm sure the newsroom at the Washington Post wasn't silent and sterile on the Nixon administration during the Watergate investigations. Especially when one of Nixon's goons made a veiled threat on Katherine Graham, its publisher: that' she'd "get her tit in a vice" if the Post continued with its stories. I imagine the reporters there had some choice words to say about Nixon's boys. Are we to fault them for this? Does that make their investigation of him or their stories resulting from that investigation any less valid? Of course not.

What possible reason could Boardman have for making public some private reactions of his staff? I can think of a couple: to embarrass the staffers, or to curry favor with the administration. Apparently, given the cookies Karl sent, the latter motivation was right on the money.

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