State of Denial
Two Questions About the History of the Federalist Period

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Matthew Yglesias points to the problem of Bob Woodward:

Matthew Yglesias / proudly eponymous since 2002: What's The Deal With... Bob Woodward? His new book:

In Bob Woodward's highly anticipated new book, State of Denial, President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war. It's a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in Bush at War, his 2002 book, which depicted the president -- in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed -- as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the "vision thing" his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state.

Why were the earlier books so different? Did [Woodward] somehow not notice this stuff before? It's a serious problem for the most prominent people in the journalism world to be merely lagging indicators, praising leaders when they're popular and then pointing out that, in fact, they suck only after a whole series of disasters discredit them.

It's not that they did not notice them. The Washington elite press corps definitely noticed them. As my favorite quotation from rock-ribbed Republican, ex-Bush speechwriter, and White House insider David Frum goes:

David Frumm: If you were looking for a diligent manager of the office of the presidency, a close student of public policy, a careful balancer of risks and benefits -- George W. Bush would never be your man. But is this news?... [He] is... impatient, quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic, often uncurious, and as a result ill-informed...

Moroever, it is even worse than Matthew Yglesias recognizes for two reasons:

First, the most prominent people in the journalism world did more than peddle stuff about Bush's neo-Churchillian grandeur that they knew to be tripe, while they dined out in private on insider gossip about Bush's incompetence, malevolence, mendacity, and disconnection from reality. They also denounced and dismissed those who did say back then what Bob Woodward is saying now--people like Paul Krugman--as shrill.

Second, reporters continue to believe they are under some obligation to put Bush's thumb on the scales. Why... why... thirty minutes ago a correspondent sent me a link: over at Slate right now, John Dickerson--definitely in the top 10% of the inside-the-beltway press crowd in smarts and honor--feels obligated to classify the stories that Tenet's people tell Woodward about bush's incompetence as "payback" for the fact that "[a]dministration officials from Cheney to Rice have been throwing Tenet under a bus... blaming him for the faulty intelligence... recit[ing] his line from Woodward's second Bush book, in which he said the case for weapons was a 'slam dunk'." The fact that the people who ran counter-terrorism for both Bush and Clinton support Woodward's current line doesn't rate a mention in what Dickerson calls the "battle between the Bush and Clinton dynasties over who did more to [try to] kill Osama Bin Laden."

It is even possible that John Dickerson may think that Bob Woodward's truth-telling is a bad thing. He does write:

As a policy matter, the book undermines Bush's attempts to strengthen the national will for the long and drawn-out fight ahead...