Value Chains
The Economist's Lexington Is Finally Shrill!

Tim Russert: Journamalist

Dana Milbank writes:

Dana Milbank - In Ex-Aide's Testimony, A Spin Through VP's PR - Memo to Tim Russert: Dick Cheney thinks he controls you.

This delicious morsel about the "Meet the Press" host and the vice president... Cathie Martin... on the courtroom computer screens were her notes from 2004 about how Cheney could respond to allegations that the Bush administration had played fast and loose with evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions. Option 1: "MTP-VP," she wrote, then listed the pros and cons of a vice presidential appearance on the Sunday show. Under "pro," she wrote: "control message."

"I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used," Martin testified. "It's our best format."

It is unclear whether the first week of the trial will help or hurt Libby or the administration. But the trial has already pulled back the curtain on the White House's PR techniques and confirmed some of the darkest suspicions of the reporters upon whom they are used.

Dana gets two things wrong in these four paragraphs. First, Cheney doesn't "think" he controls Russert: Cheney does control Russert. Cheney's press aide Cathie Martin is correct when she says that Russert will not push Cheney or attempt to closely question him.

Second, the trial does not confirm "some of the darkest suspicions of the reporters." The reporters have no suspicions about how they are used by the Republican leadership. They have been active coconspirators here. The trial confirms some of the darkest suspicions about the reporters.

These two weasel-words by Milbank--"thinks" instead of "does" and "of" instead of "about"--are markers of the extent to which the Washington press corps is still, after everything, in the tank for and shading its reporting in favor of the Bush administration.

Milbank goes on, calling things "[newly] confirmed... suspicions" that he has known--and I have known--to be facts since at least mid-2001:

Relatively junior White House aides run roughshod over members of the president's Cabinet. Bush aides charged with speaking to the public and the media are kept out of the loop on some of the most important issues. And bad news is dumped before the weekend for the sole purpose of burying it.... She walked the jurors through how the White House coddles friendly writers and freezes out others....

[Martin] proposed "leak to Sanger-Pincus-newsmags. Sit down and give to him." This meant that the "no-leak" White House would give the story to the New York Times' David Sanger, The Washington Post's Walter Pincus, or Time or Newsweek...

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?