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George Bush as Media Relations Visionary?



Normally, I regard the Sunday morning gasbag shows as a cynical balance between politics-based mud wrestling and shameless BS -- useful mostly as an indication of how the government and media will spin the latest world-shaking crisis.

But something caught my ear during Sunday's Meet the Press -- I know, this is the second item in as many weeks culled from Russert's weekly pean to institutional political power -- and it came from one of my favorite pundit/journalists, the Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein.

What if, he suggested, Bush's adversarial, often-bare-knuckled relationship with the media wasn't just the result of his peculiar, my-way-or-the-highway approach to governing? What if it becomes the standard for press relations in a media-drenched 21st century, where Big Media is too-often its own constituency?

It dovetails with speculation I've seen from smart folks such as NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, who have long maintained that Bush officials' disdain for media outlets which are not pointedly partisan is not a myopia born of zealotry, but a deliberate strategy of de-fanging independent reporters by removing their access and demonizing their reportage. Rather than accept media's own vision of itself as the public's surrogate, the Bush administration has often treated them like just another interest group with its own agenda -- restricting information and pursuing unauthorized leaks to an extent not seen in recently preceding administrations.

In this light, the roster of Pulitzer winners might be seen as a rallying cry for the journalism industry -- media's way of encouraging its best practitioners to keep chipping at the gray wall of silence Bush has tried to erect around the details of his most controversial public policies.

No wonder conservatives such as William Bennett have been arguing that this year's crop of winners be thrown in the hoosegow; at a time of war, good journalists often believe there is no more important time for government leaders to be honest with the public, while said leaders often feel there is no more important time to keep important secrets close.

Should a CIA employee lose her job because she revealed classified information while helping inform the American people of the agency's secret prisons for suspected terrorists? Should the family of deceased columnist Jack Anderson be allowed to keep classified material he may have obtained illegally because it could reveal his anonymous sources (and ripping it from his family's still grieving hands just seems plain icky)?

We can hope the next president values the press' role as public surrogate more than this one. But I'm inclined to agree with Ron here; regardless of who takes the Oval next, the precedent for leveraging public suspicion against the institution charged with keeping the citizenry informaed has been set. And the growing animosity may be one genie which will never pop back into the bottle.

It's the 11th Hour of a Digital Revolution: Do You Know Where Your Network Neutrality Is?

Yes, it sounds like a buzzword born in some hellish IT training session. But it has enormous implications for your activity online.

What if you found Friendster responded faster and more reliably to your commands than MySpace, despite the fact that you enjoy MySpace's features more? Or if AOL reacted better than gmail, even though gmail costs you nothing?

This is the nightmare scenario of the widespread expiration of network neutrality -- in which companies controlling large segments of the computer infrastructure handling Internet traffic pass each message along with equal efficiency. Verizon executive John Thorne, for example, griped about search engine Google's "free lunch" riding over fiber optic lines they have paid to build out.

The Verizons of the world say Google and Yahoo and MySpace shouldn't get a free ride on telecommunications pathways they have spent billions constructing. Opponents say such neutrality is necessary to ensure the continued free and unfettered operation of the Internet (they might also note telecom companies have reaped millions in free right-of-way grants from local governments so they can run their fiber optic lines throughout the world)

If neutrality goes away, telecommunications companies such as Verizon could theoretically prioritize the traffic related to companies which either pay for the priviledge or are connected some other way, perhaps by ownership. Despite stories in the Wall Street Journal and Washinton Post months ago, I'm embarassed to admit I didn't realize the depth of this issue until I got an email recently from a reader advocating the stridently pro-neutrality Web site, SaveTheInternet. Here's a report making the case for the other side.

What's frightening me: Congress is already involved, taking testimony and considering legislation. And some concerned with the free operation of the Internet warn the seeming solution -- a law ensuring net neutrality in America-- could be worse than the cure, encouraging lawmakers to monkey with one of the least-regulated mass mediums in the country.

Where do you stand?

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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