Thursday, March 25, 2004

They Get Letters II

to Romenesko:

Did I read this quote from Elisabeth Bumiller correctly?

Elisabeth Bumiller, The New York Times White House correspondent, on criticism that reporters were too easy on Bush on the eve of the Iraq war: "I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."

This is a joke, right? The White House correspondent from the New York Times didn't ask a tough question because the atmosphere was too "frightening"? Has there been a more tacit and, yes, frightening, admission by a reporter -- from the nation's most important newspaper no less -- that the national press is cowed by this administration? Is there any stronger inducement for its continued bullying?

I grant that "standing up on prime-time live TV" might be nerve-wracking for some people. But I would assume that the person assigned to cover the White House for the NEW YORK TIMES would be a little less prone to stage-fright and a little less in awe of the moment. I mean, is there a more important -- nay critical -- time for a reporter to stand up and ask the tough question than on the eve of war?

Thank goodness for people like Joseph Welch, who wasn't too intimidated to stand up to Joseph McCarthy and ask -- on "prime-time, live TV" -- "At long last, sir, have you no shame?" Thank God, he didn't find the moment too "frightening" and "somber."

Bryan Smith
Chicago Magazine