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Media Multiplication: 16 Words Times Washington Press Corps Equals 105
by Robert R. Eberle, Ph.D. http://www.gopusa.com/
22 July 2003

The President's responsibility is to make decisions based on the information provided to him. It is the responsibility of others to make sure the information is correct.
George W. Bush

The Washington press corps has an unwavering knack for seizing the negative side of an issue in an iron death grip and not releasing it until the American public either screams in outrage or becomes numb. The coverage of the war in Iraq is a perfect example. Just one and a half weeks into the campaign, the major media outlets were saying that U.S. forces were "bogged down" and the war plan had "failed." A halt in the action due to a sand storm meant that America was not adequately prepared to fight such a conflict. A week and a half later, statues and billboards of Saddam Hussein were being torn down.

The media were clearly overhyping the negative rather than seeing the big picture. Now, they are at it again, but this time, they are not criticizing actions, but words. Sixteen words to be precise.  And the voracity of their questioning leaves little doubt as to their intentions.  The exact words spoken by President Bush in his State of the Union address that have caused so much uproar with the media are as follows: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Now, admittedly, the Bush administration has not handled the public relations aspect of this flap as well as they could have. The first point to keep in mind is that Bush's statement in the State of the Union speech is true. The British government did learn about Iraq's efforts to purchase uranium from the African nation of Niger, and, to this day, they are standing by those reports. Members of the Bush administration have been uncharacteristically on different pages, with some saying that the information was false and should not have been in the speech, while others are saying that the information is true.

Regardless of the disarray in the administration, the media has once again proven its propensity to glorify the negative while failing to put the proper perspective on their coverage. Case in point was the White House briefing on Thursday, July 17. This day was a busy day in our nation's capital. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was in town to meet with President Bush and address a joint session of Congress. The National Bureau of Economic Research released data on the 2001 recession. Democrat presidential candidates were apologizing to the NAACP for snubbing their convention. But, amid all of these events and a host of other issues, the White House press corps was focused on just one thing: hammering President Bush for those sixteen words in his State of the Union address which were part of a much larger case being made for action against Iraq.

During the course of the press conference, approximately 124 questions, statements, follow-up, grunts, and interruptions were put before White House Spokesman Scott McClellan. Of those, nineteen questions/statements spanning nine different issues were put on the record. The nine issues receiving attention were Iraq (4), Recession Report (4), Israel (3), North Korea (3), Media (1), Gays in the Military (1), U.N. Resolution on Iraq (1), Miguel Estrada (1), and Celia Cruz (1). The remaining 105 questions and comments were all devoted to the President's Africa/Iraq statement in the State of the Union Address.

Questions regarding the accuracy of CIA intelligence are certainly valid questions. But the briefing on July 17 was not the first time these questions were asked. In fact, the questioning has been ongoing for weeks, and the slant of the questioning shows that the media are more concerned with assessing blame than discovering a reasonable explanation.

In one series of questions from the July 17 briefing, the reporter asks about a picture on the White House web site which shows President Bush reviewing the text of the State of the Union Address. The caption associated with the picture states that the President reviews the speech "line by line and word for word." The reporter then asks, "Why isn't it proper for the President to take more responsibility for his own words?"

Now, on the surface, that question may seem legitimate enough to some, but after endless accusations and effort to play the "blame game," my question is this: How much responsibility does the reporter expect the President to take? If President Bush sees a line in a speech, asks if the line is accurate, and is told "yes," what else can the President do? When the decapitation strike was ordered by President Bush from the Oval Office to take out Saddam Hussein at the beginning of the war, it was based on intelligence. How much responsibility should the President take for the accuracy of it? Should he have quickly flown to Baghdad, peeked in the window, blown a kiss to Saddam, and said "bye bye" before ordering the attack? The President's responsibility is to make decisions based on the information provided to him. It is the responsibility of others to make sure the information is correct.

The members of the media have a tremendous responsibility to report the news, but they also have an ethical duty not to "make the news." What's important in this case is the issue of the overall confidence level that can be placed on CIA-gathered intelligence. Spending 105 questions on who's to blame for a line in the President's speech based on intelligence the British still stand behind is irresponsible. Rather than simply focusing on the negative, why not focus on the informative? It would be a novel approach for many members of the Washington press corps.

Bobby Eberle is President and CEO of GOPUSA (http://www.gopusa.com/), a news, information, and commentary company based in Houston, TX. He holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Rice University.

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