The headline in today’s hard copy edition of the Washington Post reads “Bush spars with critics of the war.” The sub-title is “Exchanges with Democrats take on campaign-style tone.” The Post is referring to the president’s long-delayed response to those who claim that he and his administration lied about the pre-war intelligence on Iraq. As the Post’s Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus grudgingly admit, the administration did not lie — “Intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction” and Bush didn’t claim that that there were no exceptions to this view.
Thus, a non-partisan paper would headline the story of Bush’s defense of the integrity of his administration by saying something like “Bush responds to critics” or “Bush defends administration’s handling of pre-war intelligence.” But the Washington Post isn’t non-partisan. It is a pro-Democratic spin machine, even on issues where it knows that the president’s position is correct. So it tries to make the president sound like he’s engaging in partisan quibbling rather than finally responding to charges which, in their strongest form, cast him as one of the great villains of American history.
The Post also misleadingly presents itself as above the fray. If Bush is sparring, he’s sparring with the Post as well as with the Democrats, to whom the Post refers in the sub-title.
The sub-title, of course, is intended to further demean the president. What could be more tacky than resorting to a “campaign-style” tone. The president is supposed to be leading the country, and here he is engaged in the dreaded “permanent campaign,” sparring with the Democrats.
But here the Post has stumbled upon a truth, and one that I suspect frightens it. Last year at this time, Bush’s approval rating was approximately 50 percent. This rating was due in part to the fact that the Republicans had put on a convention, and run a campaign, in which they got their message out. But after the campaign was dismantled, the field was left essentially to the Democrats, their friends at places like the Washington Post, and outright liars like Joe Wilson (conservative bloggers can’t serve as a counter-balance by themselves, although we can hasten the growing distrust of the MSM, and the shrinkage of its profit margins). Thus, Bush’s rating has diminished by about 10 percent points despite the absence, as John has noted, of events that would rationally explain the gap.
The media-pounding phenomenon, by the way, explains why Republicans tend to get a major bounce from their political conventions, while the Democrats tend not to. The public hears Democratic talking points on essentially a daily basis on network newscasts and in papers like the Washington Post. Thus, hearing the same points at a convention has little or no impact. The public is less likely to hear Republican talking points except at their convention.
By the same token, when a Republican president finally attempts to cope with months of pounding, it’s not surprising that it reminds the Post of a political campaign — the only time that Republicans defend themselves on a sustained basis. The Post’s nightmare is that the president will return to campaign mode, which means nothing more than effectively getting his message out. But I don’t think this “worst-case scenario” will materialize.