Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If Bush Were Still President

Listening to the radio this morning, the top of the hour newsbreaks were led by the report of the F-15 crashing in Libya. The tone was one of "all is well, nothing to worry about" and the safety of the pilots was the first thing mentioned in the story, followed by assurances that it was mechanical difficulties that led to the crash.

Well, that's one way to frame this story.

And one that most of the mainstream media is utilizing, to a remarkably consistent extent. The Star Tribune's reprint of the AP report is an example:

An American fighter jet crashed in Libya's rebel held east, both crew ejecting safely as the aircraft spun from the sky during the third night of the U.S. and European air campaign. Moammar Gadhafi's forces shelled rebels regrouping in the dunes outside a key eastern city on Tuesday, and his snipers and tanks roamed the last major opposition-held city in the west.

The crash was the first major loss for the U.S. and European military air campaign, which over three nights appears to have hobbled Gadhafi's air defenses and artillery and rescued the rebels from impending defeat.
In addition to the feel-good emphasis on the pilots safety, we are immediately reminded that Gadhafi's forces are still up to no good, yet the US/European campaign is going well so far.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this point-of-view. It's probably accurate and addresses the primary concern of the American reading public, that is, the safety of the American servicemen. Better yet, it does nothing to gratuitously undermine public confidence in the effort or call into question the judgment of our political leaders. Which is all well and good, practicing journalism the way it should be.

For that I say, mainstream media acting responsibly while in the act of covering our country at war, nice to have you back!

It's been a long time since we've had the opportunity to see what that is like. With some notable exceptions (e.g., John Burns of NYT), the coverage of our country's most recent military efforts in the Middle East had a decidedly different tone. A default assumption that tainted coverage from the outset.

If that same mindset were in place today, the day's events in Libya would have been characterized differently. Specifically, if GW Bush were still President, it would have sounded something like this:

In a sign that the attack on Libya may not be as trouble free as the Bush administration has indicated, a United States Air Force F-15 crashed while engaged in operations near Benghazi. The Pentagon claims the plane was brought down due to mechanical difficulties. However, a spokesman for the Quaddafi government said its anti-aircraft batteries shot down the plane and that Americans can expect much more of this in the days ahead.

Same facts plus a different point-of-view equals much different story.

Back in 2008, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a prescient column about the vitriolic tone adopted by many Democrats towards President Bush and how expectations for decorum and behavior would change with the onset of Obama.

Yes, the Left will suddenly adopt a new maturity about a President Obama, and responsibly demand of us all to excise from our vocabulary over the top hate speech, such as comparing an elected administration to Nazis or fantasies about killing American presidents.

And this, once again, will be as it should be, albeit eight years too late.

This applies to the practice journalism as well. The rules of decorum and responsibility apply only when Democrats are in charge.