Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush

Liberal media, my ass! If you believe that the majority of the mainstream media (MSM) is a bastion of "liberal" reporting, then you need to open your mind and read Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush by Eric Boehlert (New York: Free Press, 2006). In this book, the author examines the press coverage of the Bush administration during that turbulent year between September 2004 and September 2005.

Boehlert is an award-winning journalist who researches and writes extensively about media, politics and pop culture, and is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. In Lapdogs, he unflinchingly documents how the press has failed its responsibility to report the facts to the American public, especially as they relate to the second Iraq War. The author's central premise is to reveal how "the press during the run-up to the war -- timid, deferential, unsure, cautious, and often intentionally unthinking -- came as close as possible to abdicating its reason for existence in the first place, which is to accurately inform citizens, particularly during times of great national interest."

In 333 pages, Lapdogs reveals the many ways in which the MSM abandoned their responsibility as the public's watchdog during one year of the Bush presidency -- which is merely part of the larger picture that encompasses the entire Bush reign. Basically, the press repeatedly acted as the mouthpiece for Bush administration policies by incompletely or inaccurately analyzing crucial events, instead the MSM reported the administration's claims uncritically as they were presented. Further, it shows how the Bush administration never tried to cultivate a relationship with the press, instead treating the MSM as an enemy to be tolerated, or more often, deceived -- something that the press was complicit in. Yet, the importance of a free and fair press cannot be underestimated, as Boehlert observes;

A democracy literally cannot function without a fair, robust press corps. During the Bush years, though, the press too often failed to provide its most important service.

This meticulously researched book documents dozens of examples of how the MSM stopped asking difficult and probing questions of the Bush administration. Instead, they aided and promoted the administration's severe allergy to facts by uncritically repeating stories fed to them by the White House; ranging from the Downing Street Memo to the stated "reasons" that motivated the Iraq War, from the details about Bush's so-called service in the Texas National Guard to the Swift Boat attacks launched against Bush's Democratic presidential opponent, John Kerry. In fact, the MSM simply ignored the administration's bumbling, providing watered-down versions of the administration's mistakes and misleading words, and refused to call out those public officials who betrayed the people's trust.

Boehlert presents a detailed portrait of print and televised journalistic malpractice in the pages of this book. The conduct of the press during the Bush years, especially with regard to the invasion of Iraq, is so important that all serious attempts to evaluate it are worthy of attention. Despite its flaws, Lapdogs is worthy of thoughtful consideration. Supported by dozens of examples, this book carefully dissects press misconduct during Bush's presidency and exposes the growing public disappointment with the mainstream media.

Of special interest is chapter seven, which covers the White House's Swift Boat attacks on Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry. It lists all of Kerry's primary accusers by name, reports what they said and, in doing so, reveals them for the liars that they are. Further, it also reveals how the press utterly failed to fairly report this event, for example, pointing out that "[John] O'Neill specifically requested that Kerry 'execute standard Form 180 so the American people can see your complete military record.'" But when Kerry did just that, O'Neill denied this had happened and the press milled about blindly, apparently -- and inexcusably -- clueless as to what the truth of that matter really was.

Boehlert states that the reasons the press did not do its job include: a personal affinity for Bush that journalists did not have for Bill Clinton; a Republican White House that threatened to deny access to members of the media who dared to ask challenging questions or to voice any criticism; and a press that feared being tainted by accusations of a liberal bias. Further, journalists often found themselves silenced by media executives, many of whom were increasingly driven by economic concerns. But perhaps something more sinister was happening? Well nevertheless, the press was thoroughly intimidated such that they forsook their traditional role of conducting and contributing to meaningful public debate.

However, to their credit, several newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, later had the courage to report on their own shortcomings during these events.

This book covers similar issues as Helen Thomas's Watchdogs of Democracy? but Boehlert's book is more clearly written and has fewer typographical errors. Unfortunately, the most serious problem with Lapdogs is it does not include any response from editors and reporters who disagree with Boehlert's conclusions. Despite this, I think this book, particularly chapter seven, "Attack of the Swifties", is well worth your time to read.

Boehlert has written a great book showing, through careful research and candid analysis, that the so-called "liberal media" has actually given Bush a free pass on nearly everything by aiding the Bush administration in its deception of the American people.

Eric Boehlert is an award-winning journalist who has written extensively about media, politics and pop culture, is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, writes frequently for the Huffington Post and is a former senior editor for Salon. He lives with his wife and two children in Montclair, New Jersey.


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