Monday, August 29, 2005

Pool Party

I've been meaning to expand on this since the story first surfaced. I've been steaming since I read about the pool getting to go to the pool. Via Dan Froomkin, who writes a great daily summary blog of the White House doings.


I wrote in Friday's column about the off-the-record party Bush threw for the White House press corps last week, earning me my first-ever mention in a Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times.

Only two of the reporters actually present at the dinner seem to have had enough courage to actually write about it.

Julie Mason of the Houston Chronicle writes that "as it often can be when strange bedfellows find themselves at a party, the evening had a somewhat awkward atmosphere. Was it work or social? Neither side seemed sure.

"Nothing the president said could be quoted, but it's rare that reporters get uninterrupted access to him for 90 minutes, particularly when beer is served. Bush, who gave up drinking years ago, drank a non-alcoholic Buckler."

NBC News producer Antoine Sanfuentes blogged: "Over a fare of fried catfish, potato salad, coleslaw, and chocolate-chip cookies, reporters were offered a brief glimpse inside the presidential retreat as well as an opportunity to speak informally with the President."
I find the cozy cozy cocktail crowd gathering offensive. But not for the reasons that you may think.

I'm quite sure that in times past, reporters who covered the President had a cozy social relationship with those they covered. And I'm also sure that this resulted in some skewed reporting. But something has changed.

The level of reporting in the midst of these dual relationships has been appalling. Everyone's (including me) favorite whipping girl, Judy Miller, is the poster child for what has gone wrong. And it involves corporate ownership of the media, laziness of reporters, and affluence.

In times past, the media was much more competitive. Ownership was as committed to the quality of the "fourth estate" as the reporters themselves.

No longer.

Now the only thing ownership cares about is stock price, price to earnings ratio's, and return on investment.....which leads to only caring about ratings...which means pandering to the LCD (lowest common denomenator).....which means lots of rubbernecking/trainwreck stories. Reporters know that they need to come up with the dramatic, glitzy story to get the attention viewers, and of those above them. Thus, stories have gotten more superficial, more glitzy and less meaty.

The laziness and affluence of the reporters seems to go hand-in-hand. In this gilded age, greed runs rampant over the strong sense of inner values. As much as ever, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous (remember that show?) has become important for a reporters image. After all, noterity leads to punditry, which leads to influence, fawning fans and cashola. This pull of fame and fortune, combines with an immediate 24 hr. news cycle to create superficial stories with strong rubbernecking possibilities. And the Rovian Bush administration LOVES to drive a truck through that weakness.

Thus, a poolside party for the reporting pool carries special dangers today. I wish they would stop it, but moreover I wish the American public would recognize the role we play in stopping it. I for one, have totally eliminated any of the cable news stations from my viewing. And when I actually watch any news show, I'm continually yelling at Oprahization of a 15 second piece.

Maybe less actual rubbernecking means lower ratings and, imagine this, the need to provide more meat!
Then they can swim away if they want at Bush's "ranch" because the public will demand incisive stories with accountability. But alas, it's awfully hot down in Crawford and the water looks mighty fine......

Update: Digby has the take down of the Kewl Kidz here


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