President vs. Press: The Coming War

by Patrick J. Buchanan
July 18, 2005

In "The Making of the President,1972," Theodore White saw the Nixon-McGovern election as something more than a battle for the White House between the Republican and Democratic tickets.

The title of his Chapter 10 is "Power Struggle: President Versus Press." Wrote White: "What lay at issue in 1972 between Richard Nixon on the one hand and the adversary press and media of America on the other was simple: It was power."

In White's judgment, Sen. McGovern was probably not even in the top 10 on the real Nixon enemies list, which was headed by the Washington Post, CBS and the New York Times with Hanoi fourth. In that struggle for control of the national agenda, Nixon scored a popular victory.

But the Post, the Times and CBS were down, not out. Nixon had blundered in handling the "third-rate burglary" of Watergate, and as the cover-up unraveled, the media exposed and attacked day in and out, as congressional investigators and a special prosecutor's office leaked and leaked, until Nixon's White House came down.

The press had won the battle, but it would lose the war. For the remorselessness of the attacks and the jubilation of the press in the fall of Nixon stripped the media of its most priceless asset: Its reputation for neutrality, honesty, objectivity and fairness. By celebrating its role in bringing Nixon down, the press could no longer sustain the claim it was not a savage partisan and co-belligerent of the Democratic Party. Public trust in the media has been sinking ever since.

Equally important, the right had found the locus of real power in American politics a media that could bring down presidents.

They gravitated to it.

In the 1970s, conservative columnists and commentators proliferated and came to dominate op-ed pages. In the 1980s, national TV talk shows like "The McLaughlin Group" appeared, where conservatives got equal time.

That same decade, talk radio went national and it was quickly clear America wanted to hear the voices of the right. In the 1990s, CNN was followed by MSNBC and Fox News. Conservatives began getting equal time in the national TV dialogue and debate.

In the Nixon era, Pat Moynihan had observed that what was lacking on the right were "second and third echelons of advocacy." Well, the right has them now, in depth. And sensing where the real Centcom of liberalism is located, conservative media spend as much time monitoring and criticizing "mainstream media" as they do Hillary Clinton and Teddy Kennedy.

Which brings us to the Karl Rove-Valerie Plame affair.

Clearly, there is blood in the water. To listen to and look in the gleaming eyes of the liberal media on cable news, you can see they smell it.

Clearly, when Scott McClellan said no one in the White House had any connection with the outing of Joe Wilson's wife as a CIA operative, he was misled by White House colleagues. For we now know, from Matt Cooper's notes, that Rove cited Plame if not by name as promoting Wilson for the CIA-sponsored visit to Niger to check out the yellowcake story. But the White House press corps has begun treating McClellan not like a man who misspoke, but like some defiant inmate at Guantanamo.

What is causing the beginnings of a press feeding frenzy is a sense and probably correct that something big is coming down. After all, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has likely not spent two years turning over rocks without finding at least one lizard. And he and Judge Tom Hogan would probably not be sending journalists to jail unless they were onto something serious.

And if Judy Miller went to jail rather than reveal a source, why did the source not release her rather than have her go through this? Is she covering for a high White House aide with a criminal liability?

But with the baiting of McClellan and the "death watch" of TV cameras outside Rove's home, the press should know it is not perceived here as simply advancing "the people's right to know." Everybody knows this is about what Watergate was about and Iran-Contra was about: bringing down a Republican president the left could not defeat at the ballot box.

New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin calls the mainstream media "basically liberals with press passes," who have become the opposition party.

But if the White House wins this fight, the media will be the losers. And even if the White House loses this fight, Middle America will say the press crippled another president. Lose-lose, as they say.

2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
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