Laura Bush enters the No-Spin Zone


Geraldine Sealey
August 4, 2004 10:51PM (UTC)

From the AP:

"First lady Laura Bush thinks the news media is increasingly filled with opinions instead of facts, and suggested Tuesday that journalists are contributing to the polarization of the country. 'I think there are a lot of reasons to be critical of the media in America, she said in an interview Tuesday with Fox News Channel's 'The O'Reilly Factor.'

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'I think that a lot of times the media sensationalize or magnify things that aren't -- that really shouldn't be,' she said.

'I do think there's a big move away from actual reporting, trying to report facts,' the first lady said. 'It's in newspapers and everything you read -- that a lot more is opinion.'

When her interviewer suggested that journalists were out of sync with most of the country, she said with a laugh: 'You just gave me a really great idea. Maybe it is the media that has us divided.'"

So far as we can tell, Laura Bush didn't express dismay at the opinions and bias that define Fox News' coverage of the Bush administration. Nor did she and O'Reilly fret over the widespread faulty reporting on WMDs, favorable to the administration's goal of gaining support for invading Iraq, that led several news organizations, including and most prominently the New York Times, to eventually apologize to readers for not being skeptical enough of the administration and its justifications for war.

Two reporters who have recently been recognized for their distinctive coverage questioning administration claims in the run-up to the war, Knight Ridder Washington reporters Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, talked to American Journalism Review about what it's like doing "actual reporting," as Laura Bush put it, of the Bush administration.

From AJR: "As the pressure built on the administration and their case got shakier and shakier, there was obviously a lot greater stress, and there was some shouting that was done at us over the telephone," [Knight Ridder Washington Editor Clark] Hoyt says. Some of those calls came from well-known names in high places, Bureau Chief John Walcott adds, declining to drop any names.

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Around that time, the White House turned up the pressure, Strobel says, and "tried to freeze us out of briefings."

Landay adds: "I think this administration may have a fairly punitive policy when it comes to journalists who get in their face. And if you talk to some White House reporters, there is a fear of losing access." He says that fear may have played into the relatively uncritical approach of news organizations like the Times.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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