(The lower half of this post is probably worth reading, so don't tune out if you've already read the WaPo Pillar story)
There's a pretty major story in the WaPo this morning
about Paul R. Pillar, "considered the agency's(CIA) leading counterterrorism analyst." and later, "by the end of his career, he was responsible for coordinating assessments on Iraq from all 15 agencies in the intelligence community."
Mr. Pillar accuses the Bush administration of "'cherry-picking' intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war." This is actually a pretty big story, and well worth a read, but I'm here to say it will soon go into the dustbin with all the rest. Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, it doesn't matter, because the Bush administration has won the battle on this one.
There are a number of reasons this issue has died, an issue which I think is one of the most substantial and grave crimes in our country's history. Part of it is the spin and PR of the White House, and part of it is their understanding of how the modern media works.
(I'm going to leave aside the various White House spin techniques for now, because I think I've hit on something in the next section.)But more troublingly to me, has been the manipulation of the media.
I think that there is a fundamental difference in how the Republican and Democratic politcians and consultants view the media, and that this difference accounts for the differing success in getting their message out.
I believe the Democrats largely still view the media through its historical reporting function, the idea being that the media's prime role is to uncover and report facts. This is the newspaperman's view of the media, and by and large, in print, the Democrats do get their message across. I mean, how many times have we heard that every one of the major print outlets are "left biased" when they are simply reporting facts. (All the majors besides the WSJ. NYTimes, WaPo, LATimes, etc.)
The Republicans, on the other hand, have jumped full force into the cable news method of media spin. It's a far more cynical approach, but far more effective in the TV media environment. By the nature of its construction, television is not as good as print at conveying facts, but it is tremendous at conveying stance or impression. As example, think back to the famous Nixon/Kennedy debate where radio listeners significantly thought Nixon won the debate.
TV news thrives on its images and on conflict. Therefore, as has been complained about sixty million times on blogs, a Republican can completely abandon the underlying facts in a political attack, so long as he appears forceful in doing so. This leaves the Democrat trying to argue the facts appearing weaker and defensive even though he may be right. This also serves the news network by giving them viewer ratings through the ensuing conflict. This is why it is replayed and encouraged, "Mr. Obama, what do you have to say about Harry Belafonte's comments?"
It's not about soundbytes, it's about method. The Democrats still cling to the optimistic belief that facts matter in television media. Their understanding is lightyears behind the Republicans. They are just beginning to try to enter the era of coordinated soundbytes, a phase the Republicans went through in the 1994 elections.
The Republicans are two phases beyond that now. The first was the "making news" phase, where the politicians actually generate news stories agauinst their opponents, most notably in the Clinton impeachment, the second, current phase is the shorthand phase.
The Republican spin folks have been so effective over the years at conveying their metamessage that Dems are weak etc, they can now make a whole host of charges simply by allusion. Look at the stigma that has been attached to the word "liberal" as example. It's truly very powerful, and because the argument is made by allusion, it's almost impossible to combat.
There are still large groups of people who believe the phrase "tax and spend Democrats" even though fourteen years of facts present the Dems as the party of fiscal reponsibility.
Enough. You get my point. The Dems are working on soundbytes while the Repubs are ten years ahead of them.
This is why Bush lying us into war doesn't matter as politics. It kills me to write that, but that's the bottom line. We were intentionally led into a war through lies and deception, what I consider to be one of the greatest crimes in our country's history, and that doesn't receive condemnation; it wins elections.
The Republicans have established a media strategy where the facts no longer matter. The implications of this I'll leave for a later post.