Upon President Bush's arrival yesterday in Sydney, Australia, deputy Prime Minister Mark Vailes politely inquired about progress in Iraq. President Bush answered bluntly that "we're kicking a--."
In making this statement, President Bush at once committed two acts for which the mainstream media has historically been critical: 1) he used a curse word, and 2) he used sharp rhetoric.
In July 2006, President Bush (while speaking to Prime Minister Tony Blair) said: "See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s--- and it's over." The media eagerly played the video over and over.
On September 17, 2001, while discussing his desire to catch the 9/11 terrorists, President Bush famously (or infamously, depending on your perspective) said: "I want justice ... [a]nd there's an old poster out West… I recall, that said, 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.'" This video is still dutifully aired when the President crosses the media's line for unacceptable rhetoric.
The most reported instance of "irresponsible" rhetoric is something that President Bush never said, but rather was written on a banner on a battleship. The term "Mission Accomplished" has become a liberal rally cry and a frequently-cited media example of the President's cowboy nature.
So when the President declared that "we're kicking a--" in Iraq, a media firestorm was sure to follow, right? Wrong.
As of writing this article, Google and Yahoo searches (of the quote in question) revealed many hits for liberal blogs, but almost no matches for mainstream media outlets. This author could find no stories from Reuters or AP. And searches on CBSNews.com and MSNBC.com likewise came up empty.
Two media outlets did "cover" the quote but not as part of a hard news story. CNN.com had a blurb on its blog "Political Ticker." CNN's Jack Cafferty also mentioned the quote on air, describing the statement as "the kind of stuff that happens when [the President's] handlers aren't paying close attention." Cafferty further aired several viewer emails ruthlessly critical of the President (calling him a "shameless coward," among other things).
New York Times also had the quote within its pages, but it was part of a Paul Krugman editorial, not a news story.
So why the relative lack of coverage of this obvious example of crude-talkin' cowboy rhetoric? The distinction is that the media, in this instance, does not want to publicize the content of the President's message.
The media's message this week is that while there have been military gains in Iraq, there has been no political progress. The more aggressive rhetoric - reported happily by the media - is that General Patraeus is mistaken, or if you read the blogs, lying about the surge. And (if you want to really go out on a limb) you can listen to Senator Chuck Schumer talk about how the progress in Iraq is occuring in spite of our soldiers.
As tantalizing as it must have been to criticize the President for his language, most of the media have apparently decided that it can not publicize anymore statements about the success of the surge. Especially in advance of General Patraeus' address next week, the President's statement that "we're kicking a--" does not fit the media's current template.