They call the magazine “Newsweek,” but in today’s 24-hour news cycle, a weekly magazine that is seen as a recycler of old news is courting a death wish. To avoid this, Newsweek gives us haughty pieces of attitude, not only in the cover stories, but on the cover itself. Remember the cover on Iraq with the words “Bush’s $87 Billion Mess”?
This week’s edition is the latest in a series of let-‘er-rip Bush-bashing covers. It pictures President Bush floating encapsulated in a bubble with the headline “Bush’s World. The Isolated President: Can He Change?” The headline on the cover story inside is “Bush In A Bubble.” They worry that Bush is possibly “the most isolated president in modern history.”
The story by Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe begins with a “baffled” John Murtha not understanding why the White House won’t call him. Let’s see…Murtha’s publicly proclaimed the Iraq war can’t be won with Bush’s current approach, for which the liberal media have carried him around on their shoulders like a decorated matador, and he expects friendly consultation after that? They claim Bush has an “admirable” disdain for pundits, but inattention to Murtha, a “rock-solid patriot, suggests a level of indifference, if not denial, that is dangerous for a president who seeks to transform the world.”
First of all, this critique is just as easily turned around on the liberal media. When is the last time Newsweek’s top editors called the Media Research Center for advice? (Try never. Maybe we could have talked them out of biting on that dangerously insular piece suggesting American soldiers flush Korans for fun.)
But there’s something else going on here, too. It’s not just Murtha, but the media themselves who are feeling un-consulted. One of the things know-it-all reporters like to do is advise the powerful. A politician can attract good press by taking his press corps and pretending to make them his corps of advisers, noodling over their grand ideas for governance. Look no further than John McCain. Back in 1999, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter professed love for McCain because he returned calls: "Reporters can be bought cheap with a little cooperation when we need it. For years, McCain has reliably returned press calls with a candid line or two." McCain indulged their pushy adviser impulses, as Slate’s Jacob Weisberg praised McCain’s willingness to listen to his school-voucher ideas: “When McCain flatters you, it doesn't feel automatic or calculated. He truly likes us journalists.” In the end, however, all it got McCain was loving articles. Bush became president.
There’s still more. Newsweek’s reporters are actually indifferent to the actual foreign-policy records of the presidents they’re touting as role models of consultation. They are conducting the ultimate exercise in Washington insider-dom. They are all about The Process. It doesn’t matter if you succeed; it only that you make the right phone calls.
Early in the article, Thomas and Wolffe hang the hats of bipartisanship on their Bubble-Boy critique by noting Sen. Richard Lugar “cited Bill Clinton as the model” of consultation with the other party. And what in blazes did that accomplish? Did Clinton consult before his Wag-the-Dog two-day wars? Did Clinton get Osama bin Laden? Or did Clinton follow Murtha’s actual advice to him and withdraw from Somalia and embolden Osama? They also cite John F. Kennedy, whose consultation skills didn’t exactly help at the Bay of Pigs.
The same goes for domestic political consultation. Thomas and Wolffe hail Daddy Bush as a Murtha-consulting role model. The Thomas-Wolffe story ends by citing Daddy Bush’s heroic tax increase as “doing the right thing.” He consulted with Democrats and raised taxes. And spending went through the roof, the deficit rising to all-time highs. But he talked it out, slapped some backs, shook some hands. He moved left, and he lost.
In the end, this is about wanting the current President Bush to be moderate. His fault isn’t just insularity, it’s his occasional outbursts of conservatism. They cite that even Ronald Reagan reached out in his troubled second term to moderate old hand Howard Baker as his chief of staff. But Fred Barnes noted on Fox what Newsweek left out: Newsweek pulled this same attack on Reagan in 1981, with a story that fall on “A Disengaged Presidency.”
Maybe one of the lessons Bush learned from his father is that trying to please liberal reporters is not a path to political success. Being “disengaged” from their agenda for your presidency is the smarter move.