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<nettime> Bush Courts Regional Media
J Armitage on Wed, 15 Oct 2003 10:54:24 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Bush Courts Regional Media

[Hey, nettimers, it looks like the Bush crowd have not only got time to
write upbeat letters home from Iraq on behalf of all US troops, without the
latter knowing anything about it, but Bush himself appears to have been
reading Noam Chomsky and discovered national 'media filters'. John.]

Bush Courts Regional Media 
President Aims to Bypass Large News Outlets' 'Filter' on Iraq 

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 14, 2003; Page A04 

The Bush administration, displeased with the news coverage of the war in
Iraq, has accelerated efforts to bypass the national media by telling the
administration's story directly to the American public. 

Yesterday, Bush granted exclusive interviews to five regional broadcasting
companies -- an unprecedented effort to reach news organizations that do not
regularly cover the White House.

The effort by Bush to reach out to about 10 million Americans through the
regional broadcasters -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Iraq
administrator L. Paul Bremer had similar sessions previously -- came two
days after it emerged that soldiers in Iraq have sent form letters home to
local newspapers asserting that the U.S. troops had been welcomed "with open
arms" in Iraq.

Identical letters to the editor from different soldiers with the 2nd
Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment appeared in 11 newspapers across
the country, Gannett News Service reported on Saturday. The news service
reached six soldiers who said they agreed with the letter but had not
written it, one who had not signed the letter, and one who didn't even know
about the letter.

Lt. Col. Cindy Scott-Johnson, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said that the form
letter was similar to the "hometown news release program" and that the
Pentagon had raised no objection "that I know of" to the letter, apparently
written by 2nd Battalion staff and distributed to soldiers. 

The form letter from the troops, like the Bush interviews with local media
outlets, stems from a frustration with the national media and a desire to
circumvent what the administration views as unfairly negative coverage of
the Iraq conflict.

Bush, in his interviews with the regional broadcasters yesterday, mentioned
improvements to Iraq's hospitals and schools. He said that "there's a great
deal of consistency" in the administration's actions and "a very clear
strategy" while expressing "a sense that people in America aren't getting
the truth." In one interview, with Hearst-Argyle, he said, "I'm mindful of
the filter through which some news travels, and somehow you just got to go
over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people."

The letters to the editor had a similar theme. "The fruits of all our
soldiers' efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today," they
said. "There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the
markets and shops, and children have returned to school. I am proud of the
work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well."

Last week, Bush complained that the news reports out of Iraq emphasize the
negative. "We're making good progress in Iraq," he said. "Sometimes it's
hard to tell it when you listen to the filter." Speaking Thursday at a
fundraiser in Kentucky, Bush said, "We're making great progress -- I don't
care what you read about." 

Bush aides make no apologies for targeting local media -- which, they say,
tend to be less cynical. "We believe local media and regional broadcasters
are more interested in letting viewers or readers see or hear what the
president has to say," said Dan Bartlett, White House communications
director. "It's less analytical and more reporting." 

Bartlett said that as "we move to an instant news cycle" dominated by cable
news, more Americans are turning to the Internet, radio or local broadcasts
and papers for their news. "That's forcing national newspapers, weekly
magazines and national broadcasters to become more analytical and provide
commentary," he said. 

Andrew Kohut, who runs the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press,
said the White House is correct that viewers tend to trust their local news
more than network television, and he said local news has held its own while
network news has declined. Coincidentally or not, Bush's public standing has
improved. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released yesterday found his support
had jumped to 56 percent from 50 percent in September.

But some in the national media say the White House strategy amounts to
shopping for softer questioning. "It's much more often the case in doing
local or regional interviews that reporters come to the interview at least a
bit star-struck, at least a bit less prepared for how to focus the interview
on questions and answers in the public interest and a bit more willing to
accept what the White House position is on matters of controversy," said
Mark Halperin, ABC News political director. Halperin said he intends no
slight to regional reporters but that Bush is "more sophisticated" about
avoiding the national media "than anybody who has ever held the job."

Presidents for decades have courted regional and specialized media, but the
Bush administration has been unusual, according to media experts. Vice
President Cheney, who almost never grants newspaper interviews, has been a
regular on talk radio and Sunday television shows where his answers are
unedited. The White House invited talk radio hosts to set up shop on the
North Lawn one day, treating them to a steady stream of administration
officials. The White House Web site has hosted dozens of "Ask the White
House" chats for the public. And Bush himself has had few news conferences
and extended interviews but has made time for specialized outlets such as
Runner's World. 

The White House Office of Media Affairs deals with about 10,000 regional and
specialty outlets, fielding questions from hundreds of radio stations daily.
Bush himself has regularly participated in this outreach, giving
"roundtable" interviews to regional journalists. Yesterday's interviews were
the largest such effort -- he sat for five eight-minute interviews -- and
the first time he sat down with all five of the major regional broadcasters.

A White House spokesman said the transcript of Bush's remarks would not be
released, following its policy of treating such interviews as the property
of the questioners. The matter has not been controversial because regional
newspapers often publish the transcripts themselves.

Martha Kumar, a Towson University professor who has studied White House
relations with the media, said reaching out to regional media "can give you
a temporary lift." But, she added, "I don't know in the long run what it
really buys you. The president's problems now are policy problems, not
communications problems."

The report yesterday on WBAL in Baltimore, owned by Hearst-Argyle, mixed
Bush's words with reminders of the violence in Iraq and the failure to find
weapons of mass destruction. "The president is trying to paint a brighter
picture of Iraq despite the deaths of more U.S. soldiers today and another
deadly car bombing over the weekend," the report began. 

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