Wednesday, December 14, 2005

WaPo's Froomkin Vs. Harris Part 1

In case you missed it, there's a little brouhaha stewing at the Washington Post between Washington Press Briefing columnist Dan Froomkin and Washington national politics editor John Harris.

Rather than summarizing it...I suggest you hit Jay Rosen's Press Think to get the gist of the fracas.

Perhaps Harris has a chip on his shoulder about a column that Froomkin wrote in August of 2004 which seemingly took a jab at something he wrote.

From Froomkin's August 16, 2004 column, Revolt of the Press Corps:

The press corps appears to have had about enough of those hokey "Ask President Bush" events.

Instead of taking questions from reporters, President Bush has become increasingly partial to playing talk-show host to an audience of sycophantic fans.

There were four "Ask President Bush" events last week and in each case, after a long speech and staged interviews with prepped guests, Bush opened the floor to some incredible softballs.

The format allows the president to come off as very smooth.

As John Harris writes in The Washington Post: "In loosening his style, Bush tightened his message. Fielding friendly questions at 'Ask President Bush' forums, or lathering up the crowds at pep rallies like the one here on Saturday afternoon, he presented his case for reelection with a force and fluency that sometimes eluded him at important moments over the past year."

There's never a nasty question, never a heckler, nothing but love. That makes for great imagery and great soundbytes.

But now the press is pulling back the curtain.

Froomkin then adds a few links and quotes from articles which expose the "Ask President Bush" forums for the shams that they were.

The implication being that John Harris was perfectly fine with that curtain.

Hell, Harris' piece was an "analysis" as opposed to a news story...yet there's nothing harsher than the word "friendly" employed to describe the stagecrafted "events."

Hell, check out Harris' title for his "analysis": Shirtsleeves Style Is a Strong Suit for Bush.

Some excerpts from Harris' August 16, 2004 "analysis":

President Bush has formidable obstacles to reelection, but he served a reminder last week that he is a politician with formidable strengths.

Anyone who doubts it should spend some time watching the shirtsleeves campaign. In five days of energetic campaigning through five swing states, Bush looked and sounded like someone dropping by a neighbor's lawn party -- no coat, no tie, rolled-up sleeves, and conversational speeches in which he implored voters to "put a man in there who can get the job done."


Two weeks before the Republican National Convention, Bush's performances in recent days suggested someone who has settled on a comfortable marriage of message and style. Applause lines, anecdotes, and wisecracks at Kerry's expense rolled off at a steady clip. There was a buoyant, jaunty manner that announced a politician who is relishing his fight.

That's about all I can stand to quote from Harris' "analysis." If Harris' assignment was to basically find a way to reprint excerpts from Bush's speeches without having to show alternative points of view then he definitely succeeded.

Along with a number of jabs at Kerry, Harris allows Bush to insist "that Congress acted on the same intelligence he did in giving bipartisan approval to an Iraq war resolution" which is a line that screams out for "analysis."

But Harris is okay with the Bush bubble. It's that dastardly Froomkin who has become an "obstacle" to the hard work of acting as White House stenographers.


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