In finding someone to criticize President Bush for a morale-boosting trip to Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz quoted Tom Rosenstiel, the director of something called the Project for Excellence in Journalism. He criticized the White House correspondents who made the trip and kept it secret. Rosenstiel said, “Reporters are in the business of telling the truth. They can’t decide it’s okay to lie sometimes because it serves a larger truth or good cause.” In fact, the reporters didn’t lie; they kept a secret for reasons of safety and security.
Rosenstiel is sometimes referred to as a “highly respected” figure in media criticism, but on a World magazine website one person countered: “This complaint by some in the liberal media that they should have the right to publicize the commander-in-chief making a visit to the capital city of a nation we’ve conquered and not yet pacified is absolute idiocy. I’d be interested in knowing how many of these reporters were howling a few weeks ago over the leak that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent?
Kurtz also found former Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart willing to make a few critical comments. He didn’t attack the secrecy but claimed that, “This is a President who has been unwilling to provide his presence to the families who have suffered but thinks nothing of flying to Baghdad to use the troops there as a prop.” In fact, the President writes to the families of all those troops who have lost their lives and has met with the families and the injured on several occasions.
Lockhart’s problem may have been with the fact that Bush overshadowed Hillary Clinton’s trip to Afghanistan and Iraq. Nevertheless, the former Clinton aide was much in demand, surfacing as a voice critical of the President’s Baghdad trip on the NBC Today Show and the Nightly News. Twice he made the claim that Bush sneaked out of the White House, as if he was doing something sinister.
On the NBC Nightly News, reporter David Gregory quoted Hillary as saying the Bush visit would boost morale and was terrific. Gregory added, “But others see the President trying to overcome criticism that he has remained distant from the sacrifices of U.S. troops, by, for instance, avoiding funerals for fallen soldiers.” This was followed by a soundbite from Lockhart from the Today Show.
The Lockhart quotation made its way into an anti-Bush column written for a Canadian newspaper, the Toronto Star. Columnist Antonio Zerbisias complained that Bush had callously disregarded freedom of the press and that the “corporate media” went along with “this curtailment and blatant manipulation of the press?” The Independent, a British paper opposed to the liberation of Iraq, put the story under the headline: “The Turkey Has Landed.” But those soldiers who greeted Bush in Baghdad with a standing ovation, cheers, smiles and handshakes may have had a different opinion. Bush told them: “I can’t think of a finer group of folks to have Thanksgiving dinner with than you all.” Copies of the Toronto Star and the Independent could have come in handy wrapping up leftovers for Joe Lockhart.