Sustaining the narrative

The ongoing conflict in Iraq is the first war in modern history that has been fought with the virtually unanimous opposition of the mainstream press.  Yes, the press came to be in opposition in the Vietnam War, but the administration of that day still got coverage for its major statements on the war.

It appears we are winning the war in Iraq, but if the polls are right, the Bush administration is losing the war for the American people.  It is possible that upon sober reflection, the American public is losing faith in the war. 

As Rush Limbaugh has pointed out, the powers of the MSM are not limited to how they cover something, but whether or not  they do so.  The MSM has chosen not to cover major speeches by President Bush on the Iraq War, as well as much other news which would support administration goals or its image. 

The Bush administration must face the question of how better to make its case.  Here is a suggestion. Use a weapon already at hand, the White House daily press briefing, but use it much more effectively.  This conventional forum needs updating, to break through the media vow of  omerta on news favorable to President Bush.

Instead of just Scott McClellan's verbiage, why not have principals in the Administration drop by for brief visits when they wanted to address topics of currency?  This would not have to be limited to top officials, but could include the operating people in the Administration as well. 

The staple of the White House daily briefing would stay the same as it is now, with Scott McClellan carrying the load.  But it could be augmented regularly with brief visits by operating people in the administration, when they were on hand to visit the president and had knowledge on topics of interest.  The point of this new feature would be to provide an outlet that is both authoritative and informal.  Such briefings would not substitute for more set—piece communications such as speeches by the President and other principals, or briefings by the State Department and the Defense Department. 

But it would add drama and authority to have principals drop in to the daily briefing.  For instance, after the Joe Wilson piece in the New York Times in July 2003, Vice President Cheney could have dropped in to the daily briefing:

***

McClellan: The Vice President has a few minutes this morning before his meeting with the president.  Mr. Vice President.........

Cheney: Good morning.  I have a meeting with the president in five minutes, but I can answer a couple of questions.  Before I do, let me just say that I read the column by Joseph Wilson in the New York Times yesterday which mentions me.  A tremendous amount of paper flows through my office and is processed by me and my staff.  We are still trying to find out what Mr. Wilson is talking about in that column.  But as of today, I can say that to my best recollection, I have never met Mr. Wilson; I had never heard of him before his column yesterday; if he wrote a report on Iraq's attempted acquisition of uranium, I never saw it, at least over his name; and I certainly did not send him on his mission to Africa.  Any questions?

After some back and forth......

McClellan: Mr. Vice President, it's 10:30.

Cheney: Thank you, Scott.  Ladies and gentlemen, I have to go.  Scott will answer the rest of your questions.  Thanks for your attention.

***

The advantage of this format is that it would provide sound bites that could, and in my view would, be covered by the MSM because of their topicality and the status of the visitor, and it would add drama to the daily briefing because reporters would not know who might be showing up on any given day.  On some days, there wouldn't be principals and the format would be as it is now.  On others there would be surprise briefers.

This could work for Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, but also for visiting firemen — perhaps soldiers back from Iraq, officials from Iraq, and other topical people who are visiting the president.

***

McClellan:  As you know, Mr. Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, flew into Washington last night and is conferring with the President this morning.  President Talabani said he could take questions for a few minutes.  President Talabani.......

Talabani: Thank you Scott.  I want to thank the American people for their sacrifices, and particularly the sacrifices of their sons and daughters in the great battle in Iraq against extremism.  We are allies, Iraq and America.  You are helping us, but we are also helping you in this war on terror.  I know that people wonder if we are making progress in that war.  I am here to tell you that we are.  Businesses are being opened; utilities are being built; ground is being held.  But perhaps the best way to proceed is for you to ask me questions.

After some back and forth....

McClellan: President Talabani, I know that you have an appointment at 10:30.  Thank you for taking time with us today.

Talabani: Yes.  Thank you Scott.  Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

***

Not comprehensive, not a set—piece, but getting the message out in daily portions, almost like a blog.  Yes, there is some risk that mistakes might be made.  But there is risk in not making the case on a daily, ongoing basis.  That cannot be done entirely by the President in formal speeches.  They are a critical part of the Administration's making its case, but they cannot be the entire effort.  The daily briefing with principals in a video blog format would become a critical part of doing this.

The ongoing conflict in Iraq is the first war in modern history that has been fought with the virtually unanimous opposition of the mainstream press.  Yes, the press came to be in opposition in the Vietnam War, but the administration of that day still got coverage for its major statements on the war.

It appears we are winning the war in Iraq, but if the polls are right, the Bush administration is losing the war for the American people.  It is possible that upon sober reflection, the American public is losing faith in the war. 

As Rush Limbaugh has pointed out, the powers of the MSM are not limited to how they cover something, but whether or not  they do so.  The MSM has chosen not to cover major speeches by President Bush on the Iraq War, as well as much other news which would support administration goals or its image. 

The Bush administration must face the question of how better to make its case.  Here is a suggestion. Use a weapon already at hand, the White House daily press briefing, but use it much more effectively.  This conventional forum needs updating, to break through the media vow of  omerta on news favorable to President Bush.

Instead of just Scott McClellan's verbiage, why not have principals in the Administration drop by for brief visits when they wanted to address topics of currency?  This would not have to be limited to top officials, but could include the operating people in the Administration as well. 

The staple of the White House daily briefing would stay the same as it is now, with Scott McClellan carrying the load.  But it could be augmented regularly with brief visits by operating people in the administration, when they were on hand to visit the president and had knowledge on topics of interest.  The point of this new feature would be to provide an outlet that is both authoritative and informal.  Such briefings would not substitute for more set—piece communications such as speeches by the President and other principals, or briefings by the State Department and the Defense Department. 

But it would add drama and authority to have principals drop in to the daily briefing.  For instance, after the Joe Wilson piece in the New York Times in July 2003, Vice President Cheney could have dropped in to the daily briefing:

***

McClellan: The Vice President has a few minutes this morning before his meeting with the president.  Mr. Vice President.........

Cheney: Good morning.  I have a meeting with the president in five minutes, but I can answer a couple of questions.  Before I do, let me just say that I read the column by Joseph Wilson in the New York Times yesterday which mentions me.  A tremendous amount of paper flows through my office and is processed by me and my staff.  We are still trying to find out what Mr. Wilson is talking about in that column.  But as of today, I can say that to my best recollection, I have never met Mr. Wilson; I had never heard of him before his column yesterday; if he wrote a report on Iraq's attempted acquisition of uranium, I never saw it, at least over his name; and I certainly did not send him on his mission to Africa.  Any questions?

After some back and forth......

McClellan: Mr. Vice President, it's 10:30.

Cheney: Thank you, Scott.  Ladies and gentlemen, I have to go.  Scott will answer the rest of your questions.  Thanks for your attention.

***

The advantage of this format is that it would provide sound bites that could, and in my view would, be covered by the MSM because of their topicality and the status of the visitor, and it would add drama to the daily briefing because reporters would not know who might be showing up on any given day.  On some days, there wouldn't be principals and the format would be as it is now.  On others there would be surprise briefers.

This could work for Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, but also for visiting firemen — perhaps soldiers back from Iraq, officials from Iraq, and other topical people who are visiting the president.

***

McClellan:  As you know, Mr. Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, flew into Washington last night and is conferring with the President this morning.  President Talabani said he could take questions for a few minutes.  President Talabani.......

Talabani: Thank you Scott.  I want to thank the American people for their sacrifices, and particularly the sacrifices of their sons and daughters in the great battle in Iraq against extremism.  We are allies, Iraq and America.  You are helping us, but we are also helping you in this war on terror.  I know that people wonder if we are making progress in that war.  I am here to tell you that we are.  Businesses are being opened; utilities are being built; ground is being held.  But perhaps the best way to proceed is for you to ask me questions.

After some back and forth....

McClellan: President Talabani, I know that you have an appointment at 10:30.  Thank you for taking time with us today.

Talabani: Yes.  Thank you Scott.  Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

***

Not comprehensive, not a set—piece, but getting the message out in daily portions, almost like a blog.  Yes, there is some risk that mistakes might be made.  But there is risk in not making the case on a daily, ongoing basis.  That cannot be done entirely by the President in formal speeches.  They are a critical part of the Administration's making its case, but they cannot be the entire effort.  The daily briefing with principals in a video blog format would become a critical part of doing this.