In a spate of exit interviews with reporters, George W. Bush has been uncharacteristically coy on the subject of how history will judge his time in office. "The Decider" prefers to leave such judgments to future generations.
Of course, this hasn't prevented W. from running his presidency through one last spin cycle before he leaves office on Jan. 20. While the Bush administration spent the better part of the past eight years doing (self-inflicted) damage control, the past few months have been devoted to a historical whitewash.
True to form, corporate media is serving as a stenographer to Bush's revisionist history. For instance, the media watchdog group FAIR recently reported that ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson failed to challenge Bush on his rather fanciful account of "intelligence failures" during the lead-up to the Iraq War.
"For the corporate media to casually dismiss so vivid a demonstration of Iraqi anger and resentment is reprehensible."
In an action alert issued on Dec. 2, 2008, FAIR noted that Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein prevented international weapons inspectors from conducting investigations was patently false: "In reality, the inspections were a well-publicized process that attracted international news coverage and were the subject of lengthy discussions at the United Nations."
FAIR goes on to suggest that the Washington Post's account of the television interview was equally misleading. The Post commended the president for his "new candor" on the matter of weapons inspection, brushing aside the inconvenient truth regarding the Bush administration's lies and deceptions -- most notably its willingness to "cook" the intelligence on Iraqi WMD.
Rather than hold Bush accountable for his arrogant and reckless foreign policy, the corporate media dutifully followed the president on his "victory lap" to Afghanistan and Iraq, even going so far as portraying the president as a victim of Iraqi aggression during the infamous shoe-throwing episode.
Writing for The Nation.com, Leslie Savan noted, "Though there were scads of storylines to follow on shoe-thrower Muntander al-Zaidi's motivation -- from the deaths and destruction during the occupation that he had covered as a journalist to his own kidnapping and release by insurgents -- most TV news anchors treated the incident as goofball comedy."
Bush's bemused reaction to Zaidi's attempted assault was not surprising. After all, W's capacity for self-deception has been obvious for years, from his declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in May 2003 to his legendary performance review of a patronage appointee: "Heck of a job, Brownie!" But for the corporate media to casually dismiss so vivid a demonstration of Iraqi anger and resentment is reprehensible.
"Corporate media discourse on the Bush legacy is not simply disingenuous; it is self-serving."
Incidents like this, and the lack of any substantive follow up on Vice President Dick Cheney's brazen admission that he played a key role in authorizing the use of waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques," reveals the depths of corporate media's subservience to government leaders. More critically, the reluctance of editors and working journalists to develop the story surrounding Cheney's disclosure is yet another instance of corporate media's complicity in the Bush administration's war crimes.
Short of issuing Bush and company a "get-out-of-jail-free" card, the U.S. press corps, like its commander in chief, is content to let future historians judge the Bush years, lest they be judged. In other words, corporate media discourse on the Bush legacy is not simply disingenuous; it is self-serving.
The irony here is that unbeknownst to him, and unnoticed by the press and the punditry, W. rather succinctly summed up his legacy last fall. At a White House press conference on Sept. 30, 2008, Bush urged Congress to pass a $700-billion bailout scheme for Wall Street. Failure to do so, Bush told the lawmakers and the American people, would have "painful and lasting" consequences for the United States.
Painful and lasting: that's it in a nutshell. Bush's legacy -- a record marked by rampant abuses of power, contempt for the rule of law, catastrophic economic collapse, and late-term pardons, giveaways and sweetheart deals for party loyalists and corporate clients -- will define the American experience for generations.
For a man whose abuse of the English language was catnip for comedians and late-night talk show hosts these past eight years, Bush hit the proverbial nail on the head with those two words: painful and lasting.
Kevin Howley is Associate Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at email@example.com.