BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Frustrated by the national media's pre-occupation with bombings, political turmoil and failing infrastructure in occupied Iraq, versus what the White House views as the preponderance of good news, the president has begun doing what politicians often do -- he's blaming the messenger. [CLIP PLAYS]
GEORGE W. BUSH: There's a sense that people in America aren't getting the truth. I'm mindful of the, of the filter through which some news travels, and sometimes you just have to go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people, and that's what we will continue to do.
BOB GARFIELD:The president was as good as his word, spending the past week in search of more porous filters. While avoiding the national media, especially the major networks, he made himself available for a series of interviews with local and regional broadcasters. This because most Americans get most of their information from the local news, and because those outlets are perceived to be less hostile to the White House's message. Joining us now is Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Milbank, who wrote about the president's good-news offensive. Dana, welcome back to the show.
DANA MILBANK: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: So "filter" seems to be a word we're hearing from the White House quite a bit these days. The media, I guess -- we've now been promoted or demoted to "filtration." What's going on?
DANA MILBANK: The president has used this term before on occasion, but the-- really forcefully came out a little over a week ago and said that people are not getting the real story on Iraq, and he said it over and over again. It's now become a standard piece of his stump speech, and to actually do something about it, he did quite an innovative thing this week, as he brought all the Big Five regional broadcasters -- each of them own, say, a dozen or two local TV stations -- and brought them in for one on one, individual interviews in the White House. So that was quite an extraordinary thing, since he typically does not give interviews to, say, the Washington Post or the New York Times.
BOB GARFIELD:Well the implication is, in fact the outright assertion is that what the filters are filtering out is the good news from Iraq with all of the media's obsessive attention on the bad news, no?
DANA MILBANK: Well there is an element of truth to that. Now I think actually the, the most honest way I've heard it come out of the White House is what the president's communication's director, Dan Bartlett said, and that is with the sort of proliferation of cable news, the internet, all these other outlets, what's happened with the network news and what's happened with newspapers is they've moved more in the direction of analysis. He would say commentary as well. I might quarrel with that, but there's no question that we do more analysis, we do a lot of contextualizing, of saying what the bigger picture is here so you can understand a particular day's events in Iraq. But they're looking for a local media who would perhaps not be following the issue on a daily basis, might not have all the information at their disposal and might accept the official line a bit more freely.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, I gather this is not the first time a presidential administration has tried to do an end run around the national media.
DANA MILBANK:No, that's absolutely true. I talked to presidential scholars who traced it back to FDR, to Eisenhower, certainly Kennedy and Nixon did it quite a bit. Even like if you talked to, say, the people who worked for Vice President Gore during the presidential campaign, they extensively used local media satellite feeds. What they would typically do, though, is bring in wire reporters from the national media to hear what was said. At other times, transcripts of the interviews with the local media have been released publicly to the general press corps; indeed, to the public at large. What's very interesting about the president's recent efforts is that they're almost deliberately seeking to cut out the national media by refusing to release a transcript, not letting anybody hear what was going on; whereas every other word the president utters in public is transcribed and available to the public.
BOB GARFIELD:Well how's it going for the president? Do you believe that the, the regional press that have been favored by his presence before their cameras, are they asking good questions and are they running those questions on their air?
DANA MILBANK: I was actually very impressed with what I saw and what was reported back to me. They were asking the same tough questions that we were asking, and in fact, they were setting up their reports, if anything, in more of a cynical way than we might have. I think what was going on there was just so naked and so transparent that these regional broadcasters didn't want to feel like they were being played for suckers or fools, so they were going to show that they could in fact be tough as well.
BOB GARFIELD:If the president's use of the word "filter" as a code word to mean the, you know, carping, unpatriotic, obsessively negative press --does this foreshadow a political strategy for the election? Is it possible the president is going to run not only against the Democrats but against the media as well?
DANA MILBANK: The fact of the matter is if things improve in Iraq, the coverage will improve in Iraq; and if things go very badly in Iraq, the average American is not going to place a lot of faith in his condemnation of the media, cause the fact is the body counts, the suicide bombings sort of speak for themselves.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Dana. Well, thank you very much.
DANA MILBANK: Okay. Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Dana Milbank is a White House correspondent for the Washington Post.