A hurricane strips off Bush's teflon

Can Hurricane Katrina affect U.S. policy in Iraq? The answer is yes, and one major reason is the dramatic change in the American media.

Suddenly, as if the flood waters had smashed not only the levees in New Orleans but the teflon-protected presidency of George W. Bush, networks and newspapers have again found their voice. An embarrassing four-year period of media deference to the president and his policies has ended.

For the first time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when an understandable feeling of patriotism induced timid coverage of White House policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, journalists have now returned to their traditional role as fearless chroniclers of the passing parade, blasting the administration for its tardy, ineffective response to the hurricane. Indeed, they have even gone beyond their traditional role.

Instead of acting like deferential, yet objective stenographers of administration briefings, they have adopted a new, angry, emotional style that has surprised and stunned the usually masterful spin merchants at the White House.

A cover story in a recent issue of Newsweek magazine makes fun of the president's math, saying he is "trying to have it all," an open-ended budget on rebuilding the Gulf Coast at the same time as he fights wars abroad and cuts taxes at home. The magazine proves his math doesn't compute. On the same theme, a recent New Yorker magazine cover shows Bush and his top foreign and domestic advisers, all looking baffled and bewildered, as they watch the waters rise in a flooded Oval Office.

"From Deference to Outrage" headlined the Web site PressThink's report on the media's transformation. Having covered both the tragedy in New Orleans and the president's initially uncertain response, the NBC anchor Brian Williams lost his composure for a time. "I was angry," he said. "People were going without and dying in the wealthiest country the world has ever known."

ABC's White House correspondent Terry Moran engaged in uncharacteristic psychoanalysis while reporting on the president's speech in New Orleans. "He is a man who does not like to look back and admit mistakes."

Shepard Smith of Fox News, usually the most reliably pro-Bush network, unashamedly wore his heart on his sleeve, as he pummeled government officials with questions they found impossible to answer. "When is help coming for these people?" Smith demanded. "Is there going to be help? I mean, they're very thirsty." Before Katrina, Smith would never have been so confrontational.

Up to this point, Bush's one undeniable strength has always been that sizable majorities of the American people (62 percent only months ago) considered him a "strong leader," who could be "trusted in a crisis." Now that number has dropped to 49 percent.

The latest Gallup poll, highlighted in USA Today, the paper with the largest circulation in the United States, shows the president's approval rating slipping to a historic low of 40 percent, his disapproval rating rising to a new high of 58 percent.

Gallup also shows for the first time that a clear majority of Americans - 54 percent - believe that the best way to pay for the Gulf Coast recovery is to cut military expenditures in Iraq. For the first time 59 percent of Americans think it was a mistake to have invaded Iraq. Time magazine's cover asks: "Is It Too Late to Win the War?"

A hurricane strips off Bush's teflon - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune


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