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Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush Hardcover – May 9, 2006

3.7 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Wake Up America: The Nine Virtues That Made Our Nation Great--and Why We Need Them More Than Ever by Eric Bolling
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Editorial Reviews

From The Washington Post

Aside from the U.S. military, not many American institutions have paid a price for the war in Iraq. One signal exception is the mainstream media, known in the blogosphere as the MSM -- the big commercial and cable TV networks, the major newspapers and the news magazines, all of which have taken a pounding from both right and left.

The latest to join in the pounding is Eric Boehlert, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. "Battered by accusations of a liberal bias and determined to prove their conservative critics wrong," he argues in the bluntly titled Lapdogs, "the press during the run-up to the war -- timid, deferential, unsure, cautious, and often intentionally unthinking -- came as close as possible to abdicating its reason for existence in the first place, which is to accurately inform citizens, particularly during times of great national interest." With this for his central argument, Boehlert has written an important book, but one that probably will not be welcomed in newsrooms; journalists don't like scathing criticism any more than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, Lapdogs may be easy for some to write off: It has flaws that too often overwhelm the valuable research and provocative analysis that Boehlert has assembled, including material on subjects beyond Iraq ranging from the "press haters" on the right who seek to dismantle independent journalism to the question of how the 2004 campaign was covered. One obvious failing is that a book by a journalist attacking the press ought to have included some responses from editors and reporters who disagree with Boehlert's conclusions. There is basically none of that here.

Another defect is that Lapdogs too frequently appears overtly political; the book is written as though a cadre of Bill Clinton's defenders were its editors. Boehlert's case that a timorous press was intimidated by President Bush frequently rests on comparisons to the media's supposedly more aggressive approach to Clinton and former vice president Al Gore. This is arguable, at best, and the tactic diminishes the book's overall impact. Moreover, Boehlert reinforces this problem with an odd ending. "While the point of Lapdogs," he writes, "is to document the press's failings and not necessarily to offer Democrats communication or campaign strategies, it does seem obvious that if Democrats have to battle both entrenched Republicans as well as a MSM that refuses to give the party out of power a fair shake, then Democrats are going to continue to have trouble winning elections." It's not easy to be a credible media critic when you're also being, at least indirectly, a Democratic s!


Moreover, the book starts out by waving another red flag. In the preface, Boehlert writes, "The goal of Lapdogs is to cut through incessant rhetoric about a liberal media bias, and to show, factually, just how the mainstream media has tipped the scales in President Bush's favor for going on six years. The proof for that is all in the public record; in the voluminous pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, and Time, just to name a few, as well as in the mountain of transcripts produced by network and cable news programs." Laying this out, he writes, "makes the conclusion -- that the press rolled over for Bush -- inescapable." But there is no way to prove that this is "inescapable," which would mean knowing what was inside the heads of producers and editors at the time their news decisions were made.

I firmly agree with Boehlert that the press was seriously derelict in its prewar coverage. (Indeed, he refers to some of my critical columns during my tenure as The Washington Post's ombudsman.) But topics such as Saddam Hussein's weapons programs were tough subjects to get at -- although U.S. newspapers ran quite a few good stories, produced by Knight Ridder's Washington bureau, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, among others. One big problem, however -- especially at this newspaper -- was that these challenging stories were far too often run inside the paper rather than on the front page. Other stories that challenged the whole premise of an invasion were simply missed or minimized.

So does that mean that the editors who made those calls were pro-Bush or cowed by the aftermath of Sept. 11, fiery right-wing bloggers, conservative broadcasters and a mean White House press strategy? Or did some editors simply exercise poor news judgment or lack the experience or determination to make sure that nothing was left unsaid, unchallenged or uncovered? Or were they convinced that a war with Iraq was coming and were too focused on getting ready to cover it?

I tend to chalk up uncritical reporting on administration claims about Iraq's supposed doomsday arsenal to that combination of factors. And of course, the obvious inference from Saddam Hussein's behavior -- his use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops and his own Kurdish civilians in the 1980s, his earlier nuclear arms ambitions, his bucking of the U.N. arms inspectors -- was that this was a regime with something to hide. But maybe something else was indeed going on in America's newsrooms. If so, Boehlert's book will prove to be the most well-researched and well-argued one I've yet seen about the darker side of why the press failed.

This book takes a hard look at TV, the news broadcasts as well as the big Sunday interview programs. Lapdogs provides many accounts where TV news divisions seemed to fall short -- for instance, by not asking the right questions (thereby giving policymakers a pass) or inviting the right guests (thereby stacking the deck with conservatives and hawks). It also questions the cozy relationships between some TV hosts and high officials. To their credit, several newspapers, including the New York Times -- which had the most to apologize for -- and The Washington Post, looked in the mirror afterward and reported on their own shortcomings. Television hasn't done that.

To anyone who has been following the press saga of the last six years, the episodes in this book -- from the Swift boats and Bush's National Guard service to Terri Schiavo, the Downing Street memo and the battle for more conservative views on PBS -- will be familiar. But Boehlert fills in several strokes that present a fuller portrait. The performance of the press during the Bush years, especially in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is so important that all serious attempts to assess it are worthy of attention. Despite the flaws, this is one of them.

Reviewed by Michael Getler
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st edition (May 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743289315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743289313
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,723,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Diane Lake on May 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Spiro Agnew coined the liberal bias media back in the Nixion Administration. It was somewhat revived during the Reagan years though, as David Gergen admits, they knew the media was soft peddling with them. During the Clinton years the media was ruthless and as Joe Scarborough, republican, admits, the media was overly nasty to Al Gore. In Molly Ivins book, Shrub, she points out how the media never checked Bush's record as Govenor and faithfully wrote down what he claimed. This has been a well documented history.

After the twin blows of Katrina and Scotter Libby, with the public asking more vehemently, where is the press??? The media somewhat looked at thier behavior over the Bush Administration and admitted they gave him a pass. But, the behavior hasn't changed. Especially when you concider that even moderate republicans have been shut down in favor of the fringe of the right wing.

This important book exposes the myth, that it is a myth and that the media has been lapdogs. Well written and researched. using Media Matters, which has audio, transcripts and can back every allegation of the media, as a resource helps back up the charges in this wonderful book. With Helen Thomas coming out next month with a book on the same subject, I think it's going to be time for the media to examine thier supposed roles as watchdogs for the public good.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is nothing short of explosive. It debunks the myths that our press corps and main stream media are professional, aggressive or "liberal leaning" as many would like us to believe. If anything, this press has rolled over for the Bush administration, and in effect, when asked to jump for the president, they collectively asked: "How high?"

It is impossible to ignore the voluminous documentation that the author amasses with nexus searches, transcripts, video tapes, interviews, reports, etc. that make his case over and over again.

Boehlert shows repeatedly how our main stream media (MSM) are scared to death of a conservative backlash to any story they may feel is biased. They are afraid of being denied future stories if they report the truth. And they are afraid of having their careers brought to an end of they report it. In short, the press has gone along to get along, become lazy, and hit the snooze button of lethargy and apathy toward any lies that came from the White House, or other neocon sources.

Boehlert meticulously provides one example after another how the press, even such giants as the NY Times and the Washington Post, have danced to the White House tune.

Swift Boat Veteran coverage? Nightly for weeks on end. Texans for Truth, (the anti-Swifty, anti-Bush group?) Eight reports only across all networks, newspapers, and news magazines. Reports of Kerry's war record? In the hundreds. Reports of Bush's national guard absences, etc.? Almost none. Pictures of dead Americans from Iraq or Afghanistan? None. Pictures of dead Americans from Somalia (when Clinton is president?) Continuous. Investigation of auto mechanic/male prostitute getting White House Press pass? None.
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Format: Hardcover
As I write this, Porter Goss has just resigned a top government post and not one single major daily newspaper has tried to find out why. Where do I get info about it? From Bill Maher, the Daily Show, and Salon.com. It would be nice to think that the horrendous abandonment of its post by the mainstream media is over, but it is clearly still in full swing.

This excellent book covers the erosion of the Fourth Estate, and the First Amendment, in endless detail. Admittedly, there are a few points where Boehlert seems too anxious to draw conclusions or make his point (citing an investigation of Hillary Clinton in 2005 as a "media frenzy," when I can't even remember it)but he has so many powerful anecdotes to choose from his point pretty much makes itself. This is solid journalism, well researched and written, and details a shameful period in the history of our nation's media which unfortunately has not come to an end.
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This is a painful read. There are so many instances explored here of the media refusing to do their job. And I think the last six years, it's never been more important to have a free and independent press. They failed. It would be a different world, a better world if they'd just done their jobs.

Boehlert gracefully catalogs the lapses and tries to analyze why this happened, why even now pundits, columnists, editors, and journalists cut Bush and his incompetent crew more and more slack. He contrasts this with the often brutal treatment Clinton, Gore, and especially Kerry received from these very same media people.

It makes no sense. It still makes no sense. But as a witness to an atrocity, Boehlert does a great job. The media's response to such criticism will no doubt be more of the usual defensiveness. But every reporter and editor in Washington needs to read this with an open mind. It's hard to admit, I know, how badly you were led astray-- but admitting it is the first step to correcting it. And anyone who reads this book -- even the pundits who have made a living the last decade from looking -away- from truth-- has to come away with an unsettled sense of a real disease in the press.
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