Jay Rosen at PressThink examines the media relationship with Ronald Reagan; focusing on Lesley Stahl’s fable about discovering the truth behind the Reagan media magic. The title to this post is the quote attributed to the Reagan White House about her reporting.
Jay dissects the “truth” her fable alleges to unearth and turns it around on the media. Rather than quoting the story liberally I’ll just urge you to go read the whole thing. Understanding the media misconceptions about the source of Reagan’s popularity (then and now) is especially relevant in this election year.
Maybe the media is starting to understand the landscape that Reagan helped to create. Certainly they were, to an extent, equally flummox by Bill Clinton’s ability to connect directly with the electorate regardless of what sexual dalliance they reported. While they did not under estimate Clinton as they did Reagan, they perhaps placed more stock in their ability to connect to the prurient instincts of their viewers than they had any right to expect.
Fast forward to Iraq, and the media seems to have flipped to the other side of the Stahl’s fable. Now it’s not the message they are reporting that matters but the images. Prior to the arrival of the Abu Ghraib torture pictures stories on “failure” have had little, if any, traction. It’s no coincidence that Bush’s numbers are way down since the onslaught of the pictures. Try as they might, the White House has had almost no luck in getting a message out over the visuals that cut their legs out from under them at every turn.
Without the barrage of pictures the prison abuse story would be where is was for the previous 5 months – in the journalistic backwaters. The pictures sell the notion of quagmire and failure better than any reporting could do.
Clearly Bush needs either better visuals or a crash course in communication Reagan style. Indications are that the later is the plan.