Monday, July 25, 2005

American Zoo

Watching an American political press conference (especially during a controversy) can be a sight to behold. It is akin to watching lions on the hunt in the Mara, the press being the lions and the politician being the quandary. The press corps will stalk its prey waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce and disembowel the politician, who in turn is warily scanning the horizons to ensure that he makes no false moves and is alert to the journo moves. A perfect example was the press conference 2 weeks ago when NBC’s David Gregory savagely attacked Scott McClellan on the whole “Rovegate” controversy. The journo in that press briefing destroyed McClellan and as Afromusing has posted, the gentleman’s credibility has been badly damaged.

On the other hand, the pack mentality of the press corps can go too far in allowing the prevailing political winds dominate what otherwise could be more substantial press conferences. Case in point, presidential press conferences with foreign dignitaries. Last week Brian Kilmeade (Fox and Friends) made an interesting observation, it must be very difficult to be a visiting leader holding a joint press conference with Bush, as they (conferences) usually degenerate into a battle over American domestic issues and not the relationship at hand. Kilmeade was referring to the press conference Bush held with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, where the majority of questions from the American press were on Rove and the Supreme court, not on what the leaders discussed or the future of the Indian-American relations: it was American politics first. Kiran Chetry (Kilmeade’s co-host) made an even more insightful observation, according to her, the reason for the above, is that journos adhere to the “topic of the day” mentality and if one asks a question out of topic, they stand accused of “softball” journalism.

Whereas it is important to ask questions of the commander in chief when the opportunity arises (lord knows it is not an everyday occurrence), the press should stick to the issues at hand, or else they look like idiots. For example, the day after the Indian press conference the president held another with Australian PM John Howard, the president gave the press corps 4 questions (2 to each side). The American journalists focused on the SUPREME COURT and KARL ROVE. The questions did not deal (or attempt to) with the issues at hand (the US/Australian partnership) and the president simply dismissed the questions (referring them to the previous days answers). The president was magnanimous enough to give the give the American side a third question, but the journo went back to the Supreme Court. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result (paraphrased quote).

In contrast the Australian journalists asked some pointed and interesting questions (Bush acknowledged this) that elicited detailed and thoughtful answers from BOTH leaders. One was on the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq, and the other was the US/China/Australian relationship vis a vis, economic versus security threats, as well as, human rights. From this episode (and many others) we see the pitfalls of journalistic groupthink; the American journalists were totally outclassed, by their Australian counterparts. In their quest to corner Bush, they ended up looking like stupid kondoo.


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