Playing to the Back of the Room
Bill Scher is a very smart guy, and I wholeheartedly agree with his take on the suddenly more accessible, more grounded, more aware of reality President Bush:
With public opinion on the verge of falling off the cliff, Bush needed to find a way to shore up some support for the war, without actually changing course and giving up the goal of exerting unilateral influence over Iraq and its neighbors.
(As Bush said yesterday: “Our tactics continue to change, but our goal in Iraq has not changed.” Take him at his word.)
By talking in more detail about the nature of the insurgency, by acknowledging tactical errors, by taking a whopping five questions from the audience after one speech, Bush gives the impression of candor and lowered, more realistic expectations.
And that impresses the foreign policy establishment poo-bahs that can help shape media coverage.
As the W. Post reported: “The less rosy language has won plaudits from skeptical analysts and politicians.”
But of course, Bush said nothing to indicate the goals of the occupation have changed. If you were skeptical of the policy before, you should still be skeptical today.
What are those goals in the near-term? Manipulating the choice for president and prime minister after the parliamentary elections are over.
Read the whole thing. In comedy, we call this "playing to the back of the room." The idea is that if you make the comics in the back of the room laugh, the rest of the crowd will be won over as well. By impressing the Beltway media elite with fake shows of candor, and more importantly access (Bush has given long interviews to Brit Hume and Jim Lehrer in the space of a week; Lehrer's airs tonight), The Administration is relying on the media to help them raise public opinion. In a way, this is an acknowledgement that their credibility on Iraq is shot. But they've always wanted to use their useful idiots in the media as an arm of their propaganda war. The fact that today's bombshell story on domestic spying was held for over a year by the New York Times shows that the White House respects the value of the Fourth Estate, and they'll work the refs at every opportunity. They're so adept at spinning the press that frequently, the press doesn't even know they're spun.
We've seen a media pushback over the last five years like none that's ever been conducted before. It really is unprecedented. Some of it is blatant, like paying journalists to write favorable stories and the like. But more than that, they've figured out how to get the "liberal media" to feel at once under siege by the watchdogs on the right, AND flattered that they're allowed to so much as sniff the aftershave of the President and his top aides. Obviously I'm more tuned in now than before, but this thirst for access seems insatiable today. It's like Rove and his boys have whacked the media on the mose so many times to train them, that when they give the whimpering puppies a treat, they're out of their minds with glee. It's really ingenious in a perverse way.
What's notable is that the President is not even trying to change people's opinions anymore. He's trying to change PUBLIC opinion, yes, but by proxy. That's the mark of a leader who doesn't have any clue there are consequences to his actions.