Thursday, September 01, 2005

Let Them Eat Catfish!
How an out-of-touch president gets by with a starstruck media

by Michelangelo Signorile

As factions threatened civil war in Iraq over the draft constitution, and as Hurricane Katrina threatened to become the worst natural disaster in American history, the president of the United States was on his fake ranch, determined to continue his five-week vacation. He rode his bicycle – “I like speed,” he’d said a few weeks ago to some reporters who rode with him – on his Disneyland-like camp, complete with its man-made hills and fake lake (which was created and filled with fish from elsewhere), shutting out the world outside.

Worse yet, the American media gave him a free ride, alternately motivated by fear, greed and plain old starfucking. Last Friday night 50 so-called journalists – members of the White House press corps from every major news organization covering his stay in Crawford – hung out with Laura and George Bush at the ranch by the pool, eating Bush’s food, including catfish and potato salad, and drinking his beer. The deal – for socializing with the president at his ranch – was that they couldn’t write about it.

As columnist Dan Froomkin described it – told to him by a deep throat who’d been at the event – the reporters drove past the antiwar protestors camped outside the ranch, where Cindy Sheehan, a mother who’d lost a son in the war, waited for the president to meet her. Sheehan had been asking for a meeting to talk about the war and its direction. But Bush had more important people to meet with: the press corps that gives him life blood and has allowed him to lie about an invasion of another country and cover up for his lieutenant, Karl Rove, in the CIA leak scandal, among many other things.

No one at the Friday event was allowed to talk about what was said – that was the deal for getting “face time” and catfish from the president – though some reports said the antiwar protests were part of the discussion. In other words, the reporters get all giddy, eat and drink with the president, and hear his side of the story for use down the road. The fact that any news organization would allow its reporters to hang out with subjects – eating their food and drinking their beer – while having a good old time, represents everything that is wrong with the media. These are the people who are supposed to be exposing the lies and corruption – which swirl more intensely now around this administration than anytime before – and instead they’re cavorting with him and telling themselves it’s part of the job.

The longest vacation of any president in history was interrupted a few times by Bush’s trips to places that he could use as backdrops to try to stop the hemorrhaging of his poll numbers regarding the war in Iraq.

Cindy Sheehan had galvanized the antiwar movement, so Bush headed for Utah and Idaho to drum up support. Then, just when he thought he could go back to riding his bike all day, came Hurricane Katrina, threatening New Orleans and eventually devastating the gulf coast of Mississippi and Alabama . Rather than head back to Washington to lead relief efforts, Bush at first tried to ignore the hurricane as much as he ignored Cindy Sheehan.

As Katrina barreled into the coast with 145 mph winds, Bush rested up and then headed to California to push his Medicare drug plan – the one that benefits the drug companies – and announced he’d be bringing his draconian social security privatization plan back from the brink. He then went to San Diego to commemorate V-J Day and try to connect the Iraq war with World War II – the latest desperate spin by a White House that has connected the war with everything from 9/11 to a human rights crusade (even though women’s rights are now cut out of the draft constitution in Iraq).

Not until a day after Katrina tore through the coast, and the levees broke in New Orleans, tragically flooding the entire city, did Bush decide it was time to head back to Washington and lead relief efforts.

In a dramatic announcement, the White House noted that Bush would be cutting his five-week vacation short – by two days! But then, rather than head back to Washington directly from California on Tuesday night, Bush, the White House quietly noted, would go back to cozy Crawford for yet another night’s stay first – all while, one state away, thousands of people were frantically being evacuated from the attics of their flooded homes or were trapped in the Superdome in New Orleans.

Rescue efforts were hampered, the mayor of New Orleans said, by a lack of leadership. Bush activated 6000 Louisiana National Guardsmen, but another 7000 of Louisiana’s National Guard were in Iraq . Bush’s father had sent 25,000 troops into Florida a decade earlier when Hurricane Andrew struck, and an addition several thousand national guard. Katrina is much more devastating. But there simply aren’t the troops available for rescue efforts because the senseless war in Iraq has so strained the American military. And the president doesn’t have a clue anyway, since he was determined to ride his bike on his ranch and go on trips to sell his failing proposals and the war rather than deal with a horrible reality that needed urgent attention.

People often ask how it is that Bush is able to get away with this. How is it that few if any members of the press pointed out how callous and out-of-touch it was that he was still vacationing, and alternately politicking, while the most catastrophic natural disaster in American history was unfolding? How does he do it? The answer is now easy: Feed them catfish!