Jul
01
2006

Impeachment Not on Media Radar

Adultery was serious; this is just the Constitution

There is a growing grassroots campaign demanding the impeachment of George W. Bush. Across the nation, towns and cities have been passing pro-impeachment resolutions. Websites promoting impeachment keep springing up. In several states, bills have been introduced in state legislatures that, if passed, would become formal bills of impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives, requiring initiation of impeachment hearings under congressional rules dating back to the early 19th century.

Starting last fall, several polls (Zogby, 10/29-11/2/05, 1/9-12/06; Ipsos, 10/6-9/05) reported that a majority of Americans thought Bush should be impeached if he lied the country into war in Iraq or if he authorized warrantless spying on Americans. Those poll results were reported all over the Internet, but they barely made it into any mainstream corporate news reports. Indeed, impeachment itself is getting short shrift in the media, despite all this impeachment organizing activity.

When the House Judiciary Committee’s ranking minority member, Rep. John Conyers (D.-Mich.), introduced a bill in December calling for creation of a select committee to investigate “possible impeachable crimes” by Bush, the dramatic move received virtually no mainstream coverage beyond an AP wire item (12/21/05). Even as the number of Democratic House members co-sponsoring that bill rose from an initial handful to 39, it has received scant attention. The first time impeachment made the front page of the Washington Post was March 25, 2006, when that paper finally ran a story on the wave of town government resolutions across the country.

Interestingly, though, the Post did provide Conyers space on the op-ed page for a column explaining that he would not immediately push for impeachment should he become chair of the House Judiciary Committee (“No Rush to Impeachment,” 5/18/06).

Similarly, when Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wisc.) introduced a censure measure in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the New York Times tucked it away on page A17 (3/13/06). But days later, when Republicans tried to sideline the measure by claiming that such a move would help them in November by “energizing” their conservative base, the Times perversely played that classic “reaction” story on Page 1 (3/16/06).

In part, the media downplaying of impeachment may reflect a now-longstanding fear on the part of editors of frontally challenging the Bush administration. It may also, however, reflect the affinity of many in the higher echelons of the corporate news media for the timid and conservative Democratic Party leadership, which has made no bones about its fear and loathing of impeachment and of other more confrontational stances favored by the party’s progressive wing.

Certainly the corporate media’s approach to calls for Bush’s impeachment contrasts markedly with the same outlets’ coverage of the Clinton impeachment effort in the late 1990s. Though public support for Clinton’s impeachment never got above about 36 percent, even at the height of congressional impeachment proceedings, many media outlets responded to the prospect of impeachment by calling on Clinton to resign. According to the Columbia Journalism Review (11-12/98), by September 1998, 181 newspapers (roughly one in 10 papers in the country) had called for his resignation—including major papers like USA Today (9/14/98) and the Philadelphia Inquirer (9/12/98). Other news organizations, among them Business Week (9/28/98) and the Houston Chronicle (9/10/98), were calling for censure.

Yet Clinton’s offense was simply lying under oath about an adulterous affair.

Bush, in contrast, has admitted to ordering the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ telecommunications without a warrant, in clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (New York Times, 12/16/05). Beyond that, documents show he okayed torture of captives in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, contravening the Third Geneva Accord on treatment of prisoners of war, an international accord that was long ago adopted as U.S. law (Human Rights Watch, “Background Paper on Geneva Conventions and Persons Held by U.S. Forces,” 1/29/02).

Bush has blatantly subverted the Constitution by claiming the right to ignore (so far) 750 acts duly passed by Congress (Boston Globe, 4/30/06). He has defied the courts in revoking the most basic rights of citizenship—the right to be charged and tried in a court of law (Guardian, 12/5/02). And the evidence is overwhelming that he knowingly lied about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and about Hussein’s alleged link to Al-Qaeda, in order to win public and congressional approval for his invasion of Iraq (Center for American Progress, “Claims vs. Facts: Iraq/Al-Qaeda Connections”).

These and other Bush offenses pose direct threats to the Constitution and to the survival of the republic, and yet, despite widespread concern and outrage among the public about many of these actions, not one major corporate news organization has called for Bush’s resignation, the initiation of impeachment proceedings or even for censure—even those that made such fervent appeals for Clinton’s removal or resignation over a transgression that at worst was an embarrassment to the nation.

“The media have been acting drastically differently this time around than they did with Clinton,” says David Swanson, co-founder of the organization AfterDowningStreet.org, which has been helping to organize an impeachment movement, and to make impeachment part of the 2006 off-year congressional election campaign. “Under Clinton, the media were gung-ho for impeachment or for resignation, and the public refused to cooperate. Now the public wants impeachment and the media won’t cooperate.”

Swanson argues that the media’s avoidance of the impeachment story is akin to their ducking of responsibility during the build-up to and in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. “Just as they’ve been afraid to publish each new piece of evidence about the lies that led to war,” he says, “they’ve been afraid to expose the president’s impeachable crimes. I think it’s because in both cases they’ve been complicit in those lies and crimes. It’s not so much loyalty to Bush over Clinton as it is fear of investigations. With congressional investigations, people would start asking, ‘Why didn’t we know any of this stuff before?’”

There are signs that the impeachment story may go mainstream, however. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) are both still trying to downplay the notion that the Democrats would move to impeach Bush if they succeeded in capturing the House in November. But as the prospects for such a shift continue to grow (only 15 seats need to change hands), and as Bush’s support continues to tank (hitting a low of 29 percent in one poll—Harris, 5/5-8/06), the realization that an impeachment bill will likely be filed after election day, whether by some state legislature or by a newly elected or re-elected Democratic representative, is starting to sink in in newsrooms.

At some point, the public’s concerns about presidential abuses of power—and about administration incompetence, which has reached the level of criminal negligence in cases like the Katrina response or the failure to plan for the post-war occupation of Iraq—will compel more honest and forthright coverage of the constitutionally provided remedy for such crimes: impeachment.