Oct 1 2005

Media Ghost Writers

Time magazine (9/19/05) led off a report on George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina with an anecdote about Bush in the White House Situation Room, listening to reports about refugees and relief supplies. Here’s how Time‘s Mike Allen described Bush: “Furious, he interrupted and glared at the camera transmitting his image back to Mississippi. ‘I know y’all are trying as hard as you can, but it ain’t cuttin’ it,’ the commander in chief barked. ‘I wanna know why. We gotta do better.'”

There’s no indication that Allen was actually in the Situation Room–or, if not, who might have told him what was said there. This is much like another Time lead, from May 24 of last year, in which Bush told a general in a Pentagon conference room: “You worry about getting the job done…. You let me worry about the politics and the things back here.”

Again, no indication of where the story came from. Funny how these quotes from nowhere end up making Bush sound take-charge and presidential–almost as if they were specifically written by PR staff to make him appear that way.

Time is not the only outlet guilty of this practice, and Bush isn’t the only beneficiary. Linda Greenhouse’s September 13 New York Times article on John Roberts’ opening remarks contains this unattributed passage:

The White House team handling his nomination as chief justice had not seen the statement in advance, and Judge Roberts had not rehearsed it before the ‘murder board’ that helped prepare him for the confirmation process.

Most likely, this information came from the very handlers that it paints Roberts as being independent of. If Greenhouse had published the source of her information, in other words, there’s a high likelihood that many readers would have doubted that it was true.