Politicians have been battering the media for a long time, but it is Crawford's thesis that during the past decade or so they've almost got it down to an art form. He says they've managed to redirect attention from the public agenda (such as legislation or their own performance) to the media. The result is a public with declining trust in the media — and sometimes downright vitriol toward it.
"The media has done plenty wrong itself, brought problems on itself. But I think less talked about is the role of politicians in taking advantage of that public distrust of the media," Crawford told co-anchor Rene Syler.
The problem, he said, is that the public no longer sees the media as a representative.
"There's so much distrust of the media, they don't see us representing their interests. They almost see us as another interest group representing ourselves," he said. And he knows why and how this distrust happened.
Here's how it's done:
- Insinuating bias among the media
- Responding to a reporter's question not by answering, but by attacking the reporter's logic and/or motive.
To illustrate his points Crawford said, "After the Katrina coverage, when the White House press corps in the White House press briefing room was trying to get some answers as to how the government was handling this, what had gone wrong, 15 times in that meeting the press secretary turned it on the media and said: you're playing the blame game, don't play the blame game. Didn't answer the question.
"I remember the days when a politician wouldn't answer a question and we'd say, 'He didn't answer that question. What's the answer to that question?' Now the tendency is more to focus on: what a rude question, how inappropriate, how insensitive of that reporter."
Crawford theorizes that the war against the press started in 1988 when President Bush's father was the vice president and a candidate for president. By turning the attention to Dan Rather during the interview, he managed to deflect questions on his involvement in the Iran contra affair. It worked so well, Crawford says, that public officials have been using the technique and expanding on it ever since.
Crawford concludes that the war against the press ended last year on Nov. 23 when Dan Rather resigned. Crawford writes, "Bush started the war. His son finished it."
In his book, Crawford says: "The rule for conventional reporters is never to reveal your bias, if you have one. If you are covering a campaign and favor a particular candidate, you are not supposed to say so ... journalists should publicly reveal any bias that is pertinent to their reporting."
Here is how Crawford says various presidents have dealt with the media:
- Ronald Reagan: His aids loved to have the president walk by a gaggle of reporters shouting questions at him in full view of the cameras because Americans saw what appeared to be disrespectful reporters yelling at their leader. But access to the president was so limited and press conferences so few that reporters were forced to shout questions.
Bill Clinton: Pioneered the technique of getting around the mainstream media, making himself scarce to national reporters but available to local television reporters. He also cut off access for some media.
George W. Bush: Attempts to control the message completely and had been quite successful until recently.
Click here to read an excerpt.