Here, in one place, are the comments from my show today by Rudy Giuliani and Tony Snow on today’s speech by Tony Blair on the media:
HH: Here’s Tony Blair from earlier today.
TB: The fear of missing out means that today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes, it’s a like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.
HH: What do you think, Mayor? A feral beast hunting in packs?
RG: (laughing) You know, when you say it with an English accent, it sounds better.
HH: Yeah, it does.
RG: Doesn’t it? It sounds like it’s weightier, and I was kind of trying to get, well, at least my point of view about this out during the debate, when I said to Wolf Blitzer, if General Petraeus comes back in September, and says things are going pretty well, are you going to report that?
HH: And if he doesn’t, they will be…you know, we’re getting set up to call defeat in September, aren’t we, Mayor?
RG: It sounds that way, and I think it’s self…it’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve never heard of a situation where you deal with a war, and you keep saying well, suppose things go wrong in three months, what are we going to do.
RG: Or suppose they go wrong in six months, what are we going to do? It just doesn’t seem to me that you put yourself in a position that you can win a war like that, at least in the area of public perception, and that a fairer analysis of it would give us a much better chance.
HH: So last question, is the media doing a good job on this campaign, and on the war generally?
RG: On the war, I think I’ve expressed some of my frustrations. On the campaign, I think they are doing a pretty good job. I mean, the reality is this campaign has started much earlier than any of us thought, we’ve all had to, I think, accommodate ourselves to it. That’s why we put out our 12 Commitments today. I probably would have told you six months ago we weren’t going to do that until November or something. It’s become a far more substantive campaign early. We’ve already had three major debates. The Democrats have only had two, because they wouldn’t debate on Fox, which I thought was extraordinary. And I think the media, as far as I can tell, the media’s doing a good job of covering the campaign. In covering the war, I think a little more even-handed presentation might help. At least that’s what I hear from the troops. They constantly tell me that. They feel it isn’t being reported correctly.
HH: Okay, I’m going to give you a few cuts to get your…talk about my G spot, Tony Blair got real close to it today, because he’s blasting away at the media from the perspective of ten years in office. Cut number one, Adam.
TB: The fear of missing out means that today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes, it’s like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.
HH: What do you think, Tony Snow? Is today’s media a feral beast?
TS: I don’t know if you have ever seen a press conference when Tony Blair comes here with the British press corps. These are people who refuse to stand up for the president of the United States, or the prime minister when they enter the room, and ask the most personal and (laughing)…and sometimes just completely inappropriate questions. So I think Tony Blair was lashing back at a British press corps, which quite often when presented with some very serious, substantive issues, decides instead to go for the personal jugular.
HH: Here’s cut number two.[# More #]
TB: In the analysis I’m about to make, I first acknowledge my own complicity. We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defense, after 18 years of opposition, and the at times ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative. But such an attitude ran the risk of fueling the trends in communication that I’m about to question. It’s also, incidentally, hard for the public to know the facts, even when they’re subject to the most minute scrutiny, if those facts arise out of issues of profound controversy, as the Hutton inquiry showed. I would only point out that the Hutton inquiry, along with three other inquiries, was a six month investigation which eyes prime minister and other senior ministers and officials, faced unprecedented public questioning and scrutiny. The verdict was disparaged because it wasn’t the one that the critics wanted. But it was an example of being held to account, not avoiding it. Anyway, leave that to one side.
HH: Tony Snow, the verdict was disparaged because it wasn’t one the critics wanted. Does that bring to mind the controversy surrounding the Plame leak that did not come from Libby or Rove, and in fact just doesn’t satisfy the media that it didn’t?
TS: Well, we are still…one of these days, I will be able to unburden myself, but not while we still have ongoing legal issues here, including an appeal. But let me back up and try to sort of redirect this, not necessarily about the Libby trial, but instead about what’s going on in the media, because what Tony Blair’s talking about is a mainstream press that quite often has people who sort of hold one set of predispositions. What we have in the United States is kind of the wild west in the media, and you’re one of the guys with a big spurs, because you write a blog, you’re doing talk radio, and what we’re seeing in the United States is the profusion of media that tend to offer alternatives to people to get other points of view. Or you take a look at YouTube, and some of these other online sites. I think it’s going to be very difficult in the future for there to be any sort of single party line coming out of the media, because if people try to feed you only one point of view, folks are going to go elsewhere. It’s one of the reasons why cable news took off, it’s one of the reasons why talk radio has gained in popularity, it’s certainly one of the reasons that people turned to blogs. And frankly, I think that is one of the more positive reflections of what happens when you have an open market. What’s happened in the United States, Hugh, is that the media are becoming democratized. You don’t have to have a billion dollars to start a blog. All you need is a computer, you’ve got to be able to get online, and if you have a little bit of programming capability, off you go. Suddenly, people who have real expertise in issues have access to millions and millions of people through the internet, and other modes of communication. So I think Tony Blair is expressing some frustration in trying to penetrate through, especially in a nation that has a state owned television station.
HH: Yeah, here he next condemns the fact that the news cycle has shrunk to the point where you cannot allow anything to go unanswered. Cut number three.
TB: You have to respond to stories, also, in real time. Frequently, the problem is as much assembling the facts as giving them. Make a mistake, and you quickly transfer from drama into crisis. In the 1960’s, believe it or not, the government would sometimes, if there was a serious issue, have a cabinet meeting that would last over two days. It would be laughable to think you could do that now without the heavens falling in before lunch on the first day. Things also harden within minutes. I mean, you can’t let speculation stay out there for longer than an instant.
HH: True or false, Tony Snow?
TS: No, I think what…yeah, I think you get a little bit of that, where the news cycle now is, well, basically a nanosecond. But on the other hand, you’ve got to be careful. Quite often, somebody responding too quickly ends up creating more news, if they don’t get their facts right or whatever. So it is one of the perils, but frankly, it’s one of the things that anybody in politics is going to have to contend with, which is when somebody comes out of the clear blue with a completely fallacious claim, or takes an angle that seems completely off the wall, sometimes you still have to take a breath, realizing that the temperature may rise a little bit, but ultimately, people are pretty fair minded, facts do win in the long run, and one of the things that I think you’re going to see are also adjustments for those in public life to figure out better ways, and more dramatic and thorough ways, to bring to the public the story. It’s not simply coming up with a sound byte, but you know, are you going to use the film clip? Are you going to put together an informational graphic? Are you going to try to find better ways to give people a completer picture, because sometimes, the best way to respond to one of these criticisms is not to respond directly to a charge, but instead tell a larger truth.
HH: Two more cuts, and then I’ll let you go, Tony. Cut number six, Adam, if you jump down a little bit.
TB: Talk to senior people in virtually any walk of life today, business, military, public services, sport, even charities and voluntary organizations, and they will tell you the same. People don’t speak about it, because in the main, they are afraid to, but it is true, nonetheless. And those who have been around long enough will also say it has changed significantly in the past years. The result, however, is a media that increasingly, and to a dangerous degree, is driven by impact. Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamor, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course, the accuracy of the story counts, but it is secondary, often, to impact.
HH: Tony Snow, I left out of a lot in the middle of those two quotes, but what he’s saying is that media really doesn’t want to get the facts from you, they want to get news from you in order to increase their audience, and get a byline that gets noticed.
TS: Well, the interesting thing is if you take a look at, for instance, the area I know the best is cable news, for all my years at Fox, and when were the times of the very highest viewership? The answer is when you’ve got big news stories, whether it’s the war in Iraq or the elections cycles. What he’s referring to, I think, is what happens in sort of less busy times. We’ve all seen the phenomenon here in the United States where people are watching Paris Hilton’s car.
TS: You know, quite often in a visual medium, people are going to look for the most arresting picture at that particular moment. But on the other hand, if you’re taking a look at what is going to generate durable ratings for you, quite often, it actually is…you’ve got to combine sharp reporting with the kind of presentation that it’s still going to be interesting to people. It’s a unique kind of challenge, but again, the huge high water marks for every news network are, in fact, the times when they are forced to cover a big demanding and breaking story. What he’s really referring to is the more mundane business of what happens on a slow afternoon when various channels are trying to figure out how to draw eyes to the television screen.
HH: And that is exactly how I’ll finish this with the last quote. Number seven for Tony Snow.
TB: Attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal, conspiratorial. Watergate was a great piece of journalism, but it is a PhD thesis all in its own to examine the consequences for journalism as standing one conspiracy up. What creates cynicism is not mistakes, it is allegations of misconduct. But misconduct is what is impact.
HH: Tony Snow, he sounds very angry in this conclusion, doesn’t he?
TS: Yeah, but I think he’s making a very important point, and interestingly, I think we’re seeing evidence that the American people have drawn a similar conclusion in the sense that when politics becomes personal rather than analytical, after a time, people get bored. And if you take a look at what’s going on right now, yes, the President has low ratings, but Congress has even lower ratings. And I think that’s a reflection of a public that really does want to hear people talking in a sensible way about the stuff that they care about. Tony Blair’s making the point that there has been a tendency, not merely in the press, but certainly in politics, to assume that if somebody disagrees with you, you know, that they’re an absolutely rotten, vicious, evil person. And you know, we’ve seen some of that in some of the recent debates in this country. The fact is, you don’t need to personalize it. There are a lot of people who, look, I’ve got a lot of friends, and so do you, who we disagree with.
TS: And frankly, they make our lives richer and more interesting. What people need to do is get over the notion that if somebody disagrees with you, that they’re your mortal enemy. No, they’re not.
TS: They’re somebody, they happen to disagree. You can probably learn from them, and Heaven knows, they can certainly learn from you. So I do think that tendency to try to sort of play Jack the Ripper with those of contrary views is something that is going to run its course. It has gotten really old, in this country and around the world, and I think people have had enough of it.
HH: Tony Snow, I took you long. Thank you, I look forward to talking to you again when the immigration bill amendments come forward.