Many years ago, I remember that the Washingtonian magazine commissioned the writer who goes by the name of "Joe Bob Briggs", and who had made his name in a Texas paper with his reviews of drive-in and B-movies, to review all the Sunday morning political talk shows. It was a hilarious piece of writing, which unfortunately I cannot find online, but I vividly remember, first, his observation that David Gergen bore an uncanny resemblance to The Cat in The Hat, and second, that everything that purported to be a "prediction" on McLaughlin or Meet the Press or Sam and Cokie was nothing more than "a straight-line projection from the present." Not necessarily a humorous observation, but accurate, and not always obvious.
Reading Elizabeth Bumiller’s cold assessment this morning of Bush’s futile effort to justify the Iraq war reminded me of Joe Bob’s second observation. It’s tempting to play the game of "the press is cowed by the right," or "the press is all a bunch of liberals." The fact is that the main bias of the press is toward the assumption that, however things look now, that’s how they will remain. For my money, over the last few years, no reporter has been more "in the tank," more slavishly devoted to the conventional wisdom on Bush’s genius and Bush’s overwhelming political strength than Bumiller. Part of that was the isolation of the bubble, but more important was that straight-line projection: Bush is politically strong, therefore he will remain politically strong.
Now of course, Bush looks ridiculously weak, so the straight-line projection has him going down the tubes. Bumiller’s video presentation on Bush is an even more potent example of her shift over to the alternative projection. As a friend in Iraq reminded me a few weeks ago, things are never either as bad as they look when they’re bad nor as good as they look when they’re good. Under Bush’s apparent strength in 2002-4, there were some incipient weaknesses just as his apparent weakness now disguises some political strengths. The press isn’t biased toward the right or the left (generally speaking, with some exceptions), but it is biased toward inertia. That’s a factor that’s worked hugely to the advantage of Bush and the right, and now it will kill them.