Dan Froomkin of White House Briefing and Nieman Watchdog makes it look deceptively easy. He’s a blogger’s blogger, offering a wide-ranging, comprehensive round-up of political news along with trenchant, no-BS analysis most weekdays of the year. He’s also a tireless advocate of accountability, champions all the positive aspects of the blogosphere, and has significantly aided the popularity of WashingtonPost.com (he’s also very good about returning e-mails).
His column from 12/20/06, ”White House Year in Review: Bush Loses His Parade,” recaps many of his best columns of 2006, thus serving as a valuable resource for digging up articles on key events and figures of the previous year. I already highlighted one of my favorite Froomkin columns, ”Bush’s Imaginary Foes,” in a post called “Dance of the Straw Men.”
Also on 12/20/06, Froomkin participated in his last discussion of the calendar year. Since he had asked readers about their favorite columns of the year, I dashed off a quick comment (which is the last comment of the chat, but not listed below). I found myself much more intrigued by the following interchanges.
On the only thing that seems to change for the Bush administration, rhetoric:
Winston-Salem, N.C.: I listened today to both the President's and SecDef Gate's press conferences. Is it unfair to say that this whole idea of a "surge" of troops has now evolved into a concept in search of a mission?
Dan Froomkin: What an interesting comment. I sort of got that impression, too.
Bush didn't actually confirm that he's planning a "surge" -- or expansion, as some would put it. But he said that such a surge would need a "specific mission." And I, too, suddenly got the image of a ton of Pentagon people spending their Christmas break trying to come up with one.
Las Vegas, Nev.: Did anyone make anything out of the Pres'. comment referring to Rumsfeld that they "have been through war together"?
That made me scream at the radio. What war has Bush seen? I was and am incredibly offended by this comment and am surprised it hasn't gotten more travel.
Dan Froomkin: You know, that went right past me. But -- goodness! -- it does seem pretty outrageous.
Here's what Bush said last week, at Rumsfeld's retirement bash: "Don Rumsfeld has been at my side from the moment I took office. We've been through war together."
I think everyone was in so much of a rush to see Rumsfeld go, we didn't pay much attention. But you would think that people who really *have* been through a war might find the comment highly inappropriate.
San Francisco, Calif.: People remember "I'm the decider," but the rest of the quote is "and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense." So did President Bush decide what's best was for Rumsfeld to leave? Of course he did, but why didn't anyone ask him this when Rumsfeld "resigned"?
Dan Froomkin: I have savoured that irony. Thanks for sharing.
On the role of the press:
Honolulu, HI: Aloha Dan,
Thanks for your column and chats. Sometimes it seems as though you're the only one in print who is willing to speak the obvious.
On that note, your yearly round-up of columns made me think of how short-sighted most news coverage is. So many news reports have focused on President Bush being in 'listening mode' when the long view shows that this is just another step in the President's deliberate ignorance of both the will of the public and the advice of his generals. Why hasn't the MSM taken a longer view of this, and why are the President's talking points taken at face value by so many, even now?
Dan Froomkin: Thank you. I love that. "Speak the truth" has always struck me as terribly pretentious, and hard to defend. "Speak the obvious" -- that's my goal.
The White House has taken great advantage of the traditional media's short attention span. Daily newspapers, for instance, have a predisposition to write about what happened yesterday -- rather than put it in endless, boring (but in this case, essential) context.
In general, why isn't there more skepticism? I don't know. I think a lot of reporters are indeed skeptical -- but it somehow rarely makes it into their copy. That's the big mystery.
On the unique events that produced Bush’s conduct in the White House (besides Florida 2000):
Durham, N.C.: Here's to another great year of Froomkin-ness!
Dan, isn't this unprecedented in U.S. and possibly world history--the way this President avoids reality and the way his party and the media has supported him?
I think the voters, especially some Democrats, were onto this a long time ago--but couldn't be taken seriously. What did they call us? Cowards? Unpatriotic? Quitters?
Can this happen again?
Dan Froomkin: Thanks!
Unprecedented in U.S. history, yes. In world history? I'm sure there have been many totalitarian dictators who have enjoyed even greater insulation from reality. And of course there was that emperor -- the one who had no clothes.
I think the rare confluence of a president like Bush and an event like 9/11 allowed this to occur. I can't imagine it happening again. But you never know.
Here’s hoping that Bush’s underachievements will never be matched. Happy New Year!