Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Bushwomen. Angel in the house or demon on the loose – it is all in the presentation.

The result of the deliberate double-speak and the unwillingness of journalists to ask probing questions has been that hardline, right-wing policies are softened and obscured and Flanders believes Laura Bush's role in achieving this is particularly insidious. She is spinning a different constituency to W and doing it knowingly, and simultaneously. He says one thing to one constituency, she speaks to another. It is intimated, for example, that she does not share his rigid stance on abortion.

&ldquoThe role of the President's wife is as a character witness for their husband, the public's representative in the race. Laura Bush muddies the picture of the Bush administration. She puts out a softer line than he does, on abortion, on education, on women and work. But when called on she'll use her influence to spur the country on to war. After 9/11 she acted as &ldquoComforter in Chief”. In November, when the US was pounding Afghanistan with 15 000 pound daisy cutter bombs, it was Laura Bush who took to the radio to tell the country this was about liberation of women, not revenge. Very effective.”

But why is it so effective? It is hard to understand why many Americans vote for policies that are against their own interests. Flanders believes media massaging has played a key part, as the extremist right has been very successful at control and manipulation of their message and the media. &ldquoIt comes down to the manipulation of economic and social fears to divide working people and confuse them about where their interests lie. The Bush team uses fear – of war, of immigrants, of gays, of women in the workplace – to confuse blue-collar workers. Loyalty to region, to church, and commander in chief play a role too. Among military families there is a lot of pressure on even bereaved families, to defend Bush's invasion. The alternative is that their loved ones died for a mistake or a lie and that is hard to stomach&ldquo.

There is also evidence that voters, who know the administration lie, and lie about the most serious issues, still choose to support it. How does Flanders explain this?

&ldquoIt is impossible to underestimate the degree to which Americans are poorly informed, and the information they get is slanted. Until very recently, Bush's lies were characterised as ‘misstatements’ and not taken very seriously. Some people seem to like Bush's ability to get away with mistakes without getting caught. But I believe the tide is turning as the effect of Bush's lies is becoming better understood. I hope this is beginning to change. I think the progressive media is beginning to turn it around”.

This may be wishful thinking as the polls continue to predict a Bush victory. But there are other signs of a changing media environment. When The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei conducted an interview with Bush's campaign manager earlier in the summer, he broke a long-standing tradition of American media: He voiced an opinion. A series of accusations about Kerry was made. Nothing new here. But then the journalist added: &ldquoBut Kerry has never made any such statement”. This was so unusual that others picked up the issue, like Brent Cunningham of CJR, who ran a series of articles where he acknowledged the problem caused by spin, and &ldquothe failure of the press in allowing the principle of objectivity to make us passive recipients of news, rather than analyzers and explainers of it&ldquo. This practice allows one side to make any type of statement, without question or comment. After the event, the journalist brings these to the opposite camp who can refute them. This is called ‘balance’, ‘objectivity’. However what the public sees are simply two statements. In this system, journalists cannot ask hard questions on behalf of the public, or use their knowledge to point out when lies are told.

Other evidence of change can be seen in the emergence of watchdog websites that examines the candidates critically and also review the media coverage of the campaign. Examples of these include, run by the Annenberg center for politics at the University of Pennsylvania and, which describes itself as a watchdog of manipulative political rhetoric.

American democracy is crying out for a different type of journalism at a time when important aspects of both political life and mass media have been coarsened. In the battle to be first in 24-hour news cycle, stories with a whiff of controversy and scandal have a tendency to eclipse more serious items. When the public is constantly bombarded by seductive images and half-truths, there is a great need for serious journalism to explain complex issues, encourage open debate and highlight blatant lies. Flanders' book does not argue with the rights of women to be ultra-conservative. She just believes they should be subject to scrutiny. For a democracy to work, the existence of such scrutiny cannot be optional.

The Women driving the 2004 Presidential Campaign by Naomi Wolf

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