Apart from the undeniable comic value, the coverage of last week's scripted teleconference has me thinking of earlier, happier times, when the Press was a lot more credulous:
The Bush administration occupied the White House at midday, January 22, 2001. By the morning of the 24th two right wing sites (one of them Matt Drudge) were black-lettering the wanton destruction of The People's House departing Clintonites had left. A day later Ari Fleischer was pushing the story, eventually, rolling out cut wires and hundreds of inoperable computer keyboards and the hiring of an investigative team to catalog the damages; that evening Tom Brokaw called the reports "distrubing". Ari promised a detailed public accounting, then reneged after being called on it by Bill Clinton and several of his former staffers. Ari eventually produced as evidence one Polaroid that showed boxes stacked up in a hallway.
The Press, as you know, had gone Cocoa Puffs koo-koo for the story, as well as the appended Pardongate, Giftgate, and trashing/looting of Air Force One stories. Anne E. Kornblut questioned the absence of facts in the Boston Globe on January 26th; the Kansas City Star did the same two weeks later. That stacks up against screaming front-page stories everywhere else.
It was a month into his Presidency, and only after Bill Clinton's demand for a public accounting, that George Bush deigned to comment on what had been its biggest story to date, issuing a sort-of-denial: "There might have been a prank or two, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that's OK. It's time now to move forward."
This, of course, was the signal to the Press to stop pressing for any proof of the stories which had been circulating out of his White House for a month, as though the President's Press Secretary just goes out and freewheels it every day. Naturally Bush's comments played out on page A-13, the same place the GAO report of May 18 (the damage "was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy.") would find eternal rest.
Beltway insiders knew that pranking is a tradition. Those who'd been around for awhile--let alone full careers like Brokaw's--had probably heard the rumors that Dan Quayle's staff had been particularly, uh, vigorous about it. Yet the story broke, in part because it had played on Drudge's site, with its track record of pure horseshit, and only one reporter demanded evidence. It became obvious pretty quickly that Fleischer would not be providing any documentation, but even when he coughed up a furball no one pushed it. If Clinton staffers had done serious, malicious damage to the communications at the White House it was, indeed a story. But somehow, if the incoming administration was willing to lie, bald-faced and straight out to the American public, and trash the reputations of a lot of public servants in the process, all for some transparent political motives, why, that was no story at all.
I suppose nobody among the Gaggle had heard of Karl Rove before.
That's why when I hear now that the Bush administration is in disarray, that Rehearsalgate wouldn't have happened if Uncle Karl wasn't distracted, I have to say, well, it's been four and a half years. And if the Press had done anything approaching its job, they would have caught him at it on Day Two.