Maybe if the mainstream media didn't go gaga over Bush's costume show, things would be different for this young man and the tens of thousands of other U.S. soldiers like him.
And now let's revisit the memory hole:
Chris Matthews on MSNBC, May 1, 2003:
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the actual visual that people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight? And that's the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously. What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot?
MATTHEWS: Do you think this role, and I want to talk politically [...], the president deserves everything he's doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief? That [...] if you're going to run against him, you'd better be ready to take [that] away from him.
Brian Williams on CNBC, May 1, 2003:
WILLIAMS: And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can't change: He's a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it's not a foreign art farm -- art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.
Wolf Blitzer on CNN, May 1, 2003:
BLITZER: There was a riskier landing that the president wanted to make. The Secret Service, though, just wouldn't let the commander in chief ride in an F/A-18 strike fighter. But CNN's Kyra Phillips will be doing just that in a matter of only a few minutes. She's in the cockpit of this F/A-18 Hornet. Right now, Navy jets like this one, of course, helped win the war in Iraq. Now, they're headed home. We'll talk with Kyra as soon as she catapults off the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. That's coming up.
A little bit of history and a lot of drama today when President Bush became the first commander in chief to make a tailhook landing on an aircraft carrier. A one-time Fighter Dog himself in the Air National Guard, the president flew in the co-pilot seat with a trip to the USS Abraham Lincoln. And he then mingled with the pilots and the crew members of the carrier on its way back from a deployment which covered the war in Iraq and before that, the war in Afghanistan. From that same deck tonight, the president will make more history. He'll deliver a major address to the nation.
David Sanger in The New York Times, May 2, 2003:
But within minutes Mr. Bush emerged for the kind of photographs that other politicians can only dream about. He hopped out of the plane with a helmet tucked under his arm and walked across the flight deck with a swagger that seemed to suggest he had seen Top Gun. Clearly in his element, he was swarmed by cheering members of the Lincoln's crew.
Even in a White House that prides itself on its mastery of political staging, Mr. Bush's arrival on board the Lincoln was a first of many kinds.
Never before has a president landed aboard a carrier at sea, much less taken the controls of the aircraft. His decision to sleep aboard the ship this evening in the captain's quarters conjured images of the presidency at sea not seen since Franklin D. Roosevelt used to sail to summit meetings.
Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post, May 2, 2003:
Bush, who had taken off his helmet and thus avoided photographic comparisons to presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis's unfortunate episode with a tank helmet during 1988 campaign, jumped down in full flight regalia, a smile splitting his face. The Navy had planned an official greeting, with Bush being piped aboard and walking through two rows of "sideboys" saluting him -- a tradition that dates from the days when visiting officers were hauled up the side of the ship in a boatswain's chair.
Bush ignored it all, swaggering forward and pumping hands with everybody in sight before they could salute. "Here's a man with a birthday," he yelled at a television cameraman as he swung his arm around a sailor. "Put him on C-SPAN." For once, there were no security concerns to keep Bush from pressing flesh, and he made the most of it, hugging and patting everyone on the back -- from the greasy flight deck crew to F-18 pilots waiting to fly home this afternoon.
Bob Schieffer and Time columnist Joe Klein on CBS, May 4, 2003:
SCHIEFFER: As far as I'm concerned, that was one of the great pictures of all time. And if you're a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.
KLEIN: Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn't air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.
If those in the mainstream media who helped to promote and sell this war, treating it without the seriousness it deserved then, don't come clean about their culpability now, what's to say they'll change anything about their reporting the next time we're in a similar situation? Whether it's in respect to Iran or another country presently unforeseen?
There is a direct connection between what journalists do and how the world is shaped. Actions have consequences, regardless of their affect on ratings or good standing with the White House. How are all of these journalists not somewhat responsible for that young man's prosthetic arm, specifically, in this case, if that soldier lost his limb after Bush's claim of victory in Iraq.
Yet these members of the mainstream media, and their cohorts who followed suit, refuse to substantively apologize and alter their coverage to assure this never happens again. These are the same people who fool themselves by saying, as Brian Williams has, that the reason why ratings continue to drop off is because people now prefer to make up their own news or to seek out only news that tells them what they want to hear.
Sorry. The main reason why network news rating keep waning is simple: people want better journalism. Not different sets. Not more emoting. Not more everyday small-town American stories. Not more personality-driven or triumph-over-adversity pieces. And, of course, not more celebrity, shark, serial killer, missing persons, mountain searches and wacky animal tales.
They just want you to be journalists. Who, what, where, when, why and how. What I learned in my high school journalism class. It's not a mercurial vocation. But it takes hard work and honesty. No more he said/she said, FOX-ification of the news. If something is a fact, then there is no other side. That's not balance; that's propaganda Orwell-style. And if something is debatable - like, say, Is Obama electable? Can Mitt Romney get his party's nomination? - then you better damn well have an even division of voices from all sides - left, right and center (study after study by F.A.I.R. has shown the deck is always stacked with conservatives, the Sunday morning talk show circuit a weekly unfair fight).
Maybe they're all too close to it to see this. Or maybe they see it, but realize and accept that the media establishment will never allow their news programs to truly right themselves. And so hanging on to the power, prestige and well-paid positions for as long as they can outweigh the alternative, even if that means watching millions of viewers turn away from them with each passing year.