The Media’s Impeachable Offenses

The possibility of impeaching President Bush and Vice President
Cheney has been regarded by the media as a touch less crazy than
sporting a tin-foil hat or insisting that you just saw Elvis in the
deli line at the local supermarket. The issue is largely ignored by
the media, and when the rare report on the subject surfaces, it’s
usually regarded as an opportunity to score some laughs. For
example, as Extra!‘s Cynthia Cooper points out in
an survey of the mainstream media’s treatment of the issue, when
presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich made his case for impeaching
Cheney in April, the Washington Post simply made fun of
the Ohio representative for being short.

Despite the media’s dismissal of the topic as a fringe
movement’s pipe dream, impeachment of the president is a popular
issue.
A recent Gallup poll reported that 36 percent
of Americans believed that Congress would be justified in
initiating impeachment proceedings against Bush. Why, then, does
impeachment so often get ignored? Perhaps reporters see it merely
as a dead-end story, one with a tired story line, based on ‘old
news.’

Or they could be taking their cues from the Democratic line on
impeachment. In a recent Washington Post column titled
The Dumbest Move the Dems Could Make,’
Michael Tomasky sums up the Democratic position succinctly. A
move to impeach could never actually pass, Tomasky argues, and
would drive attention away from issues that Congress could
actually get something accomplished on. And while an
unsuccessful impeachment attempt by the Republican Congress
against President Clinton in 1998 arguably helped mobilize
conservative support, an unsuccessful impeachment attempt in
2007 could play out very differently for Democrats by
transforming the embattled Bush into a martyr. Worse yet, it
could allow Republicans to shift the national debate away from
their legislative shortcomings.

With few exceptions, Democratic lawmakers agree that
impeachment, even if it is justified, would be impractical.
Tikkun,
the progressive Jewish magazine, interviewed three congressmen
about impeachment for its July/August issue (article not available
online). The results are telling. Even though Tikkun‘s
cover blared the headline ‘Impeach Bush & Cheney,’ only one
congressman — Kucinich, who introduced articles of impeachment
against Cheney in the House — thought impeachment was a good idea.
The other two Democratic representatives — Jim Moran of Virginia
and Mel Watt of North Carolina — stressed that impeachment would
distract Congress and divide the country.

But is a political brush-off a legitimate justification for the
media to do the same? If news outlets continue down that course,
they could repeat some unfortunate blunders. As
Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald points out,
political writers’ disdain for those who buck the beltway
consensus is hazardously selective. Take, for example, the case
of Howard Dean. When, as a 2004 White House contender, Dean came
out against the still relatively popular war, he was labeled as
nothing short of crazy. But Dean, for all his purported
emotional imbalances and impolitic screaming, turned out to be
right about the Iraq debacle. (Unfortunately, Greenwald notes,
the media isn’t applying the same skepticism to Joseph
Lieberman’s support for the Rev. John Hagee — a prominent
evangelical minister currently preaching the End Times gospel
around Washington.)

The media has a habit of lowering a
cone-of-silence over issues that seem
unfashionable. But no matter how impractical the prospect of
impeachment appears, at the root of the issue are very real matters
of urgent political import. ‘At a time when people need coherent,
informative and probing discussions of presidential misconduct and
constitutional standards,’ Cooper writes, ‘the major media are
simply missing the mark on impeachment.’

Go there >>
Media and Impeachment: Not for Discussion, Only for
Derision

Go there, too >>
The Dumbest Move The Dems Could Make

And there >>
The Mainstream, Sane, Serious Joe
Lieberman

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