July 22, 2002

Fleischer Calls Use of Spli...

Fleischer Calls Use of Split-Screen TV Graphics a 'Troubling New Development': From Howie Kurtz' story today:

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer calls the split-screen approach "a troubling new development that sensationalizes and distorts what makes markets go up and down. It suggests to viewers there's a causal connection between a president's speech and minute-by-minute market shifts, which is a misleading representation. ... It's economic nonsense." [...]

The "basic journalistic question," he says, is whether the big graphics should be flashed "only when the market goes down? Is it only when members of the Bush administration speak? What about members of Congress?"

My basic journalistic question is: Why are we letting a guy on our payroll pressure the media about its use of freakin' graphics? Is there no better use of Fleischer's lungs? (Perhaps a word of unequivocal support for those who will be protesting at the Saudi Embassy ...) And what kind of condescending B.S. is this, about viewers being too stupid to realize that there's not a direct link between Bush's vocal chords and the brokers' trading terminals.... I trust that Fleischer was equally worried about this graphical "development" back in the days when the charts would rise on every uttering by Alan Greenspan....

Posted by at July 22, 2002 01:18 PM

This isn't the first time that Fleischer's dictated to the media how it should express itself. Love Maher or hate Maher, let's not forget how Fleischer reacted. Personally, I'd rather see Fleishcer tied up by Auric Goldfinger, with Goldfinger saying, "Choose your next media criticism carefully, Mr. Fleischer. It may be your last!"

Posted by: Ed at July 22, 2002 03:57 PM

He wasn't talking about the viewers- he was talking about the hosts of the cable networks, and he was spot on- they were too stupid to realize that there was no connection between the dow and Bush's speech.

Must be all the bleach announcers use. At any rate, your ire is misplaced. You had it partially right when you noted that he is on our payroll, but he is on our payroll to do exactly what he is doing. The people at fault are the ones who are even bothering to cover what he said- surely this was not the only thing discussed at the press conference.

So, to me, it looks like everyone is about half right. Ari is right in that the networks and the announcers are morons, the networks are right to do whatever they want however misguided and stupid it is, and you are right that he is on the payroll and should not be listened to on this count.

The only positive thing about this is that so much hype has been made about it that the few mouth-breathers who actually do see a connection between the President's speech and the Dow dropping have now been corrected.

BTW- I am damned glad to see you back.

Posted by: John Cole at July 22, 2002 05:04 PM

John -- Thanks! Though I swear, I'm not back!

I still think that such remarks from Fleischer are inappropriate, even if they are technically true (which I would probably dispute, if I cared more about it). Same goes for his thing about Bill Maher, of which I wrote:

"White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was right, though he was absolutely the wrong man to say it: Americans do 'need to watch what they say.'"


The spokesman for the Executive Branch, in my view, has an extra duty to *not* so much as *hint* pressure on free expression, or the reasonable conduct of media. In this recent case, Fleischer's motives are nakedly partisan, and so therefore doubly inappropriate. But maybe I'm being sensitive....

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 22, 2002 05:37 PM

>> The spokesman for the Executive Branch, in my view, has an extra duty to *not* so much as *hint* pressure on free expression, or the reasonable conduct of media.

What a bunch of whiners.

Fleischer can't meaningfully pressure "the media". Nothing he says gets to the outside without going through said media, a media that can freely report that Fleisher strangles kittens in his office.

Oh yea, he might stop talking to some of you. So what? Besides, where did you get the idea that anyone owes you stories? Freedom of the press is a hunting license, not a lunch voucher.

The right of "the press" to criticise politicians isn't the whole story - the rest of us, including politicians, have the right to criticise the press.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 22, 2002 10:27 PM

Andy -- Well, sure, the rest of us should criticize the press, every day if possible, and in fact we do. And Fleischer should criticize the press, too ... but to apply specific pressure to the way they use Dow graphics during a Bush speech, I think, is inappropriate, not to mention insulting to the intelligence of taxpayers.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 23, 2002 10:09 AM

I guess I donxpressing his opinion--one with which I agree. There really are, sad to say, people who see such presentations and make the causal connection, just as there are many people who can't distinguish between correlation and causation in general. It's the way we're wired, for good evolutionary reasons, and overcoming it requires a lot of training in critical thinking, which, equally sadly, our school system and society largely don't provide.

And where was the pressure? What was the threat? What was so terrible about what he said?

Posted by: Rand Simberg at July 23, 2002 11:51 AM

Yeah, I don't see the pressure either, and find no problem with Fleischer expressing his opinion that the split screen was wrong-headed, or his opinion about any press coverage. Should he add that continued coverage means no more access to the White House -- that's a step over the line.

Happen to agree with his opinion. What other purpose was it intended to serve?

And no-less an idiot that Senator Joe Biden seemed to think there was a causal connection -- of course, he may have been repeating what some British politician said about it earlier...

Posted by: Dave Buzzell at July 23, 2002 01:36 PM

I think it's probably a matter of what does and does not make your arm-hair stand up on end. Vive la difference, homies!

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 23, 2002 03:14 PM

>> I think it's probably a matter of what does and does not make your arm-hair stand up on end.

Yes, but why would someone who decided to be a journalist have that reaction?

For better or worse, we don't live in a country where criticising a politician is physically risky so excited arm-hair isn't all that rational.

The only consequence to pissing off a US politician is that you're off the leak list, and Fleisher didn't even threaten that. (No, I don't believe that there's a right to a White House press pass, no matter who signs your checks. They already go selectively silent and grant selective access, so there can't be a real objection to doing so overtly or when it's goring your ox instead of someone else's.)

You get to say what you want about them, without any real consequence, so if you're unnerved by anything within 50 miles of Fleisher's comments, you're in the wrong biz, IMHO.

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I understand fully if you or anyone else doesn't share my view. And I will go that extra mile and not suggest that, as a result, you are in the wrong profession. I am simply sensitive to the way the government, and especially the Executive Branch, exercises its influence, and conducts itself on my dime. When Clinton White-House employees spent office hours smearing potential bimbo eruptions, I reacted in a similar way.

Now if you'll excuse me, this topic has succeeded to bore the flip-flops clean off my feet.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 24, 2002 11:57 AM

>> But I also think that the spokesperson for the U.S. Government's *Executive Branch* -- you know, the one of the three that enforces the laws and uses the bully pulpit -- should take special care *not* to specifically attempt to influence the way news organizations broadcast their images

Umm - he said something. That's not influence unless he's got some power, and the only power he has can't be used inappropriately.

Why shouldn't he say certain things? (Fleisher's position doesn't give him any substantive power over media.)

Who else should refrain from saying certain things about the media?

Are there other US groups that shouldn't be criticized? If so, which Americans shouldn't criticize them and why?

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 24, 2002 08:48 PM

Sorry, seem to have misplaced my flip-flops.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 25, 2002 12:45 AM

Flip-flops make my toe-hair quiver.

Posted by: Andy Freeman at July 25, 2002 06:30 PM

Mine have threadbare straps made out of some material bearing no chemical resemblance to plastic ... never could put my blond hobbit-feet into those terrible Flo-jos....

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 27, 2002 03:33 PM
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