Jay Rosen has a compelling argument that the recently-retired Scott McClellan’s performance as press secretary was not inept or a matter of spin, but part of a continuing, determined policy of “press nullification.” Expanding on earlier posts, Jay writes:
…McClellan was a necessary figure in what I have called Rollback— the attempt to downgrade the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country. It had once been accepted wisdom that by carefully “feeding the beast” an Administration would be rewarded with better coverage in the long run. Rollback, the policy for which McClellan signed on, means not feeding but starving the beast, while reducing its effectiveness as an interlocutor with the President and demonstrating to all that the fourth estate is a joke.
As I said, Jay’s case is persuasive, which should be worrisome for the media not just in the U.S. but in Canada. I’m not ready to cry wolf, but there are signs that the newly installed Conservative minority government in this country is as concerned with message.
Here are some recent items: tight control over message; news of secret Cabinet meetings to avoid press attention; aides control over which reporters get to ask questions; and Environment Minister Rona Ambrose stopping an Environment Canada scientist from doing a talk on his novel, which deals with global warming. (The first link goes to Politics Watch’s comprehensive run down on the growing conflict between the Prime Minister’s office and the national press gallery.)
Canadian Conservatives are not, on the whole, the equivalent of that part of the American Republican Party that is currently wielding power. But the parties do share a deep distrust of the “liberal” media. And evidence is mounting that suggests control of message is a priority for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. As the situation in the states appears to be showing, nullifying the press works as well as — or perhaps better than — spinning it.
It’s something to keep an eye on, from the perspective of journalist and citizen.