Press should press Bush, veteran journalist says

The U.S. media is “becoming more and more an echo chamber” of the Bush administration and not asking hard questions about possible war in Iraq, a network news veteran said Wednesday. “If it’s unpatriotic to ask questions, we’re in terrible shape,” said Sander Vanocur, who joined NBC news in 1957 and went on to become White House correspondent. “It’s not treasonous to voice our concerns.”

Vanocur, who also worked for ABC News and PBS television, appeared at a luncheon at the East-West Center in recognition of Freedom of Information Day, which falls on Sunday. The event was co-sponsored by the East-West Center, Honolulu Community Media Council, Society of Professional Journalists and the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council.

Vanocur criticized the recent White House press conference at which President George Bush called upon a prepared list of reporters like he was reading from “a prom dance card.” He said he was surprised some reporters didn’t just storm out over the event’s scripting.

“What did we learn about what the country is going to pay for this war?” he asked.

Discussing how prepared Americans were for war, Vanocur said the media had performed “pretty much the way the administration wanted.” Vanocur said reporters were playing the administration as truthful without “asking the hard questions.

“Maybe George Bush is right… but the questions should be asked,” he said. “There are not enough questions being asked.”

Vanocur, saying he “was happy to run the risk of appearing liberal,” also asked: “Does the president really have the right to pronounce war at his pleasure? That question is seldom being asked by the press.”

If any war in Iraq went badly, Vanocur, emphasizing that he used his words carefully, believes civilian officials would “accuse the press of being treasonous. They have to have somebody to blame.”

Vanocur questioned why “George Bush is hell-bent on this crusade (against Iraq).

“As bad as Saddam Hussein is, I’m not sure this is where the next (terrorism) event is going to come from,” Vanocur said. “California is worried about being bombed by North Korea.”

Saying there has been a general “debasement” of the U.S. media, he was most critical of the TV talk shows, calling hosts “gas bags.”

For contrast, Vancour also shared some of his favorite news sources, including the PBS News Hour, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, New York Times, and the news pages of the Wall Street Journal.

From the East-West Wire with additional material from Ian Lind. For more information, contact Susan Kreifels at 808-944-7176 or

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