Monday 22 Apr 2019 | 20:18 | SYDNEY
Monday 22 Apr 2019 | 20:18 | SYDNEY

Political cultures compared


Sam Roggeveen


22 May 2008 10:08

One minor American political controversy that most Australians would be unaware of concerns President Bush's complaints of bias against the NBC network in their editing of an interview with him. The details of this matter are not my concern here, but I was interested to read a Washington Post analysis arguing that real reason President Bush was so upset with NBC related to the robust questioning he was put under. But by Australian or British press standards, the exchange seems almost genteel:

For instance, Engel noted: "A lot of Iran's empowerment is a result of the war in Iraq." He questioned Bush about his lack of an exit strategy in Iraq: "So it doesn't sound like there's an end anytime soon." He clearly upset Bush by saying that "on the ground," the situation in Iraq "looks very bleak." (Bush replied: "Well, that's interesting you said that -- that's a little different from the surveys I've seen and a little different from the attitude of the actual Iraqis I've talked to, but you're entitled to your opinion.")

He also challenged Bush on his legacy: "[I]f you look back over the last several years, the Middle East that you'll be handing over to the next President is deeply problematic: You have Hamas in power; Hezbollah empowered, taking to the streets, more -- stronger than the government; Iran empowered, Iraq still at war. What region are you handing over?"

And Bush seemed positively furious by the end of the interview, when Engel had this to say: "The war on terrorism has been the centerpiece of your presidency. Many people say that it has not made the world safer, that it has created more radicals. That there are more people in this part of the world who want to attack the United States."

This is not a wholesale defence of our political media compared to the American press pack. But the veneration of the presidency in American political culture is surely excessive, and does mean the president is subject to less personal scrutiny (for instance, in interviews) than he ought to be. Tough questioning like this ought to be routine for a president.

Follow-up thought: I reckon The West Wing has done a lot to reinforce the veneration of the presidency among the political class.