Sunday, June 03, 2007

The White House still knows how to play the American press like a harp

On Friday, Dan Froomkin* (photo), who blogs for the Washington Post at The White House Watch, opened his post, Bush's Climate-Change Feint with these words, “The White House yesterday showed that it still knows how to play the American press like a harp.

“President Bush yesterday put forth a new proposal on climate change that is most newsworthy for its attempt to muddy the debate about the issue and derail European and U.N. plans for strict caps on emissions. Bush's proposal calls for a new round of international meetings that would nearly outlast his presidency. The purpose of the meetings would not be to set caps on emissions, but to establish what the White House -- uncorking a bold new euphemism -- calls ‘aspirational goals.'

“But a change in rhetoric was enough to generate some headlines about the administration's attention to the issue: Bush Proposes Goals on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, reads the New York Times headline. Bush Proposes Talks on Warming, says the Washington Post's front page. Bush offers to take climate lead, proclaims the Los Angeles Times.”

There’s that word, “rhetoric,” again. It’s been bubbling and percolating through the blogworld as a result of Mark Danner’s recent commencement address to UC Berkeley’s Department of Rhetoric, which I posted about here. The title of Danner’s address was “Words in the Time of War.” From Danner’s speech, the description of Bush as the first "rhetoric-major President” has taken hold in some households; Google appears to be lagging behind on this one.

In my post, I commented, “I can’t help but think of Bush’s recent pronouncements about taking steps to curb global warming as rhetoric.”

I’m glad Dan Froomkin agrees with me. Froomkin links to three mainstream media reports of Bush’s May 31st pronouncements (third paragraph, above). The headlines make it look like Bush has done an about-face, don’t they? You’ll need to continue reading Bush's Climate-Change Feint, because Froomkin, who combines blogging with news collecting, links to articles “from across the Atlantic” and “on this side of the pond” that make it clear that not all media bought Bush’s miraculous 180 degree turn.

I’m wondering why all journalists aren’t required to study rhetoric so they can't "be played like a harp.” A clerk at our local food store, Alexis, 24, who blogs here, is a philosophy major, and she’s planning to take rhetoric next year.

Hey, even my young friend, Tod Brilliant, who blogs at, caught on right away. An avid environmentalist, check out his comments posted on the same day Bush declared his plan for tackling global warming, Inept No More! Bush Proposes Greenhouse Gas Plan.

*Froomkin is also deputy editor of, sponsored by the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard University.

(photo of Dan Froomkin from his Washington Post website).

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