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Pressing excuses

June 07, 2008

IN THE midst of his excellent review of Scott McClellan's new book ["Another Round of Fire From a Bush Defector," May 30], Tim Rutten offers a defense of the media after 9/11 that is at least as disturbing as McClellan's revelations about White House propaganda and deception. Rutten claims that in the wake of the wrenching trauma of 9/11, the press felt "the moral obligation to demonstrate solidarity with a country under deadly attack," and to have not given the administration the benefit of the doubt "would have been mindlessly adversarial."

"Mindlessly adversarial"? Many would say that for the press to have challenged the administration in a time of crisis would have been "courageously adversarial" and precisely what the Founders expected from a free and independent press protected by the 1st Amendment.

Looking back, had the press been less compliant and more skeptical, the American people would have been better equipped to question the Bush administration and oppose what are now seen as disastrous foreign policies, shocking abuses of human rights and serious assaults on civil liberties.

Stephen F. Rohde

Los Angeles

TIM RUTTEN defends his fellow journalists against McClellan's claims that the media was excessively deferential in the run-up to the Iraq war by claiming that they felt a "moral obligation" to demonstrate "solidarity" with a "country under deadly threat."

This amounts to the shocking claim that one of journalism's core duties -- providing a check against official abuses of power and ensuring governmental accountability -- is not possible, perhaps even reprehensible, in times of crisis, and that the Fourth Estate is mandated instead to provide emotional solace through the unquestioning acceptance of administration claims.

While this might have been conventional wisdom five years ago, it is either an act of intellectual dishonesty or professional myopia to offer the same mea culpa now. If the press can't admit it failed in its mission, how can it profess to have a relevant mission at all?

Robert W. Sawyer

Long Beach

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