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Press Review January 24, 2002
 
In Da Times
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 6 of 15
 
"In the days since the attacks, historians explain, Americans have projected on to Mr. Bush the qualities they desperately want him to have."

So there's no quantitative report here, no input from the "Americans" at all -- just some quotes from a bunch of experts. Busmiller's whole premise is based on interviews with four or five of these: Bruce J. Shulman (why does he get a middle initial, when none of the others do?) director of American studies at B.U., Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Dallek (where's his middle initial?), Georgetown professor Michael Kazin, and Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

The sourcing issue is the key to this whole piece. It would be one thing if one or more of these sources had put out an article or even previously made a public statement that would have attracted Busmiller to the "Bush-as-a-reflection-of-America's-hopes" idea. Busmiller even writes it as though this were the case: in the passage noted above, she writes "historians explain" in describing this idea, as though it came from the historians. But in fact, if you read the piece closely, all of the quotes are taken from interviews given for this very article -- in other words, the idea was Busmiller's, and she simply went around to her "experts" and asked them to either affirm or reject her thesis. We don't know how many "nays" she got, but I feel pretty sure she got all the "yays" in.

This is a fairly common thing in this paper. What is reported as a cultural phenomenon is just an idea some reporter or group of editors has had, bounced off a bunch of pliant "experts." In this case the sources are mainly professors at reputable schools, so it stinks a bit less than usual, but very often the "experts" are just paid mouthpieces for corporate-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the Carnegie Institute.

There are hundreds if not thousands of these "experts" sitting in grim little offices all around the country, and when they're not grinding out acres of academic research to prove corporate tax cuts are good for poor people or that genetically-altered peanuts make our teeth whiter, they're sitting in their offices drumming their fingers on their desks, waiting for the Elisabeth Busmillers of the world to call them.

Busmiller goes on to argue in several places that our previous impressions of Bush as a person too stupid to responsibly operate a toothbrush were mistakes of perception. Here, she does it through Schulman:

"Bruce J. Schulman, the director of American Studies at Boston University, argued that Mr. Bush 'was never as silly or shallow as many people depicted him before.'

Note that Schulman does not say "as he seemed" -- he uses the word "depicted." Bush's previous image is going to be blamed on the media.

Later, Busmiller herself goes completely crazy:

"Though Mr. Bush did not seem such a figure at first, the the crisis has given him a chance to transform himself in the eyes of the public. His story can be seen as that of a particular kind of mythic hero dear to the American imagination."

Okay, now this is revolting enough already, with George Bush being compared to a "mythic hero", but it gets a lot worse. Are you ready for which mythic heroes "dear to the American imagination" Bush is going to be compared to? Try this: Prince Hal, Moses, and... Frodo Baggins!

"'What do Prince Hal, Moses and Frodo have in common?'" asked Jonathan Lear, a psychoanalyst and philosophy professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. 'None of them seek power, yet they're able to rise to the challenges that history, God, or sheer chance deals them.'

"Prince Hal, the wastrel son of King Henry IV, surprised everyone by becoming a courageous soldier. Moses didn't want to lead the Jews, but God forced it upon him. Frodo Baggins, the sweet-tempered hobbit of "The Lord of the Rings", was given a ring by his uncle, then told he had to save the world by returning it to its source. President Bush, Mr. Lear argued, was the recipient of a similar kind of tragic luck."


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