With great fanfare the other day, Oprah
Winfrey asked James Frey a question that mainstream journalists refuse to
ask George W. Bush: "Why would you lie?"
Many pundits and news outlets have chortled at the televised unmasking of
Frey as a liar. The reverberations have spanned from schlock media to highbrow
outlets. On Friday, the PBS NewsHour With Jim Lehrer devoted an entire
segment to what happened. The New York Times supplemented its page-one
coverage with an editorial that concluded "Ms. Winfrey gave the audience,
including us, what it was hoping for: a demand to hear the truth."
A key reality of the National Security Agency spying story is:
President Bush lied. But routinely missing from media coverage is a
demand to hear the truth.
More than two years after he started the NSA's domestic spying without warrants,
Bush was unequivocal. During a speech in Buffalo on April 20, 2004, he
said: "[A]ny time you hear the United States government talking about
wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed,
by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking
about getting a court order before we do so."
Frey lied about his personal life in a book, and that infuriated Oprah Winfrey.
"It is difficult for me to talk to you, because I really feel duped,"
she said, confronting him in the midst of the Jan. 26 telecast. "I feel
duped. But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers."
Yet the journalists who interview Bush aren't willing to question him
in similar terms.
The president didn't merely betray millions of readers. He betrayed
hundreds of millions of citizens.
Bush lied about basic civil liberties in the United States. Instead
of relying on euphemisms, the news media should directly confront him
with the question: "Why would you lie?"
During the Oprah show, while lecturing a powerful book-publishing executive
who had served as an enabler for the author's mendacity, Winfrey declared: "That
needs to change." But what about the powerful news-media executives who
keep enabling the president's mendacity?
When Frey tried to weasel out of responsibility for concocting a
phony story about a root canal without anesthetic, the host
interrupted after the words "I've struggled with the idea of it –"
"No, the lie of it," Winfrey said. "That's a lie. It's not
James, that's a lie."
But high-profile journalists are unwilling to confront President Bush
on national television with such clarity: "That's a lie. It's not an
idea, George, that's a lie."