If a tree falls in the forest but no one hears it, does it make a noise? This famous dilemma, ascribed to the philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753) – though never in this form written by him – has a contemporary counterpart: What happens if the president of the United States gives a major policy address but the mainstream media ignore it?
This happened last week. George W. Bush reconceptualized the "war on terror" into a war on Islamic extremism, but the press dismissed the speech as warmed-over bromides, an effort to rekindle the spirit of 9/11, an attempt to battle his way out of Hurricane Katrina-induced political woes, and so forth. In Tony Blankley's colorful analysis,
million-dollar nincompoop television news stars led with the absurdly ignorant observations that there was "nothing new" in this speech, and that the President was not likely to improve his reduced 35 percent public support for the Iraq war. Having decided that the speech (which they manifestly did not substantively understand or report) was not going to make the president immediately more popular, their reporting trailed off into a rehash of his other current political problems
Looking ahead, the interesting question is whether it matters that the mainstream media ignored the speech? Does that consign it to oblivion, or am I right in predicting that it inaugurated a third era in the current war? It's a topic to be followed here. (October 12, 2005)