Whereas if they tried to narrate the expansion of executive power (led by the vice president) through a revolt against empiricism (led by the chief executive) their story would be more accurate (to what happened) but less credible to more people. Because it sounds so extreme.
This is in fact a way to discredit the press that the press has not fully appreciated. Take extreme action and a press that mistrusts “the extremes” will mistrust initial reports of that action— like Suskind’s. This gives you time to re-make the scene and overawe people. There are all kinds of costs to changing a master narrative that has been built up by beat reporters and career pundits. When the press can hang on to an old and proven one it will. The Bush people understood that. They knew they could change the game on the press because the press finds it hard to act in reply. Therefore it tends to behave.
Of course, there were more than institutional reasons for why the "pundits" of the press failed to understand or explain the Bush administration's reality-denying approach:
Part of it is the reluctance to appear partisan. Of course if Suskind’s reporting was correct, the people to whom this news would matter most were reality-based Republicans, members of the military who cannot afford to have any other “base” but reality, and intellectually honest conservatives who believed in Bush and wanted to see him succeed. There’s a lot of truth in what Atrios says about Washington pundits, “They’d rather be wrong than agree with the dirty fucking hippies.”
Of course, another part of the problem was the sheer gall of what the Bush administration was up to. Rosen quotes Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books (a column I highly, highly recommend reading in full):
The thing is, it takes a leap of imagination to realize they did it that way. As Danner puts it, anyone trying to understand how the current mess in Iraq started “has to confront the monumental fact that the United States, the most powerful country in the world, invaded Iraq with no particular and specific idea of what it was going to do there, and then must try to explain how this could have happened.”
Ponder that for a moment. Though it's been said 100 times on this blog and a million times elsewhere, it bears repeating. The Bush administration sent 150,000 soldiers into harms way to find weapons of mass destruction that weren't there, to establish a democracy that could not be established by twice as many men in twice as long a period of time, to deal with the "threat" of a dictator who lacked the ability even to attack his immediate neighbors, and to wage war with a menacing terrorist threat based first in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan. And when it started to go to hell only months after the initial invasion ended, they quite simply had no idea what they were going to do next. None at all.
Unfortunately, the press in general still seems to be hampered by a slow learning curve. Rosen reports these reactions in the wake of the ISG report's release:
The release of the Iraq Study Group’s report on December 6th and the re-emergence of James Baker, famous for being pragmatist, a realist, and a fixer, were the triggers for this observation. The Guardian’s report was typical: “This is a return to the realist policy of Mr. Bush’s father.” Dan Froomkin said the report and reactions to it “marked a restoration of reality in Washington.”
Only two weeks later, do these headlines bear out? Hardly, or we wouldn't be discussing Bush's plan to send tens of thousands more troops into harm's way, something not at all recommended by the "realist" ISG report. Via this Atrios post that Rosen discusses, Ezra Klein asks this question:
Bush has contravened the bipartisan sanctity of the ISG, ruled out the treasured solutions of every pundit whose paychecks aren't signed by Murdoch, and promised to do precisely what the American people overwhelmingly voted against in November. The obstinance of this crew has emerged an almost transcendent quality -- and yet you still have Tom Friedman begging Bush to become an environmentalist, David Ignatius suggesting he talk to Syria. When will the media realize Bush doesn't care what they think, cease talking about what he should do, and begin, relentlessly and mercilessly, talking about what he is doing?
Or as he asks more succinctly at the beginning of the paragraph:
At this point...shouldn't the media be freaking out?
Shouldn't they? Shouldn't we all?
I'll admit that even I was suckered for a moment by the promise of the ISG report. Not that useless dream that it would give us a way to fix what we broke in Iraq, but the dream that it would finally force Bush to confront that fact that we are losing in Iraq-that we have lost Iraq-and that the only measures left are the ones that ultimately lead to withdrawal. But the fact is the Bush administration stubbornly, irrationally, clings to the notion that 30,000 more troops (wherever we can dig them up) can somehow fix Baghdad, which will in turn allow us to somehow fix all of Iraq, which will in turn somehow allow us to leave at some distant and unknowable point in the future, even as they acknowledge that such an approach will result in more American and Iraqi dead. What will really happen is that more soldiers will be sent to Baghdad, they will die in greater numbers than they have died up until now, they will kill thousands more Iraqis, and they will fail. What then, when we turn this corner? What novel approach will the Bush administration propose next? What study group will guide us out of Iraq then?
This leads me to a final point. The reason the pundits came to believe that the ISG report would finally persuade the Bush administration to try a new approach in Iraq is because they believed that the core of all the dysfunction that pervades the Bush administration, there was still some residue of rationality that could only be brought out by the crack over the head that was the mid-term elections. But that is simply not true. President Bush and Vice President Cheney have most assuredly left their marks on the function of the administration, from the top down, and the irrationality of their approach to the "war on terror" and the war in Iraq cannot be eliminated no matter the extent to which their party is punished at the polls. They are beyond reason at this point. They can't fix Iraq because they can't fix what is wrong with this administration, because they don't know that anything's wrong. In their minds, the great struggle against terror can still be won if we are only willing to commit more troops, if we can find the magical plan that brings the Shiites/Sunnis to our side, if we can eliminate Sadr, if we can force Iran to bow down to our power in Iraq. When those "plans" fail, or prove impossible to implement, they will find still others, and more soldiers will continue to die, and more Iraqis will continue to die at the hands of our soldiers. The only thing that can stop the Bush administration at this point is sheer political force, which will only prove sufficient when enough people finally so "no" to the unending war in Iraq.