... But those who live by Fox News can die by Fox News. If you limit your diet to Fox and its talk-radio and blogging satellites, you may think that the only pressing non-Laci Peterson, non-Kobe, non-hurricane stories are "Rathergate" and the antics of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Your diet of bad news from Iraq is restricted, and Abu Ghraib becomes an over-the-top frat hazing. You are certain that John Kerry can't score in the debates because everyone knows he's an overtanned, overmanicured metrosexual. You reside in such an isolated echo chamber that you aren't aware that even the third-rated network news broadcast, that anchored by the boogeyman Dan Rather, draws 50 percent more viewers on a bad night than "The O'Reilly Factor" does on a great one (the Bush interview).
Eventually you become a prisoner of your own fiction and lose touch with reality. You start making the mistakes Mr. Baker made - and more. The whole Bush-Cheney operation is less sure-footed about media manipulation than it once was. You could see this the week before the debate, when the president rolled out Mr. Allawi for a series of staged Washington appearances that were even less effective than his predecessor Ahmad Chalabi's State of the Union photo op with Laura Bush. No one at the White House seemed to realize that if you want to keep a puppet from being ridiculed as a puppet you don't put him on camera to deliver sound bites (some 16, by the calculation of Dana Milbank of The Washington Post) that are paraphrases of the president's much replayed golden oldies. The whole long charade played out like a lost reel of "Duck Soup."
...If anything, the first Bush-Kerry confrontation has given split-screen television a new vogue. Having defied the efforts of both campaigns to squelch its use on Sept. 30, emboldened TV news organizations can run with it at will. So we saw on the Sunday after that debate, when Condoleezza Rice appeared on ABC's "This Week."
There she was quizzed about the report in that morning's Times saying that in 2002 she had hyped aluminum tubes as evidence of Saddam's nuclear threat a year after her staff was told that government experts had serious doubts. Ms. Rice kept trying to talk over the soft-voiced George Stephanopoulos's questions, but he zapped her with a picture: a September 2002 CNN interview in which she had not, shall we say, told the whole truth and nothing but. As the old video played, ABC used a split screen so we could watch Ms. Rice, "This Is Your Life" style, as she watched the replay of her incriminating appearance of two years earlier. Maybe, like Mr. Bush at the first debate, she knew her reaction was being caught on camera. But even if she did, the unchecked rage in her face, like that of her boss three days earlier, revealed that her image and her story, like the war itself, had spun completely out of her control.
Tom Friedman similarly ambushed Rumsfeld on camera. He was telling his usual incredible bold lies when Friedman quoted directly from a past Rumsfeld speech. I'm told Rumsfeld was filmed gasping for air.
By controlling the US media, by controlling the audiences they interact with, by controlling what they read, by speaking only to themselves, by consistently shooting the messengers, by their ruthless destruction of dissenters, Bush et al have created a hermetic fantasy world. It may yet work for them, but it will not work for our world.
It may be that the US media is waking up. One senior journalist tells me he feels the media was essentially asleep for the past two years, paralyzed by fears of the "liberal media" accusation, misled by false patriotism, trapped by conventions of "neutrality". He thinks those days are passing.