In watching TV news accounts of the recent American disasters a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a fatal mine explosion in West Virginia, continuing economic fallout from Wall Street excesses, worsening fears about the impact of the massive U.S. debt I was struck by the absence of one name: George W. Bush.
It was as if the mainstream journalists were following an unwritten rule: that is, whatever the relevance, the former President was not to be mentioned as a culprit in these catastrophes.
Even when there were references to how the problems had been getting worse for 10 years at the Mineral Management Services, the federal agency which has been rubber-stamping plans for deepwater oil rigs, it was as if no one was willing to do the math and calculate who was in charge during most of that time.
Similarly, when the nation's $1.2 trillion budget deficit was discussed as a grave threat to the economy, it was never mentioned how the nation got to this point, how the Congressional Budget Office had been projecting $850 billion annual surpluses when Bush took over in 2001.
Back then, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was fretting about the technical complexities for the Fed to set interest rates if the U.S. government paid off its entire debt. Well, that was one "problem" that Bush solved.
The simple truth is that Bush's policies, implemented by Republican-dominated Congresses in the first half of the last decade, set the stage for all the recent catastrophes debt caused by massive tax cuts for the wealthy and wars paid for by credit card, hostility toward government regulation of industry (and especially the coal and oil industries), blind faith in the "magic of the market" to set things right.
Yet, the major U.S. news media behaves as if this context must be blacked-out. Bush-43 must get a pass and the blame must be dumped on President Barack Obama for having "failed" to fix these problems in the past 16 months.
And I think I have a sense why. Whenever I write a story connecting current crises with Bush's policies, I get angry e-mails, calling me an Obama apologist who won't stop picking on Bush. I'm sure if I get such complaints, a correspondent at CNN or another big-time outlet gets many, many more.
So, it makes sense, career-wise, to avoid the Bush-bashing accusations in the first place and simply leave Bush's name out of the debate.
There's also the broader pressure that has distorted the U.S. press corps over the past several decades, well-funded right-wing attack groups going after individual reporters for supposed "liberal bias" whenever they challenged pro-Republican propaganda. Many reporters, who refused to buckle before this intimidation, found themselves out of their jobs.
Since there was no effective counter-pressure from the Left and since the Right built its own vast media infrastructure with thousands of good-paying jobs the surviving mainstream journalists learned an important principle of self-preservation, that self-censorship was a career necessity.
Beyond those factors, there's the ever-ready excuse that journalism must focus on today, not the past.
We saw a similar dynamic at the start of Bill Clinton's presidency, when almost no one in Washington in the media or the government cared about getting the facts straight on the questionable actions of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, especially regarding their secret policies in the Middle East.
Even though Bush-41 was implicated in that era's major national security scandals -- known by names like Iran-Contra, Iraqgate, contra-cocaine and October Surprise -- the dominant feeling was that the departing president should be allowed to go into retirement with his reputation intact.
After all, what good would be done having nasty fights with Republicans over this history when the nation was facing so many other problems, like a painful recession, a large federal budget deficit and lost factory jobs? Didn't it make more sense to seek bipartisanship and to follow one of Clinton's favorite sayings, "politics is about the future"?
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