From the Editor

John Turner

Have you noticed a change in the tone of the TV talking heads? A vocabulary that was impermissible six months ago is spreading over the airwaves. We now hear more than hints that the people who are supposed to know everything, the grand panjamdrums of government who have access to information sealed away from the rest of us, may not know very much at all. It goes farther. The president himself may be self-deluded, cut off from adequate intelligence, unwilling to listen to anything other than simplistic formulas. And the government of Iraq, that mighty democratic structure we have erected in the pits of darkness, is widely acknowledged to be no government at all, unable to carry out any of the dictates loaded on it by the United States.

This has all been known to sensible people for years. So why has it only recently become possible to hear it on the networks?

A feature of Washington life most of us have a hard time grasping is the part fear plays in shaping the national conversation. People who are thought to have power aren't questioned or criticized much, especially not by big-name journalists. And the possession of power seems actually to shape the way officials are perceived personally. It's not hard to see why any sitting president might be feared. He has powers he can bring upon almost anyone in the country. But journalists have got in the habit of integrating that power with the actual person. Hard as it is to imagine being afraid of George Bush personally, fear of his displeasure, independent of his power, appears to have affected the news dramatically.

But now, journalists see his power being stripped away. So the portrait of who he is, in himself, is dramatically modified.

There's no telling what we might encounter over the next few months. And after years of enduring unearned respect for the powerful, I'll be glad to see it come.

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Harvard Square Commentary, January 8, 2007