In response to Steve’s comment below: As far as I know, Braestrup’s account is entirely accurate. Press reporting on Tet was inaccurate, wildly so in some instances. Again, as far as I can tell, press reporting on Iraq has been more accurate than it was during Tet. It is also the case that the media has biases. My favorite example of this is the story that ran in the New York Times in the early 1980s at the height of the controversy over the role of the Russians and Warsaw pact countries in supporting international terrorism. A PLO member connected to terrorism was assassinated in Warsaw and the Times reported that Poland was known to be a favorite vacation spot for Palestinians.
But the key point is not the accuracy of press reporting or media bias. The key point is that the media does not lead public opinion. The media actually follow what key opinion leaders say. If there is unanimity among these leaders, then there is no controversy and no press feeding frenzy, no destruction of the administration’s policies.
Some post-9/11 examples: A Pentagon agency was going to fund something called Total Information Awareness that was going to collect and analyze lots of information on Americans. Various public policy organizations and Senators and Congressman objected. The escalating controversy and media frenzy forced the Bush administration to give up on the project.
The press reported (from leaked information?) that the military was increasing its role in the collection of human intelligence and was beginning to do some things that had been traditionally reserved for the CIA. The press smelled a scandal involving unauthorized activities, rogue agencies, violations of law, etc. Following the first reports in the Washington Post, the Post and other media followed up. They interviewed Democratic Senators on the intelligence committee. The Senators all agreed that they had voted for the change and that it was a good one. The media frenzy died.
Following hurricane Katrina, President Bush mentioned the possibility that the military should take over domestic disaster relief. When the media checked with various authorities, most importantly elected officials at the Federal, state and local levels, they found out that this idea was controversial. The story didn’t die, although the proposal did.
These examples are mine but the explanation for how the media works (which I have greatly simplified) is from a variety of different academic studies on the media, public opinion and politics. As far as I can tell, it is accurate. It means that the media and their prejudices do have influence but are much less powerful in forming public opinion and affecting public policies than is often assumed. What the academic work shows is that Presidents have significant advantages and more power than the media with regard to shaping public opinion. That’s why I don’t think the media or media bias is the problem.