In recent weeks, several prominent journalists have publicly acknowledged that the U.S. media accorded President Bush too much deference following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams both noted that it was only in observing government failures in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort that journalists began seriously to challenge the administration. NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell conceded that reporters have been "less challenging" since the attacks. Friedman wrote that the 9-11 attacks created in the media a "deference" towards the administration. Williams described the press corps as "settling in to too comfortable a journalistic pattern," a phenomenon he described as the "9/11 syndrome."
On the September 23 edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, on which Mitchell was a guest, host Maher referred to Mitchell's tough questioning of Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir during a July trip to Sudan with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's delegation. The Sudanese leader's security guards forcibly removed Mitchell from the press briefing after she asked about his involvement with the ongoing atrocities there:
MAHER: But by the same token, I don't think you would ever be able to ask those kind of questions you were asking to that man to George Bush either, would you?
MITCHELL: Well, I think you can. It doesn't always happen. I've been looking back at all of this -- it's one of the reasons I wrote the book -- and I think there has been self-censorship. And that since 9-11, or after 9-11, there was sort of a rallying around -- and understandable sort of patriotic effect -- and I think reporters were less challenging.
From Friedman's September 21 column (subscription required), titled "Bush's Waterlogged Halo":
Katrina deprived the Bush team of the energy source that propelled it forward for the last four years: 9/11 and the halo over the presidency that came with it. The events of 9/11 created a deference in the U.S. public, and media, for the administration, which exploited it to the hilt to push an uncompassionate conservative agenda on tax cuts and runaway spending, on which it never could have gotten elected. That deference is over.
From a September 17 Los Angeles Times article headlined "TV Journalists Stay on Story, and Say It Will Stay With Them":
[Brian] Williams, the NBC anchor, is now pondering how the press has covered the government -- and whether the news media has been tough enough.
"I think we've always had our voice," he said. Still, "I do think -- and this is a subject for a long-term study -- the news media have been operating under a loose kind of 9/11 syndrome.
"Perhaps we are guilty of settling in to too comfortable a journalistic pattern, and perhaps this tragedy did serve as a reminder that this is what we do," Williams added. "I think too many people had forgotten that. There is a reason we show up after awful events. We really were the viewers' advocates on this."