Ernest Partridge: The Wayward Media
The Wayward Media
Three mini-essays tied together with a common theme: the media.
By Ernest Partridge
Co-Editor The Crisis Papers
“Access” – To what?
Its no secret: the former watchdogs of the American media have been transformed into Bush’s lapdogs. Whenever a potential White House or GOP scandal rears its ugly head, you can count on the news media to be otherwise engaged. If you’ve paid any attention to the Tom Delay outrages, Gannon/Guckert, the Downing Street Memos, the civilian casualties in Iraq, The World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul, or what the rest of the world thinks of us and our President, you’ve kprobably learned about it from somewhere else: perhaps the foreign press or, of course, the internet. As for the mainstream media (MSM), it's all about Michael Jackson, the runaway bride, or the love lives of assorted Hollywood celebs. And election fraud, just possibly the greatest political crime in the history of the republic? Faggetaboutit. Total embargo.
When members of the Washington press corps are asked why they are giving Bush, Inc. a free pass, we are told that if a reporter criticizes the Bush Administration, that individual faces the loss of access to White House news sources.
Somehow this didn’t keep the media hounds from harassing Bill Clinton throughout his entire two terms.
But what, exactly, is lost if a reporter is denied “access” to the White House or Pentagon press rooms? Is it the privilege of being lied to and stonewalled to one’s face?
Have you ever tuned into a CSPAN broadcast of a White House or Pentagon news briefing? If you have, I defy you to identify even a scrap of news to issue forth from these travesties – well, significant news, that is. You will be told of Shrub’s schedule and then given a heavy dose of propagandistic pablum. You can read that at www.whitehouse.gov , and for that matter, you can see the briefings on CSPAN. But really, why bother?
For five years, we’ve had a dreary run of lies, spin and evasions from the White House press room. At the beginning, Helen Thomas, bless her!, livened things up until she was banished to the back row. And a week ago, at long last, a few reporters held poor Scott McClellan to account. But other than that, your time would be far better spent reading The Guardian, The Times of London, or The Toronto Globe and Mail to find out what is happening in your own country.
Which leads us to wonder: What if Scott McClellan or Rummy held a news briefing and nobody came? Now that would convey an eloquent message to these liars and phonies.
Let’s be blunt about it. Authentic and significant news is rarely dug up and reported by journalists with “access.” Izzy Stone did not have “access,” nor did Woodward and Bernstein. The Pentagon Papers were not handed out in the White House press room. “News” is what Scotty and Rummy don’t want you to hear, and what you have to dig out on your own.
Regrettably, Bob Woodward has since gone over to The Dark Side to write Bush hagiographies. (It’s nasty work but someone’s gotta do it). Now that is "access" – but to what end? It comes down to a simple bargain: swapping integrity for "access." But "what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
So when you hear that the press corps has to go easy on Dubya in order to “maintain access,” give that excuse the credence it deserves.
The Judith Miller Muddle
Why is Judith Miller in jail? What does she know that the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, is so determined to hear?
Speculation is all over the map, and rumors abound, because, of course, Fitzgerald (unlike Ken Starr) is doing his job and keeping mum.
And so, until some solid information emerges, I should be reluctant to join the chorus of “what-ifs” and “is it possibles.” However, for whatever they might be worth, here are a few speculations from off the wall.
Amidst the plethora of media commentaries, there is one point of near-general agreement in the MSM: Judith Miller is a heroine – a journalistic Joan of Arc. Leading the choir of admirers is Miller’s employer, The New York Times – the newspaper of historical record which told us all about the treachery of Dr. Wen Ho Lee (false), the guilt of the Clintons in the Whitewater deal (false), the “fact” that had the count gone forward, Bush would still have won Florida in 2000 (false), and, thanks to the very same Judith Miller, the existence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (false) and Saddam’s acquisition of aluminum tubes for his nuclear program (false).
A heroine? Pardon my dissent.
The alleged heroism of Miller rests upon the assumption that her “source” is indistinguishable in kind from the usual “whistle blower” – e.g., “Deep Throat,” Daniel Ellsberg, Sibel Edmunds, Colleen Rowley, and numerous others who, because they remain “anonymous sources,” can not be named.
Hogwash! The Miller-Cooper “source” (Karl Rove?) is the moral opposite of the aforementioned whistleblowers.
A whistle-blower reports a crime to the journalist. In the Plame/CIA case, the report is the crime. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has said very little to the press, makes the point very succinctly: “This case is not about a whistle-blower. Its about a potential retaliation against a whistle-blower.” (Joseph Wilson, of course).
The contrast becomes apparent when we ask, along with the journalistic mainstream, “what happens if a reporter can no longer guarantee anonymity of the sources?” The obvious answer, of course, is that the journalist will lose the sources. But that’s not the relevant question. Instead, ask, “what if a reporter can be expected to report a crime, as it is being committed?” Answer: the expectation of that disclosure might prevent the crime. And in fact, as I understand the journalistic code of ethics, a journalist is not required to be silent if aware that a crime is in progress, nor to be silent if the source is reporting a falsehood. And so, if Rove (or whoever the “source” might be) approached a reporter with the tidbit that “Joe Wilson’s wife is a CIA operative in a clandestine activity,” with the expectation that by saying so he soon might be facing an indictment, well then, in that case, Valerie Plame might, to this day, be serving us all by tracking down the existence and distribution of weapons of mass destruction aimed at our “homeland.”
In fact, the act of disclosing that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA “operative” was a crime. As such, the moment Cooper or Miller (hypothetically) were told that Plame was a CIA operative, at that moment (a) they were obligated not to disclose this fact, and (b) they were obligated to report the “source” (who had thus committed a crime) to the Justice Department. Every journalist who was witness to this crime wisely followed course (a) and kept silent – all, that is, except Robert Novak, who amazingly, is at large, and not in the slammer alongside Judith Miller. The failure of the contacted reporters to report the crime to Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales is quite excusable. Why bother?
The prevailing opinion is that Novak is free because he has cooperated with the prosecutor. Let us hope!
So why is Judith Miller in jail today? If the “source” was willing to waive confidentiality to Matt Cooper, why not to Miller as well? Perhaps because the reason Miller is in jail has little if anything to do with her refusal to name “sources.” If so, then Miller’s media colleagues may want to reconsider their letters of nomination to the Pulitzer Prize Committee in behalf of Judith Miller.
The presumed “martyrdom” of Judith Miller rests on the assumption that Miller is a reporter who has been victimized by an out-of-control prosecutor. But might she be miscast in this role? Is it not possible that Judith Miller is not really a “reporter” at all, but instead is a “facilitator”– a conveyer of official lies from Rove’s and Cheney’s mouths to our ears, via the New York Times? As such, she might be in possession of information that could break this case wide open were she sufficiently “encouraged,” at long last, to tell the truth – information that no journalist, indeed no citizen, is entitled to withhold from a criminal investigation.
Judith Miller, let us not forget, took the lead in promulgating the myths of the nuclear bomb-making aluminum tubes and the vast storehouses of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, and did all this on the pages of the (once-)respected and (once-)reliable “flagship of American journalism,” the New York Times.
And Miller published this myth after Hussein Kamal, Saddam’s defecting son-in-law, revealed that he, Kamal, had personally dismantled Saddam’s WMDs. She did so at a time when Hans Blix of the UN Inspections team and Mohammed al Baradai of the International Atomic Energy Agency had failed to find evidence of WMDs or an ongoing atomic weapons program, and at a time when UN inspectors were in Iraq, searching in vain for WMDs.
Even so, Miller steadfastly held to the party line and to her role as a stenographer to a convicted embezzler, Ahmed Chalabi, and to the NeoCons. The evidence of no WMDs was “out there” to be had by a competent reporter. She appeared not to be interested. Miller is therefore either a spectacularly incompetent reporter or a willing co-conspirator in an official lie. No third, benign, explanation is in evidence.
Are the Cooper and Miller cases different in kind, and does the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald want something more from Miller than simply the name of her “source”? Some are suggesting that Miller, through her close associations with the NeoCons, was in fact the source of the “goods” on Valerie Plame Wilson. Who knows? I don’t, but maybe the Grand Jury does, and now wants Miller’s testimony to tie down the case.
This is one of many “what-ifs,” and the rest is guesswork. So we wait, and hope that Patrick Fitzgerald and his Grand Jury have the extraordinary courage to follow this caper to wherever it leads.
The very future of our democracy may well depend on it.
“Fool me Twice...”
From time to time we encounter in the mainstream media (MSM), journalistic concerns about the American public’s declining interest in political and national news. “Shame on you masses!,” we are admonished, and we are reminded of Jefferson’s warning that a nation cannot be both ignorant and free.
I have a different take on this: shame on them!, (the media). True, newspaper circulation and TV news ratings are down, but might not this be due to the fact that more and more American are finally coming to realize that they’ve been suckered by the MSM – and that they must now look elsewhere for accurate, relevant, “fair and balanced” reporting of the news?
“Suckered”? How so? Consider first these now familiar examples of MSM thumbs on the scales of domestic politics.
2000. The MSM took no pains to correct the GOP lies that Al Gore had claimed to have “invented the internet” and to have “discovered Love Canal.” The Democrat’s attempts to raise the issue of Bush’s Texas Air National Guard record were unavailing. Immediate public opinion that Gore had won the presidential debates were reversed by post-debate network and cable “spin,” and Frank Luntz’ phoney “focus groups.” 2003 – February 5. Colin Powell presents Bush’s case for war with Iraq to the United Nations Security Council. Subsequent events and exhaustive and unrestricted searches in Iraq have proven the speech to be pack of lies. But at the time, US Editorial opinion was completely taken in. A sampling: “Powell lays out convincing evidence of Iraq defiance (USA Today); “[Powell] offered a powerful new case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is cooperating with a branch of the al Qaeda organization that is trying to acquire chemical weapons” (Washington Post); “The Powell evidence will be persuasive to anyone who is still persuadable” (The Wall Street Journal); “Powell laid out the need [for war] ... in step-by-step fashion that cannot be refuted without resorting to fantasy” (Chicago Sun-Times). For much more of the same from “the librul media,” follow this link. 2004. The MSM reports the “Swift Boat” smear of John Kerry without commentary and rebuttal, thus lending credence to the slander. Bush’s apparent use of a listening device in the debates is unreported and unexplored by the MSM. Once again, the Texas Air National Guard issue fails to “take,” and the CBS 60 Minutes report backfires, ending the career of Dan Rather. Post-election, the question of election fraud is totally shut out of MSM reportage and commentary.
But at long last, the public is beginning to wake from its dogmatic slumbers.
In April, 2004, the Program on International Policy Attitudes reported that “a majority of Americans (57%) continue to believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, including 20% who believe that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11 attacks. Forty-five percent believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found. Sixty percent believe that just before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38%) or a major program for developing them (22%).” (PIPA, 2004). But a year later, just last April (2005), the Gallup poll reported that 50% believe that Bush “deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.” In short, Bush lied, the MSM conveyed the lie at first successfully, but now the public is beginning to see the light. 2005. Bush’s public lie that he was “doing everything in my power to avoid war” is exposed and refuted by the Downing Street Memos, which go unreported for several weeks until the progressive internet forces it into the MSM, whereupon it disappears again. Nonetheless, Bush’s credibility is severely damaged as only 41% of the public now believes him to be “honest and straightforward” – a drop of nine points since January. And finally, the Zogby Poll reports that “in a sign of continuing polarization, more than two-in-five voters (42%) say they would favor impeachment proceedings if it is found the President misled the nation about his reasons for going to war with Iraq."
So it appears that the Bush/Cheney/Rove/GOP propaganda machine, and its MSM facilitators, are losing control. “Fool me once, shame on you; ... fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”
This has happened many times before, though not often in our history. For example, during the Cold War, the American Press delighted in reporting the often laughable inventions of Pravda and Izvestia. When in 1957 the Red Army put down the Hungarian revolution, the Russian citizens were told that the Army was invited in by the legitimate government to help defeat a “fascist coup.” In 1968, same message, different country: Czechoslovakia . And when the Berlin Wall went up, the Soviet press told the world that it was designed to keep spies from crossing into East Berlin.
But are these fantasies any less credible than the following, dutifully and uncritically reported by the MSM: “They attacked us on 9/11 because they hate our freedoms,” or “Saddam has pilotless aircraft that he can use to release biological warfare on our homeland,” or “there is no doubt that Saddam has reconstituted nuclear weapons,” or “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” or “we’ll do anything we can to avoid war,” or “the insurgents are in their last throes,” or “the detainees in Guantánamo are in a tropical paradise.”
The Busheviks are discovering, like the Bolsheviks before them, that the public soon becomes immune to official lies and starts to look elsewhere for news. When, year after year, Pravda announced “record harvests in the collective farms,” the shelves in the Leningrad and Moscow stores remained bare. Official “news” and the experience of ordinary life just didn’t “fit.” And now, it’s beginning to happen here, as American citizens with memories recall the now demonstrably discredited lies. Still worse for the Bush regime, those lies are on the record where they cannot be unsaid, and where they are immediately available to anyone with access to the internet.
If this slide in credibility continues, what follows? Is it just possible that, at long last, the public will begin to doubt the validity of their elections, past and pending? Will serious and publicized investigations of election returns begin, to be followed by indictments? Will the GOP, perhaps for the first time in a decade, have to face the American voters in honest elections? If so, the jig is up: game, set, match!
Mark Twain once said that “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” At long last, truth has put on its boots, and is about to get to work.
And don’t you believe for a moment that Rove, the GOP and Bush, Inc. aren’t acutely aware of this!
In the meantime, what is the public to do? Quite simply, ignore the mainstream media and boycott its sponsors. Support independent and responsible news sources. Then allow the market, so esteemed by the regressive-right, to come to the aid of media reform.
“Build it, and they will come.”
Remember the Sinclair Broadcasting fiasco? Shortly before the 2004 election, this right-wing outfit scheduled an anti-Kerry propaganda piece, “Stolen Honor.” It was never broadcast. And why? Because the Sinclair management had a sudden flash of civic responsibility? Don’t be silly! It was because the stockholders (no doubt predominantly conservative Republicans) were properly alarmed about the citizen complaints and boycotts, and the resulting plunge in stock value.
So if the MSM sees a continuing drop in ratings and the sponsors suffer from boycotts, then the MSM may face a stark choice: reform or die.
Mind you, I’m not guaranteeing that this will happen. Who knows how a wounded Bushista administration and its corporate “stockholders” might strike back. It could be very ugly. But the admirable Russian and Soviet people, under a detestable regime with complete media control, rendered that media irrelevant and eventually overthrew the regime.
Can we do as well, given the advantage of our political traditions and our history?
I think we can. And in view of the alternative prospects before us, how can we honorably fail to make the effort?
(c) Ernest Partridge
Bio Tag: Dr. Ernest Partridge
is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of
Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes the
website, "The Online Gadfly" (
www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive
website, "The Crisis Papers" ( www.crisispapers.org). Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.