Monday, May 16, 2005
Who are they? I mean the people obsessed with control using the government to threaten and intimidate; I mean the people who are hollowing out middle class security even as they enlist the sons and daughters of the working class to make sure Ahmad Chalabi winds up controlling Iraq’s oil; I mean the people who turn faith-based initiatives into Karl Rove’s slush fund; who encourage the pious to look heavenward and pray so as not to see the long arm of privilege and power picking their pockets; I mean the people who squelch free speech in an effort to obliterate dissent and consolidate their orthodoxy into the official view of reality from which any deviation becomes unpatriotic heresy. That’s who I mean. And if that’s editorializing, so be it. A free press is one where it’s okay to state the conclusion you’re led to by the evidence.
One reason I’m in hot water is because my colleagues and I at “Now” didn’t play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news.
Jonathan Mermin writes about this in a recent essay in World Policy Journal. You’ll also want to read his book Debating War and Peace: Media Coverage of US Intervention in the Post-Vietnam Era. Mermin quotes David Ignatius of The Washington Post on why the deep interest of the American public are so poorly served by Beltway journalism. “The rules of the game,” says Ignatius, “make it hard for us to tee up on an issue without a news peg.” He offers a case in point: the debacle of America’s occupation of Iraq. “If Senator So-and-so hasn’t criticized postwar planning for Iraq,” says Ignatius, “it’s hard for a reporter to write a story about that.”
Mermin also quotes public television’s Jim Lehrer, whom I greatly respect, acknowledging that unless an official says something is so, it isn’t news. Why were journalists not discussing the occupation of Iraq? “Because,” says Jim Lehrer, “the word ‘occupation’ was never mentioned in the run up to the war. Washington talked about the war as a war of liberation, not a war of occupation. So as a consequence, those of us in journalism,” says Lehrer, “never even looked at the issue of occupation.” “In other words,” says Jonathan Mermin, “if the government isn’t talking about it, we don’t report it.” He concludes, “Lehrer’s somewhat jarring declaration, one of many recent admissions by journalists that their reporting failed to prepare the public for the calamitous occupation that has followed the liberation of Iraq, reveals just how far the actual practice of American journalism has deviated from the First Amendment idea of a press that is independent of government.”