Saturday, October 29, 2005

Used, Abused, and then Discarded

The American press now finds itself in an unusual and very uncomfortable position: being a part of the news (and not in a nice way)instead of just reporting it. It is clear that the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby rested on information provided, however unwillingly, by reporters. It is also clear that should the matter proceed to trial, three journalists (NBC's Tim Russert, Newsweek's Matt Cooper, and the NY Times' Judith Miller)will be called upon to testify. The press will have to report on themselves, and that process has already started.

First, the NY Times:

In pressing his indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., the special prosecutor is pitting three prominent journalists against their former source, a strategy that experts in law and journalism say has rarely been used or tested.

It is all but unheard of for reporters to turn publicly on their sources or for prosecutors to succeed in conscripting members of a profession that prizes its independence.

Yet Mr. Libby's trial on perjury and obstruction charges will largely turn on whether jurors are more inclined to believe a government official who played a critical role in devising the justifications for the Iraq war or members of a profession whose own credibility has been under assault.
[Emphasis added]

Next, Howard Kurtz (media 'watchdog') of the Washington Post:

President Bush, who famously says he doesn't read newspapers, has often described his administration as not overly concerned with news coverage. But yesterday's indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff portrays a White House that reacted angrily to media accounts and tried, with stealth and deception, to use journalists to undermine one of its critics. ...

Mark Feldstein, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, said the indictment "strips bare that what reporters often learn is officially managed, spinned news. It tends to make the reporters look like receptacles for very self-interested leaks, which is how the game is often played in Washington. . . . Libby also counted on these same reporters to conceal his role in this propaganda war, knowing that they would have an instinctive desire to protect their confidential sources."
[Emphasis added]

Finally, from one of the prime actors in this drama, Tim Russert:

MSNBC: So, your sole contact with Scooter Libby in the period in question here was he called to complain about programming, something that was said or covered on one of NBC’s cable news programs.

Russert: Correct. And that was the extent of it. I immediately, obviously, called to the president of NBC News and shared the complaint — which is why it was memorable in my mind.

And to the notion that I somehow was the recipient of a leak, which wasn't the case, or that I had shared information that I did not know — the first time I heard of Valerie Plame and the fact that she was a CIA operative is when I read Robert Novak's column the following Monday. ...

MSNBC: Does what is contained in this five-count indictment collide on its face with anything the vice president said to you at a later date, as a guest on your broadcast "Meet the Press"?

Russert: Well, I asked him in September of 2003 about Joseph Wilson. He said he did not know Joseph Wilson, and he went on to say he did not know who sent Joe Wilson to Africa or authorized the trip. ...

But, as you know, it is not a crime to say misleading things on "Meet the Press" or other interview programs.
[Emphasis added]

No, Mr. Russert, it is not a crime to make misleading statements during interviews, but it is certainly disappointing that the press not only doesn't expose the misleading statements by asking the hard questions, but seems to be perfectly willing to repeat those statements as if they were true, even when it becomes clear that they are not.

As Professor Feldstein pointed out in the Kurtz column quoted above, the press has become a willing extension of the administration's propaganda machine by regurgitating the self-interested leaks (attributing the leaks to anonymous sources)as if they were unimpeachably true. And, as the good professor reminds us, this is the way the game is played in Washington. Mr. Libby and other members of the regime chose this way to slime Joe Wilson because they knew they could. The press could be counted on to carry the water for administration.

Is it any wonder why the credibility of the press is under suspicion?


Post a Comment

<< Home