Saturday, July 18, 2009

Journalism 101: Whoring for access

I've ignored one story this week that I think is important in the grand scheme of things: the disgustingly, blatant whoring of numerous media outlets in the effort to secure an interview with our very own Luv Guv.

The State started releasing emails this week that they got from Sanford's administration and they act as a true indictment on the Fourth Estate. The Post and Courier has posted all 570 pages of emails. Read them yourself and see what has happened to the the "most important of them all" estate as Sir Edmond Burke once called journalists.

After Tim Russert's death, I remember being somewhat surprised during the week long Russert love fest that ensued over how hard-hitting and tough he was as a journalist. Russert was not tough. Sure, he'd bring after hearing a guest say one thing, he'd bring up the text of a comment he had made a month or two earlier showing the guest was full of shit. But then what? As Lewis Lapham noted in his obit hit-piece (a term I use with affection) of Russert, "Elegy of a Rubber Stamp," the guest was then left with three choices:

The important personage was free to choose from a menu offering three forms
of response—silence, spin, rancid lie. If silence, Russert moved on to another
topic; if spin, he nodded wisely; if rancid lie, he swallowed it. The highlight
reels for the most part show him in the act of swallowing.

November 7, 1993: Question for President Bill Clinton, “Will you allow
North Korea to build a nuclear bomb?”

A: “North Korea cannot be allowed to build a nuclear bomb.”

February 25, 2001: Question for Senator John Kerry, “John Kerry, you
going to run for President in 2004?”

A. “I’m running for reelection in 2002.”

Q. “How about ’04?”

A. “I’m not making any decisions beyond ’02.”

April 13, 1997: Question for Louis Farrakhan, supreme minister of the
Nation of Islam, “Would you be willing to retract or apologize for some of the
things you said?”

A: “If I can defend every word that I speak and every word that I speak
is truth, then I have nothing to apologize for.”

February 8, 2004: Question for President George W. Bush, “In light of
not finding the weapons of mass destruction, do you believe the war in Iraq is a
war of choice or a war of necessity?”

A. “That’s an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little
bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It’s a war of necessity.”

See...what good is asking the question, if you aren't going to hold their feet to the fire on the answer? I don't mean to be kicking the mud out of a dead guy, but remember, Russert was the "Dean of Journalism." We have been told by none other than colleague and interview foe alike how tough he was. This is tough? This is the same guy that allowed VP Dick Cheney to come on his show and "cite" a report in the NY Times, a report that was attributed to White House sources in answering a question. How the hell does a "tough" journalist not say, "Hold on there Mr. Vice-President...Are you really going to cite as proof of something, a leaked story from your own administration? How do we know it wasn't your office that leaked this, just so you could come onto my show this morning and offer it up as proof?" Russert always backed off, because Russert wanted the access. And the release of the Sanford ass-kissing emails shows Russert was not the exception, he was the rule.

The true story is there is no such thing now as independent media when it comes to MSM. Corporate consolidation has muddied the waters to the point that no major media outlet is completely free to question and criticize. Worse yet, is the MSM is wholly afflicted by a herd mentality. where they all feel the need to cover whatever the other MSM is covering. I remember how long Josh Marshall and TPM was banging out posts on the Attorney General firings case before any of the MSM even got involved. Why? Because they did not want to piss of the Bush WH and lose their access. TPM didn't care, they didn't care about the access so they were able to approach the story as journalism should: a search for the truth.

As Lapham notes:

Speaking truth to power doesn’t make successful Sunday-morning television, leads
to “jealousy, upsets, persecution,” doesn’t draw a salary of $5 million a year.
The notion that journalists were once in the habit of doing so we borrow from
the medium of print, from writers in the tradition of Mark Twain, Upton
Sinclair, H. L. Mencken, I. F. Stone, Hunter Thompson, and Walter Karp, who
assumed that what was once known as “the press” received its accreditation as a
fourth estate on the theory that it represented the interests of the citizenry
as opposed to those of the government. Long ago in the days before journalists
became celebrities, their enterprise was reviled and poorly paid, and it was
understood by working newspapermen that the presence of more than two people at
their funeral could be taken as a sign that they had disgraced the

I suppose we should all hope the release of these emails shames the media involved into rethinking what their roles are. I am not holding my breath.

No comments: