Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, July 16, 2003  

Even as this story about WMD explodes, a lot of us blogger types are wondering: where the hell were you in January? This story wasn't hiding; it didn't require excavation by an insider with a Deep Throat-like insider. We knew last October that this yellow cake business was bogus, and yet thousands of news agencies failed to criticize the White House when it repeated the claims over the next few months. And we knew in January--before the State of the Union--that the story about the aluminum rods was a scam. In fact, we've known that a whole hell of a lot of what the Administration tells us is either a direct lie or a statement clearly intended to deceive.

Yesterday, David Broder wrote about "Black Thursday"--the day the network news really came down hard on the President. And today (as I linked earlier) Kurtz detailed the media hubbub.

But again, I'm wondering, where the hell were you all six months ago, when the question about invading was just as weak, but you were lined up to support it? Isn't the nature of journalism supposed to be at least a little critical? To look into the claims by the President of the United States and weigh them against the evidence?

I'm afraid this is one of the starkest examples yet of "objectivity" drift. For three years, the papers seem to have had it in their heads that "balance" meant reporting what the President said and then possibly adding that Daschle didn't agree (on the rare occasions when he had spine enough to disagree). But objectivity isn't reporting what two sides of a partisan issue believe; it's looking at the issue itself against recognized norms of evidence (which excludes Ann Coulter bleating that liberals are criminals).

The President may well have called his pollution-promotion program "Clean Skies;" he may have kept a straight face when he said his federal revenue transfer to the wealthy was a "jobs package." But if the press wants to retain a shred of credibility, it needs to turn not to Tom Daschle (who for a lot of reasons isn't the arbiter of objective evidence), but to scientists and economists. Or hell, even a man on the street who isn't barking mad. Just about any of them could credibly have made a better case than the media.

Which gets to the question: what's the media's responsibility? If it's merely to report what the President and Speaker of the House say, well, let's go with C-Span and leave it at that. But if it's something more--if it's to take the policy positions of our leaders and weighand interpret them--then they're responsible for gross incompetence.

All the evidence for this scandal was there six months ago. If it's a scandal now, why wasn't it then? And if it's responsible to report it now--after we've killed a bunch of civilians and soldiers, and committed ourselves to a $50-billion-a-year quagmire--why wasn't it responsible to report it then? Folks in the media need to take a look at the ring in their nose and who has ahold of it and whether they like it. Let's all pray this is a wake up call for them to do just that. (If they could muster half the effort they exerted to investigate the crotches of Bill Clinton and Gary Condit to investigate whether the President's a liar, I'll consider it a major step forward.)

[Related to all of this is the conglomeration of media, the fairly recent corporate expectation that news divisions are there not to serve the public good but turn a profit, and the gutting of the public good by the FCC. On this front at least we have some good news today.]

posted by Jeff | 3:43 PM |
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