June 30, 2003

Are U.S. journalists truly spineless?

"Most of us whose bylines appear in the American media should be embarrassed to look our readers, viewers and listeners in the eye. We are being held up for ridicule by real journalists, such as Webb, from nations that once looked upon us as the epitome of truth and integrity. The ridicule is richly deserved. "

A friend and colleague who reads the LNS recently said that my carping on the US mainstream news media was getting tiresome. Well, I asked myself if it was true. Then I remembered the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and how reporters from Reuters, Al-Jezzera and elsewhere were killed (perhaps targeted) by US forces, while US "journalists" were "embed" with combat units singing sanitized paeans to the "liberators"...Fast forward a few weeks...those "brave" US "journalists" who went out their "embed" with our combat units are safely home. Meanwhile, US soldiers are dying seemingly daily directing traffic and on rountine patrol in Godforsaken Iraqi towns...Yes, these "journalists" are safely home, their network anchors are snug in their swivel chairs...And yet none of them have started a feeding frenzy over the lies that were proffered up as the excuse for unilateral war, the violation of the UN charter and the shattering of the Western alliance. $80 million in US taxpayer dollars was spent "investigating" the Clintons over an old land deal they lost money on, and on Bill Clinton's sex life. The US mainstream news media, including the NYTwits, ate it up. "Oh, it's not bias, they would do it whoever was President, Republican or Democrat, they just want the negative," said those who were in denial about the extent to which the news media is THE problem. Well, now we have a man who was not elected, whose cronies plunged California into recession and then went South with their investors money, who turned a deaf ear to numerous, credible warnings about 9/11, who has gutted the US surplus and scuttled the US economy with two destructive tax cuts skewed to the wealthiest few Americans, whose political brain Karl Rove produced a presentation discovered on a disk in a D.C. park that outlined the strategy of exploiting 9/11, wrapping the _resident and all Republicans in the flag and running on fear...and yet, the US mainstream news media is still eating out of the White House's hand...No, I will not let up on them. They have forfeited their obligation as protectors of the truth in this republic...

Are U.S. journalists truly spineless?

Justin Webb, a Washington correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation, recently posed this question to his audience: "Are American journalists simply spineless? Do they toe the line because they love the President? Or because their employers do?"

Webb raised the question after hearing Vice President Dick Cheney deliver the following statement in reference to the war in Iraq: "You did well - you have my thanks." This praise was not directed to our troops or members of the president's Cabinet; it was lavished upon members of the American Radio and Television Correspondents Association at their annual dinner.

Most of us whose bylines appear in the American media should be embarrassed to look our readers, viewers and listeners in the eye. We are being held up for ridicule by real journalists, such as Webb, from nations that once looked upon us as the epitome of truth and integrity. The ridicule is richly deserved.

Members of the American news media should be asking the question that Webb has presented. Are American journalists spineless? Or have the people who once wielded the editorial sword with such class and power caved in to the bean counters who run the media conglomerates? Either way, we have failed, and it's only going to get worse unless individual journalists begin to stand up and reclaim our place as the guardians of liberty.

Once upon a time in this country, not so very long ago, every town of any size had at least two daily newspapers and weeklies that did more than just carry coupons and advertisements. Journalists could go somewhere else if they thought an editor was stifling the free flow of the truth - and point a finger back at him or her. That day is no more. Some say the Internet has rendered traditional journalism moot, but they are wrong.

As powerful as the Internet is - and I've seen that power at work - there are still large gaps out there. The latest available census reports show that a majority of Americans have computer access, but there are still substantial holes in the practical use, especially among minorities and the poor. By and large, citizens of this country still depend on more traditional sources for their information, and those of us who are responsible for getting the truth out are not doing our job very well.

A few weeks back, I saw Attorney General John Ashcroft on one of the round-the-clock news channels, testifying before a congressional committee about the new law enforcement powers he would like to see added to the so-called Patriot Act. The next day, out of curiosity, I searched online through traditional newspapers - large and small - across the country for a headline or at least a story about Ashcroft's plans for a new power grab. It was as if Ashcroft hadn't said anything of importance.

On an almost a daily basis, you can tune in to the Donald Rumsfield show on the round-the-clock television news and watch that jovial old guy insulting the intelligence of so-called American journalists. With his folksy, down-home demeanor, he sloughs off questions and rambles on as he pleases. Nobody calls his hand because nobody wants to end up at the back of the room at the next press conference.

I'm just a worn-out old cop, a jackleg journalist without a degree in journalism, political science or constitutional law - but I understood what it meant when I informed the people I arrested of their constitutional rights. And I know that people entrusted with the responsibility of reporting the news should not be acting as cheerleaders for the president of the United States and his administration - or anyone else for that matter.

Journalists of the United States of America, unite; we have nothing to lose but our shame.

Posted by richard at June 30, 2003 06:58 AM