Media- The Third Political Party
The "honor system" in journalism of full disclosure is not working very well these days.Below are applicable selected remarks, written by James Taranto for a Wall Street Journal editorial, published today.
In October the U.S. government released a letter found in Iraq and purportedly written by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2 man, and addressed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terror group's leader in Iraq. "More than half of the battle is taking place on the battlefield of the media," Zawahiri wrote. "We are in a media race for... hearts and minds." He added, "The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam--and how they ran and left their agents--is noteworthy."
They say that generals always fight the last war, and the same seems to be true of terrorists--and journalists. But the media today do not have the power they had during the Vietnam era--the power to lose a war.
The problem, though, is that her views were at variance with those of any sane person. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Cindy Sheehan is an anti-American crackpot--and "anti-American crackpot opposes Iraq war" is a dog-bites-man story if ever there was one.
In April, Mrs. Sheehan had appeared at a San Francisco State University rally in support of Lynne Stewart, a radical lawyer who is awaiting sentencing after conviction on charges of giving material aid to terrorists. There Mrs. Sheehan opined that "we might not even have been attacked by Osama bin Laden," referred to America as a "morally repugnant system," and said: "This country is not worth dying for..."
Howard Fineman of Newsweek got at it in a provocative essay he wrote in January 2005, after CBS News released the findings of its independent investigation of the phony "60 Minutes" story about President Bush's National Guard service. Mr. Fineman argued that the journalistic establishment had, in effect, transformed itself into a political party; he called it the American Mainstream Media Party, or AMMP. "The notion of a neutral, non-partisan mainstream press," Mr. Fineman wrote, was "pretty much dead":
This is not just a matter of "liberal bias." When it comes to matters of war and scandal, journalists see themselves playing a role that is not impartial but adversarial vis-à-vis the government. But the media's adversarial culture asserts itself far more strongly when a Republican is in the White House.
Here we had journalists applauding the investigation of government officials whose supposed crime consisted of providing accurate information to reporters. This seems a self-defeating position for the press--which depends on officials to leak information for stories--to take. In a February 2004 Times op-ed piece, Geneva Overholser, a journalism professor and former Times editorialist, gave away the game, explaining her colleagues' sudden hostility to "the public's right to know":
Another terrorist attack would create an irresistible public demand for a new strategy, especially if the Bush strategy is rejected wholesale. An offensive strategy having been found wanting, the likely response would be a defensive strategy--a retreat into isolationism and an emphasis on homeland security. Its elements could include genuine curtailments of civil liberties, an end to the taboo against ethnic and religious profiling, restrictions on immigration, and heightened security that introduces enormous inconveniences into everyday life while constraining the flow of people and goods into America.
This would be a nightmare for liberals, and for all of us who care about freedom, prosperity and American engagement in the world. Those who are troubled by the Bush administration's aggressive approach to terrorism and tyranny in the Middle East should be careful what they wish for.