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The True Meaning of Fitzmas

October 26, 2005
By Jon Maxson

While we wait for Patrick Fitzgerald to fill our stockings with indictments, let's take a moment to remember the true meaning of Fitzmas. It's too early to talk about the guilt or innocence of Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney and even President Bush himself, but it's long overdue to assess guilt on their unnamed co-conspirator. The Valerie Plame leak is a direct result of a media increasingly dominated by right-wing operatives.

Judith Miller is not a reporter. Reporters seek facts and present them to readers. Miller accepts talking points and presents those points, completely uncritically, as facts to her readers. Robert Novak, the man who actually published Karl Rove's leak, is no better. But they're far from alone.

For years, conservative punditry has been one of the fastest-growing fields in journalism. The top syndicated columnists in the country are conservatives, all of whom receive talking points from the Republican Party, many of whom write directly from them.

Miller and Novak did it, but so many more are guilty. How many conservative columnists recycled the administration's rhetoric on Iraq's supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction? How many unquestioningly repeated the stories about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman? How many columnists have taken their stories directly from Republican talking points by reporting lies about the Tom DeLay indictment, Hurricane Katrina readiness, Iraq's connections with al-Qaida, No Child Left Behind, Halliburton's shady dealings... the list goes on.

But that list is dwarfed by the list of major stories that so-called reporters completely ignored because they weren't in the talking points: the Downing Street Memos, the glaring intelligence failures of 9/11, President Bush's DUI, the perfect miniature Enron Bush created in Harken Energy, the freakish polling numbers of the 2004 elections and the implications of fraud, Jeff Gannon, the sexual torture at Guantanamo Bay, Ann Coulter's plagiarism, the United States eavesdropping at the U.N., the missing billions of dollars in Iraq and, until it became unavoidable, the Valerie Plame investigation.

Countless columnists still have yet to so much as mention the scandal or the two-year investigation. And let's not forget these: the 34 scandals of the Bush administration, none of which even saw one news cycle.

Last weekend, we saw four newspapers from opposite ends of the nation all run the same pro-Bush editorial. It's too early to say where the editorials came from, but the options are relatively slim: 1) the individual editorial page editors have been sharing word-for-word writings in a space reserved for the voice of the paper, 2) the voice of the papers is disseminated by a Republican-friendly corporate source, or 3) the editorials came from the Republican Party or powerful, like-minded organization.

For years, organizations both the left and the right have produced form letters to the editor and distributed them across the internet, is it any surprise that Republicans were able to take the game one step further?

We saw Republicans buy Armstrong Williams. We saw them film propaganda pieces as if they were local newscasts and distribute them to local broadcasters for immediate airing. We saw the White House sneak a prostitute into the press corps to toss softball questions at administration officials on a daily basis. We saw Judith Miller recite the administration's lies through her New York Times articles.

Now, we see the truth: when the Republican Party needs a mouthpiece, there are hundreds of willing minions with a syndicated column and a print-out of Republican talking points who will scream it from every newspaper in the country. And thousands of cub reporters will do more of the same because they think that's how you get to the top. And why shouldn't they? They see it every day, in every newsroom and on every editorial page.

Plame-gate might do for bloggers what Watergate did for journalists - but that's only because journalism isn't what it used to be. Woodward and Bernstein represented truth, no matter what party presented it. Today's journalists represent an unreachable balance that places truth and lies as co-equal. And if a journalist reports the truth about Republican scandals, they are accused of bias.

Seeking an easy way around these accusations, newspapers hire people who are nothing more than Republican operatives to recite talking points and lies on the editorial pages to give the impression of balance. Eventually, the paper drifts further and further to the right and further and further away from anything that could be considered truth.

If we take one thing from Fitzmas it must be this: out the hacks. Get the undercover cheerleaders out of our newsrooms. Tell your local papers that they are doing a great disservice by syndicating columnists who simply repeat lies. Demand fair reporting, not rhetoric.

If we are to reclaim this government for truth, we must start by reclaiming the media for truth. The Plame case is an ongoing case study in bad journalism. It's time we out the hacks.

Visit Jon Maxson's blog at jonmaxson.blogspot.com.

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