The Wayward Media
July 19, 2005
By Ernest Partridge, The
week, Ermest Partridge has written three mini-essays tied together
with a common theme: the media.
"Access" To What?
Its no secret: the former watchdogs of the American media have
been transformed into Bush's lapdogs. Whenever a potential White
House or GOP scandal rears its ugly head, you can count on the news
media to be otherwise engaged.
If you've paid any attention to the Tom Delay outrages, Gannon/Guckert,
the Downing Street Memos, the civilian casualties in Iraq, The World
Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul, or what the rest of the world thinks
of us and our President, you've probably learned about it from somewhere
else: perhaps the foreign press or, of course, the Internet. As
for the mainstream media (MSM), it's all about Michael Jackson,
the runaway bride, or the love lives of assorted Hollywood celebs.
And election fraud, just possibly the greatest political crime
in the history of the republic? Faggetaboutit. Total embargo.
When members of the Washington press corps are asked why they
are giving Bush, Inc. a free pass, we are told that if a reporter
criticizes the Bush Administration, that individual faces the loss
of access to White House news sources. Somehow this didn't keep
the media hounds from harassing Bill Clinton throughout his entire
But what, exactly, is lost if a reporter is denied "access"
to the White House or Pentagon press rooms? Is it the privilege
of being lied to and stonewalled to one's face?
Have you ever tuned into a CSPAN broadcast of a White House or
Pentagon news briefing? If you have, I defy you to identify even
a scrap of news to issue forth from these travesties well, significant
news, that is. You will be told of Shrub's schedule and then given
a heavy dose of propagandistic pablum. You can read that at www.whitehouse.gov,
and for that matter, you can see the briefings on CSPAN. But really,
For five years, we've had a dreary run of lies, spin and evasions
from the White House press room. At the beginning, Helen Thomas
livened things up until she was banished to the back row. And a
week ago, at long last, a few reporters held poor Scott McClellan
to account. But other than that, your time would be far better spent
reading the UK Guardian, the Times of London, or Canada's
Globe and Mail to find out what is happening in your own country.
Which leads us to wonder: what if Scott McClellan or Rummy held
a news briefing and nobody came? Now that would convey an eloquent
message to these liars and phonies.
Let's be blunt about it. Authentic and significant news is rarely
dug up and reported by journalists with "access." Izzy
Stone did not have "access," nor did Woodward and Bernstein.
The Pentagon Papers were not handed out in the White House press
room. "News" is what Scotty and Rummy don't want you to
hear, and what you have to dig out on your own.
Regrettably, Bob Woodward has since gone over to the dark side
to write Bush hagiographies. (It's nasty work but someone's gotta
do it). Now that is "access" but to what end?
So when you hear that the press corps has to go easy on Dubya
in order to "maintain access," give that excuse the credence
The Judith Miller Muddle
Why is Judith Miller in jail? What does she know that the prosecutor,
Patrick Fitzgerald, is so determined to hear? Speculation is all
over the map, and rumors abound, because, of course, Fitzgerald
(unlike Ken Starr) is doing his job and keeping mum.
And so, until some solid information emerges, I should be reluctant
to join the chorus of what-ifs and is-it-possibles. However, for
whatever they might be worth, here are a few speculations from off
Amidst the plethora of media commentaries, there is one point
of near-general agreement in the MSM: Judith Miller is a heroine
a journalistic Joan of Arc. Leading the choir of admirers is Miller's
employer, the New York Times the newspaper of historical
record which told us all about the treachery of Dr. Wen Ho Lee (false),
the guilt of the Clintons in the Whitewater deal (false), the "fact"
that had the count gone forward, Bush would still have won Florida
in 2000 (false), and, thanks to the very same Judith Miller, the
existence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (false)
and Saddam's acquisition of aluminum tubes for his nuclear program
A heroine? Pardon my dissent.
The alleged heroism of Miller rests upon the assumption that her
source is indistinguishable in kind from the usual whistle-blower
e.g., "Deep Throat," Daniel Ellsberg, Sibel Edmunds,
Colleen Rowley, and numerous others who, because they remain anonymous
sources, can not be named.
Hogwash! The Miller-Cooper source (Karl Rove?) is the moral opposite
of the aforementioned whistleblowers.
A whistle-blower reports a crime to the journalist. In the Plame/CIA
case, the report is the crime. Prosecutor Patrick
Fitzgerald, who has said very little to the press, makes the
point very succinctly: "This case is not about a whistle-blower.
Its about a potential retaliation against a whistle-blower."
(Joseph Wilson, of course).
The contrast becomes apparent when we ask, along with the journalistic
mainstream, "what happens if a reporter can no longer guarantee
anonymity of the sources?" The obvious answer, of course, is
that the journalist will lose the sources. But that's not the relevant
question. Instead, ask, "what if a reporter can be expected
to report a crime, as it is being committed?" Answer: the expectation
of that disclosure might prevent the crime. And in fact, as I understand
the journalistic code of ethics, a journalist is not required to
be silent if aware that a crime is in progress, nor to be silent
if the source is reporting a falsehood.
And so, if Rove (or whomever the source might be) approached a
reporter with the tidbit that "Joe Wilson's wife is a CIA operative
in a clandestine activity," with the expectation that by saying
so he soon might be facing an indictment, well then, in that case,
Valerie Plame might to this day be serving us all by tracking down
the existence and distribution of weapons of mass destruction aimed
at our homeland.
In fact, the act of disclosing that Valerie Plame Wilson was a
CIA operative was a crime. As such, the moment Cooper or Miller
(hypothetically) were told that Plame was a CIA operative, at that
moment (a) they were obligated not to disclose this fact, and (b)
they were obligated to report the source (who had thus committed
a crime) to the Justice Department. Every journalist who was witness
to this crime wisely followed course (a) and kept silent all,
that is, except Robert Novak, who amazingly, is at large, and not
in the slammer alongside Judith Miller. The failure of the contacted
reporters to report the crime to Attorneys General Ashcroft and
Gonzales is quite excusable. Why bother?
The prevailing opinion is that Novak is free because he has cooperated
with the prosecutor. Let us hope!
So why is Judith Miller in jail today? If the source was willing
to waive confidentiality to Matt Cooper, why not to Miller as well?
Perhaps because the reason Miller is in jail has little if anything
to do with her refusal to name sources. If so, then Miller's media
colleagues may want to reconsider their letters of nomination to
the Pulitzer Prize Committee in behalf of Judith Miller.
The presumed martyrdom of Judith Miller rests on the assumption
that Miller is a reporter who has been victimized by an out-of-control
prosecutor. But might she be miscast in this role? Is it not possible
that Judith Miller is not really a reporter at all, but instead
is a facilitator a conveyer of official lies from Rove's and Cheney's
mouths to our ears, via the New York Times? As such, she
might be in possession of information that could break this case
wide open were she at long last to tell the truth information
that no journalist, indeed no citizen, is entitled to withhold from
a criminal investigation.
Judith Miller, let us not forget, took the lead in promulgating
the myths of the nuclear bomb-making aluminum tubes and the vast
storehouses of Saddam Hussein's WMDs, and did all this on the pages
of the (once) respected and (once) reliable "flagship of American
journalism," the New York Times.
And Miller published this myth after Hussein Kamal, Saddam's defecting
son-in-law, revealed that he, Kamal, had personally dismantled Saddam's
WMDs. She did so at a time when Hans Blix of the UN inspections
team and Mohammed al Baradai of the International Atomic Energy
Agency had failed to find evidence of WMDs or an ongoing atomic
weapons program, and at a time when UN inspectors were in Iraq,
searching in vain for WMDs.
Even so, Miller steadfastly held to the party line and to her
role as a stenographer to a convicted embezzler, Ahmed Chalabi,
and to the NeoCons. The evidence of no WMDs was out there to be
had by a competent reporter. She appeared not to be interested.
Miller is therefore either a spectacularly incompetent reporter
or a willing co-conspirator in an official lie. No third, benign,
explanation is in evidence.
Are the Cooper and Miller cases different in kind, and does the
prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald want something more from Miller than
simply the name of her source? Some
are suggesting that Miller, through her close associations with
the NeoCons, was in fact the source of the goods on Valerie Plame
Wilson. Who knows? I don't, but maybe the Grand Jury does, and now
wants Miller's testimony to tie down the case.
This is one of many what-ifs, and the rest is guesswork. So we
wait, and hope that Patrick Fitzgerald and his Grand Jury have the
extraordinary courage to follow this caper to wherever it leads.
The very future of our democracy may well depend on it.
Fool me Twice...
From time to time we encounter in the mainstream media (MSM),
journalistic concerns about the American public's declining interest
in political and national news. "Shame on you masses!"
we are admonished, and we are reminded of Jefferson's warning that
a nation cannot be both ignorant and free.
I have a different take on this: shame on the media! True, newspaper
circulation and TV news ratings are down, but might not this be
due to the fact that more and more Americans are finally coming
to realize that they've been suckered by the MSM and that they
must now look elsewhere for accurate, relevant, "fair and balanced"
reporting of the news?
Suckered? How so? Consider first these now familiar examples of
MSM thumbs on the scales of domestic politics.
- 2000. The MSM took no pains to correct the GOP lies that Al
Gore had claimed to have "invented the Internet" and
to have "discovered Love Canal." The Democrat's attempts
to raise the issue of Bush's Texas Air National Guard record were
unavailing. Immediate public opinion that Gore had won the presidential
debates were reversed by post-debate network and cable spin, and
Frank Luntz' phoney focus groups.
- 2003 February 5. Colin Powell presents Bush's case for war
with Iraq to the United Nations Security Council. Subsequent events
and exhaustive and unrestricted searches in Iraq have proven the
speech to be pack of lies. But at the time, US editorial opinion
was completely taken in. A sampling: "Powell lays out convincing
evidence of Iraq defiance (USA Today); "[Powell] offered
a powerful new case that Saddam Hussein's regime is cooperating
with a branch of the al Qaeda organization that is trying to acquire
chemical weapons" (Washington Post); "The Powell
evidence will be persuasive to anyone who is still persuadable"
(Wall Street Journal); "Powell laid out the need [for
war] ... in step-by-step fashion that cannot be refuted without
resorting to fantasy" (Chicago Sun-Times). For much
more of the same from "the librul media," follow
- 2004. The MSM reports the Swift Boat smear of John Kerry without
commentary and rebuttal, thus lending credence to the slander.
Bush's apparent use of a listening device in the debates is unreported
and unexplored by the MSM. Once again, the Texas Air National
Guard issue fails to take hold, and the CBS 60 Minutes report
backfires, ending the career of Dan Rather. Post-election, the
question of election fraud is totally shut out of MSM reportage
But at long last, the public is beginning to wake from its dogmatic
- In April, 2004, the Program on International Policy Attitudes
reported that "a majority of Americans (57%) continue to
believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support
to al Qaeda, including 20% who believe that Iraq was directly
involved in the September 11 attacks. Forty-five percent believe
that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found.
Sixty percent believe that just before the war Iraq either had
weapons of mass destruction (38%) or a major program for developing
them (22%)." (PIPA,
2004). But a year later, just last April (2005), the Gallup
poll reported that 50% believe that Bush "deliberately
misled the American public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass
destruction." In short, Bush lied, the MSM conveyed the lie
at first successfully, but now the public is beginning to see
- 2005. Bush's public lie that he was "doing everything
in my power to avoid war" is exposed and refuted by the Downing
Street Memos, which go unreported for several weeks until the
progressive Internet forces it into the MSM, whereupon it disappears
again. Nonetheless, Bush's credibility is severely damaged as
only 41% of the public now believes him to be "honest and
drop of nine points since January. And finally, the Zogby
poll reports that "in a sign of continuing polarization,
more than two-in-five voters (42%) say they would favor impeachment
proceedings if it is found the President misled the nation about
his reasons for going to war with Iraq."
So it appears that the Bush/Cheney/Rove/GOP propaganda machine,
and its MSM facilitators, are losing control.
This has happened many times before, though not often in our history.
For example, during the Cold War, the American Press delighted in
reporting the often laughable inventions of Pravda and Izvestia.
When in 1957 the Red Army put down the Hungarian revolution, the
Russian citizens were told that the Army was invited in by the legitimate
government to help defeat a "fascist coup." In 1968, same
message, different country: Czechoslovakia . And when the Berlin
Wall went up, the Soviet press told the world that it was designed
to keep spies from crossing into East Berlin.
But are these fantasies any less credible than the following,
dutifully and uncritically reported by the MSM: "They attacked
us on 9/11 because they hate our freedoms," or "Saddam
has pilotless aircraft that he can use to release biological warfare
on our homeland," or "there is no doubt that Saddam has
reconstituted nuclear weapons," or "Saddam Hussein recently
sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," or "we'll
do anything we can to avoid war," or "the insurgents are
in their last throes," or "the detainees in Guantαnamo
are in a tropical paradise."
The Busheviks are discovering, like the Bolsheviks before them,
that the public soon becomes immune to official lies and starts
to look elsewhere for news. When, year after year, Pravda announced
"record harvests in the collective farms," the shelves
in the Leningrad and Moscow stores remained bare. Official "news"
and the experience of ordinary life just didn't fit. And now, it's
beginning to happen here, as American citizens with memories recall
the now demonstrably discredited lies. Still worse for the Bush
regime, those lies are on the record where they cannot be unsaid,
and where they are immediately available to anyone with access to
If this slide in credibility continues, what follows? Is it just
possible that, at long last, the public will begin to doubt the
validity of their elections, past and pending? Will serious and
publicized investigations of election returns begin, to be followed
by indictments? Will the GOP, perhaps for the first time in a decade,
have to face the American voters in honest elections? If so, the
jig is up: game, set, match!
Mark Twain once said that "A lie can travel halfway around
the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." At long
last, truth has put on its shoes, and is about to get to work.
And don't you believe for a moment that Rove, the GOP and Bush,
Inc. aren't acutely aware of this!
In the meantime, what is the public to do? Quite simply, ignore
the mainstream media and boycott its sponsors. Support independent
and responsible news sources. Then allow the market, so esteemed
by the regressive-right, to come to the aid of media reform.
Remember the Sinclair Broadcasting fiasco? Shortly before the
2004 election, this right-wing outfit scheduled an anti-Kerry propaganda
piece, "Stolen Honor." It was never broadcast. And why?
Because the Sinclair management had a sudden flash of civic responsibility?
Don't be silly! It was because the stockholders (no doubt predominantly
conservative Republicans) were properly alarmed about the citizen
complaints and boycotts, and the resulting plunge in stock value.
So if the MSM sees a continuing drop in ratings and the sponsors
suffer from boycotts, then the MSM may face a stark choice: reform
Mind you, I'm not guaranteeing that this will happen. Who knows
how a wounded Bushista administration and its corporate "stockholders"
might strike back. It could be very ugly. But the admirable Russian
and Soviet people, under a detestable regime with complete media
control, rendered that media irrelevant and eventually overthrew
Can we do as well, given the advantage of our political traditions
and our history?
I think we can. And in view of the alternative prospects before
us, how can we honorably fail to make the effort?
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in
the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes
the website, The
Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website, The
Crisis Papers. Send comments to: email@example.com.
Crisis Papers Archive