[Marxism] Michael Massing on the media

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 28 10:07:55 MST 2005


NY Review, Volume 52, Number 20 · December 15, 2005
The Press: The Enemy Within
By Michael Massing

The past few months have witnessed a striking change in the fortunes of two 
well-known journalists: Anderson Cooper and Judith Miller. CNN's Cooper, 
the one-time host of the entertainment show The Mole, who was known mostly 
for his pin-up good looks, hip outfits, and showy sentimentality, suddenly 
emerged during Hurricane Katrina as a tribune for the dispossessed and a 
scourge of do-nothing officials. He sought out poor blacks who were 
stranded in New Orleans, expressed anger over bodies rotting in the street, 
and rudely interrupted Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu when she began 
thanking federal officials for their efforts. When people "listen to 
politicians thanking one another and complimenting each other," he told 
her, "you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are 
very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated." After receiving much 
praise, Cooper in early November was named to replace Aaron Brown as the 
host of CNN's NewsNight.

By then, Judith Miller was trying to salvage her reputation. After 
eighty-five days in jail for refusing to testify to the grand jury in the 
Valerie Plame leak case, she was greeted not with widespread appreciation 
for her sacrifice in protecting her source but with angry questions about 
her relations with Lewis Libby and her dealings with her editors, one of 
whom, Bill Keller, said he regretted he "had not sat her down for a 
thorough debriefing" after she was subpoenaed as a witness. The controversy 
revived the simmering resentment among her fellow reporters, and many Times 
readers, over her reporting on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In the 
Times's account, published on October 16, Miller acknowledged for the first 
time that "WMD—I got it totally wrong." Bill Keller said that after 
becoming the paper's executive editor in 2003, he had told Miller that she 
could no longer cover Iraq and weapons issues, but that "she kept drifting 
on her own back into the national security realm." For her part, Miller 
insisted that she had "cooperated with editorial decisions" and expressed 
regret that she was not allowed to do follow-up reporting on why the 
intelligence on WMD had been so wrong; on November 8, she agreed to leave 
the Times after twenty-eight years at the paper.[1]

These contrasting tales suggest something about the changing state of 
American journalism. For many reporters, the bold coverage of the effects 
of the hurricane, and of the administration's glaring failure to respond 
effectively, has helped to begin making up for their timid reporting on the 
existence of WMD. Among some journalists I've spoken with, shame has given 
way to pride, and there is much talk about the need to get back to the 
basic responsibility of reporters, to expose wrongdoing and the failures of 
the political system. In recent weeks, journalists have been asking more 
pointed questions at press conferences, attempting to investigate cronyism 
and corruption in the White House and Congress, and doing more to document 
the plight of people without jobs or a place to live.

Will such changes prove lasting? In a previous article, I described many of 
the external pressures besetting journalists today, including a hostile 
White House, aggressive conservative critics, and greedy corporate 
owners.[2] Here, I will concentrate on the press's internal problems—not on 
its many ethical and professional lapses, which have been extensively 
discussed elsewhere, but rather on the structural problems that keep the 
press from fulfilling its responsibilities to serve as a witness to 
injustice and a watchdog over the powerful. To some extent, these problems 
consist of professional practices and proclivities that inhibit reporting 
—a reliance on "access," an excessive striving for "balance," an uncritical 
fascination with celebrities. Equally important is the increasing isolation 
of much of the profession from disadvantaged Americans and the difficulties 
they face. Finally, and most significantly, there's the political climate 
in which journalists work. Today's political pressures too often breed in 
journalists a tendency toward self-censorship, toward shying away from the 
pursuit of truths that might prove unpopular, whether with official 
authorities or the public.

full: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18555

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