The press: Don't get hopes too high
There’s been a whole lot of blowing and crowing the last few days over the fact that reporters persisted on July 11 in questioning presidential spokesman Scott McClellan about the behavior and future of George Bush’s poisonous toad, his beloved "Turd Blossom," Karl Rove.
A few other questions to the administration and it’s backers since then have emboldened more commentators to join the hallelujah chorus.
The tone of most of the comments has followed the line of a Minneapolis Star Tribune op-ed headline that declared "At last, press starts doing its job."
Don’t get your hopes up.
The article under that headline will serve as a metaphor for the whole misguided celebration: It was written by Gary Gilson, executive director of the Minnesota News Council, an organization that serves mainly the publishers of small newspapers around the state. It suggested that the press has turned a corner and now is behaving as it should, or at least Gilson hopes so.
To put it delicately, Gilson and his mostly conservative employers tend to lead from behind.
It can be assumed, therefore, that the publishers approve of this brief and very limited aggressiveness on the part of big-city reporters as a way to slap some new paint on the tarnished reputations of broadcasters and newspapers in general. Don’t expect anybody to do anything about the flaking rust under the paint, or the rotten rubber and broken parts.
The apparent return to responsibility on the part of the press is of extremely limited scope, and almost certainly temporary. It is occurring only because of the overwhelming attention paid on the Internet to Rove’s most visible misdeeds – the exposure of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame in order to harm her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. That was done, of course, because Wilson pointed out some of the administration’s deliberate lies leading up to the attack on Iraq.
Those are Rove’s most visible misdeeds, by the way, only because the press has failed, for the most part, to report to the public on his many other unethical and, quite probably, criminal actions, although the facts are readily available to any reasonably competent reporter.
In fact, most newspapers ducked the current flap – generally on the false but frequently used grounds that it was "old news" – until the noise from somewhat emboldened Democrats and the on-line newsletters and blogs became so loud even people who don’t use computers became aware of the issues.
(You can make something "old news" by publishing, once, a four-paragraph article, lacking essential details, at the bottom of page 38, among the acne-cure ads. Forever after, you can say you’ve done that story.)
The plain truth is that there is little or no reason to believe that America’s newspapers are likely to become anything other than the cowardly, issue-avoiding enablers of the extreme right that they have been for the past seven, eight or more years. Little hiccups such as the one we’re seeing now provide nothing more than the false appearance of independence. Think of a puppy that gets to run around the fenced back yard a yip a little before being put back on the leash.
Ah, I can hear some of you saying, "Such a cynical outlook. How can you make such observations? On what grounds?"
It’s a little difficult to explain the senses one develops and understandings one comes to about an occupation after being in it for four-plus decades, but here are a few of the clues that lead to the conclusion that nothing real is going to come of the recent show (I use the word carefully) of professional behavior on the part of a few journalists:
* Despite all the attention paid to the single event, the exposure and endangerment of Plame by Rove – and probably at least one other member of the administration – no one in the press is looking at any other Rovian misdeeds. Examination of at least the recent history and other proven or provable unethical acts by one accused of a serious breech of ethics, and perhaps law, is standard procedure. It’s not generally being followed in this case.
It is easily demonstrable that Rove has destroyed other careers, engineered major frauds upon the public and has in many specific instances behaved with an utter disregard for ethical standards, but hardly anyone in the news racket is making even veiled references to those facts.
The near certainty that another Bush associate is involved in the disclosure of Plame’s position with the CIA is getting scant attention.
* The White House and its warriors, such as Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, an officially anointed defender of the administration’s worst offenses, are making no effort to hide the thinking or planning behind their defense of Rove. They are aiming, as they always do, at distraction, mainly through legalistic word games and attacks on Plame’s husband.
The attacks of the Bushies are rooted in demonstrable lies, obvious to those who follow events closely, but not to the wider public unless they are disclosed by the press. You won’t see a lot of such disclosure.
The word games follow the outline of the "define sex" dodge that caused Republicans to heap deserved scorn on Bill Clinton. That is, since Rove identified Plame by her husband’s name rather than her own, he didn’t really name her.
Every reporter and editor in the world instantly recognizes those tactics, yet they report the nonsense as though it must be taken seriously. If a Democrat tells a truth, then a Republican must be allowed a blatant lie or five or six, and we’ll call it "balance."
Plainly, the press is entirely aware of the scam and how it works, but most news outlets are going along with it anyway.
* The press is showing not the slightest inclination to start covering other extremely important stories that it has all but ignored to date. Here are just ten from a list that now runs into the dozens:
(1) The more than $6 billion of American taxpayers’ money, possibly much more, has been stolen in Iraq, mainly by Pentagon contractors. That’s money just plain stolen, and doesn’t include such things as overcharges, charges for work not done or taken through inflated prices.
(2) The maltreatment and nontreatment of American military personnel injured, physically and mentally, in Iraq.
(3) The full extent of the lies and deliberate distortions of facts and intelligence leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Coverage of the Downing Street Memos and their meaning, was reluctant, belated and grossly inadequate.
(4) The extremely precarious position of the United States economy, and how that is directly attributable to Bush policies.
(5) The actual status of the phony "war on terror" and of worldwide terrorism and how Bush policies have enormously inflated the dangers.
(6) The massive drop in the status of the United States throughout the rest of the world and the likely effects of that, economically, socially and in the safety of the United States and its citizens.
(7) The continuing unnecessary death and injury of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan because of failure to equip them properly – and that despite some occasional, but very spotty and minimal, news coverage.
(8) The full extent of this administration’s (and the military’s) use of torture against foreigners and the false imprisonment of people, many of whom are innocent of any misdeeds whatever. And the kidnappings around the world, some of which involve seriously illegal activities in countries regarded as allies. Oh, and have you heard about the "secret" prison ships that are secret pretty much only to the American public?
(9) The now almost inarguable facts demonstrating that the Bush "win" in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election was as false as the 2000 theft of the election in Florida. Bush lost in Ohio, folks, although he got the electoral votes through fraud. The evidence your local newspapers and television stations haven’t mentioned is overwhelming.
(10) The extent to which this country is under the thumb of China. It’s astonishing and terrifying.
That, as I said, is just a tiny portion of the full list, and doesn’t even touch all the local stories you should see, but won’t, on your news broadcasts or in your newspapers.
A prediction: Should the current little show of responsibility actually lead to the "firing" of Karl Rove, you might make a few bucks betting that the supposed exile will result in nothing more than the loss of his official title and a move to an office a mile or two from the White House. Bush would wet his pants without Karl around to guide him to the men’s room.