Well, screw that. I am
proud of what I do, and want my work to be read and
taken seriously. But include me out of the journalism
There is a great line in Zach Braff’s 2004
film “Garden State.” He says that a family
is “a group of people who miss the same imaginary
place.” When bloggers say they want to be journalists,
they are doing the same thing.
The Platonic form of journalism – Edward R.
Murrow taking on Joseph McCarthy, Walter Cronkite
taking on Lyndon Johnson after the Tet Offensive,
Woodward and Bernstein taking on Nixon – is
today a fantasy unrecognizable in the flickering phosphors
on the walls of our contemporary caves. Perhaps journalists
once took risks in order to share dangerous truths
with readers and viewers, but that time seems to have
passed into history. What passes for journalism in
Washington and New York today is in large measure
as corrupt and despicable as the subjects it glosses.
The most egregious, and at long last acknowledged,
example of journalism as epithet is of course Judith
Miller, (formerly?) of the New York Times. Her steadfast
refusal to come clean about her involvement in the
Traitorgate affair marks her with at least one of
two fatal flaws: she could be a dupe; she could be
a conspirator. Or she could be both. But the way her
colleagues continue to circle the wagons around her
proves that she is not “outside the mainstream,”
but an exemplar of contemporary journalism.
The Society of Professional Journalists gave Judith
Miller its “First
Amendment Award,” and a standing ovation
– both of which occurred after the belated denouement
in the Times. For these cheerleaders of her self-promotion,
journalism is clearly no longer about following the
truth where it leads or afflicting the comfortable.
When journalists cheer a woman who refused to cooperate
with or turn over her notes to reporters from her
own newspaper, it is clear that the residents of the
Fourth Estate are concerned primarily with preserving
their co-dependency with the other three.
Judith Miller has likely worked herself out of the
club: as more of her profound ethical breaches become
public, I assume she will eventually become radioactive
even to the credulous First Amendment hawks who bought
her pig-in-a-poke First Amendment fantasy. But the
Washington beat remains a miasma of hypocrisy and
putrefaction. And perhaps the most toxic of the ethical
Superfund sites is General Electric-owned NBC.
General Electric is a huge
conglomerate. I’m sure the folks in the
news room will insist that they are free to follow
their stories wherever they lead. But do you really
believe that anyone who works for a company that expects
more than $3
billion in revenue from rebuilding Iraq is going
to be fearless about biting the hand that feeds it?
Flash Occam’s Razor in a confrontation with
Russert and Chris
Matthews and Andrea
Mitchell and Pete
Williams and tell me what explanation best fits
the data. There is room to speculate about the motives
behind their dereliction: simple cowardice could also
explain some of their actions. Maybe laziness explains
most of the rest. But consider this: Russert defends
the exchange with Libby detailed in Libby’s
indictment as a call in which Libby complained about
how the network had covered Libby – a complaint
Russert says he passed directly to the president of
NBC News. What Russert did may be an appropriate response
at People Magazine, but here betrays dangerous levels
of dysfunctional symbiosis.
And Russert’s weekly kabuki theater, in which
he failed for two years to so much as acknowledge
his own role in the underlying scandal he discussed?
Russert defends by saying that Fitzgerald asked him
to remain silent. But Fitzgerald’s white hat
does not change the fact that Russert yet again considered
himself more beholden to his subjects than to his
audience. So pick your poison: pretend to report a
story without disclosing your own role in it, or pretend
to report on government while doing billions of dollars
in business with it. You will find both sins almost
everywhere you look at NBC.
(I consider outlier Keith Olbermann to be a blogger
who happens to have a TV show. And please note that
his show seems to be barely
tolerated by his corporate masters who, lest we
forget, already pulled
the plug on Donahue.)
NBC is not alone, of course, in its malfeasance.
The folks at Time magazine who sat
on the explosive story it had about White House
lies concerning Rove’s leaking to Matt Cooper
– precisely because the story could have turned
the election – surely they call themselves journalists.
The shot-callers at CBS who repeatedly yanked
the still-unseen 60 Minutes story about the forged
Niger yellow cake documents during the same time frame
– I’m sure they are journalists, too.
And Bob Woodward – elevated into the pantheon
by his Watergate work, now utterly addicted to the
quo(tes) that his sycophantic books transform into
shilling for his source – a journalist through
What we do is different. When it comes down to it,
the raison d’etre of blogging is the dissemination
of information. Most of us make little or nothing
from our efforts; we just want our truths to be heard.
That used to be first principle of journalism, but
today it is not. The pathetic, conflicted coverage
of the Plame case proves it. Journalism is now more
about gilt than guilt; it is an object lesson in the
ease with which the powerful can co-opt the ambitious.
Perhaps the most repugnant thing to come out of Fitzgerald’s
investigation, and the most damning indictment of
today’s journalism is this: we now know that
smart and experienced senior White House officials
banked their entire criminal enterprise on their certainty
that journalists would protect them by strenuously
resisting the efforts of the special prosecutor to
pull their toothless gums from the teat of easy access.
That is what journalism has become.
If what Judith Miller and the New York Times and
CBS and Time and NBC did is journalism, if what Tim
Russert and Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell and
Robert Novak continue to do is journalism, then I
want no part of it. I find far more honor in the term
“blogger” than in the charred, empty husk
of the word “journalist.”
So call me a blogger, please. Journalists turn my
John Steinberg is a Senior Recidivist with the
Poor Man Institute for Freedom and Democracy and a
Pony. He bloviates regularly @ www.bluememe.blogspot.com.