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John Steinberg - Raw Story Columnist
Published: January 6, 2006

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Summing up an entire year in a single word, a single concept, or even a single column is usually a fool's errand. That kind of distillation is especially objectionable during such dark times: there is something macabre about viewing tragedy as mere grist for the rhetorical mill. But such cold abstraction is the grind of history. And it is perhaps not too soon to take the measure of the year just past. In a year in which so much went wrong and so much evil was exposed, I think the theme was clear: 2005 was the year of confirmation.

The word confirmation has more than one meaning of course. I mean it here as "additional proof that something that was believed (some fact or hypothesis or theory) is correct." In the world of American politics, things many of us suspected are now indisputable. For those of us who believed that the Bush administration was an unprecedented cesspool of evil and incompetence, and that the press has become complicit on both counts, 2005 supplied nothing that challenged us to revise our negative mental picture.

But lots of things that we believed were confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt.


Despite a parade of horrors plaguing the White House, perhaps the most significant belief confirmed this year was this: that the press has largely abdicated its watchdog role. Liberals have railed for years against the way the traditional media have happily volunteered to function as the right-wing's calliope.

In years past, most of the evidence was subtle and circumstantial.

That changed in 2005, which supplied a militia's worth of smoking guns. The exposed failures of the press were legion, but the most egregious tended to fall into two categories: individual bribery and institutional cooption.

In January, we learned that Armstrong Williams was on the take to the tune of nearly a quarter million with the Department of Education. Then it was columnist Maggie Gallagher's palm being greased by HHS to the tune of more than $20 thousand, a transgression she proved unable to recognize even after exposure.

Late in the year we learned that columnist and Cato Institute Senior Fellow Doug Bandow could be yours (or, at least, Jack Abramoff's) for the low, low price of $2000 a column. We always suspected that such conservative shills were metaphorically in the pockets of cui bono. Now the literal truth of that sorry fact has been confirmed. In the year in which Scott McClellan's favorite lifeline was, shall we say, exposed as a literal whore, we finally have confirmation that many of his colleagues were not much different.

The more systemic failure could, if one is feeling charitable, be seen as a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Through a combination of intimidation and savvy cooption, the press has come to identify with its right-wing captors. Again, the left has railed impotently at least since the right-wing hijacking that sustained the Whitewater, Travelgate and other dry wells until Ken Starr found, dare I say it, his gusher. But 2005 brought a new interlocutor.

Patrick Fitzgerald's primary mission was certainly not to investigate the nominal investigators in the press. But what his inquiry collaterally confirmed " first about Judith Miller, and then about Bob Woodward, and finally about the institutions that enabled and defended their betrayals " was that star reporters at the two top newspapers in the country had so utterly confabulated subject and object that they were no longer capable of even recognizing their own job descriptions. Incredibly, the reaction of their colleagues and editors after exposure of their failures " especially Bob Woodward's enablers at the Post " only served to show how these ethical lapses had become so pervasive as to look like water to these remoras. In the end, that confirmation might turn out to be more important than the formal convictions Fitzgerald obtains.

And then there were the revelations of pervasive institutional-level collaboration " revelations that should have shocked, but didn"t. We suspected that the high throw-weight publications knew more about the misdeeds they never covered than they let us in on, but now we know. In February, The New York Times admitted that it spiked a pre-election story on Bush's bulge in the debates with Kerry. Time Magazine admitted swallowing its pre-election knowledge that Karl Rove leaked Valerie Plame's name and lied about it. And finally, on New Year's Eve, the Times" Public Editor Byron Calame told us that in this aspect, at least, he really is standing in the shoes of the public: when he asked Publisher Pinch Sulzberger and Managing Editor Bill Keller to explain why they sat on pre-election knowledge of law-breaking by the President himself, they told him to go Cheney himself. The Times thereby confirmed that the high-level dysfunction that gave Judith Miller and Bob Woodward their megaphones continues to throw roadblocks, blankets and horse's heads at the few reporters like James Risen who dare to see reality and, worse, try to expose it.

Space and exhausted bile ducts do not permit discussion of all the ugly confirmations we received in 2005 directly from the Bush Administration. Their shocking indifference to Katrina's devastation (and, lest we forget, the Asian tsunami in the first days of January) confirmed for many both our President's incompetence and his congenital lack of empathy. The twin sagas of Michael Brown at FEMA and Harriet Meiers as Supreme Court nominee confirmed the inviolate ascendancy of patronage over competence. The Administration's desperate defense of their right and ability to spirit away, hide and torture anyone they damned well please, unencumbered by even minimal oversight, confirmed that the President's repeated asides about how much easier things would be in a dictatorship were not idle chatter. Scooter Libby's indictment and Karl Rove's traitorous denouement confirmed the recklessness of an administration and, for the umpteenth time, the unbridled mendacity of a President.

There were a few happier confirmations, of course. Bush's plummeting poll numbers and the categorical rejection of Bush's brain-dead plan for destroying Social Security confirmed that, mirabile dictu, there are actually limits to the gullibility of the American public. And the dogged, exemplary work of Patrick Fitzgerald confirmed that even in these dark days, Diogenes could still find at least one honest man.

A few things remain unconfirmed " the hapless Harriet Meiers, the scurrilous John Bolton, and for the moment at least, the monarchist Samuel Alito. But the most important thing that remains unconfirmed is whether the American people still deserve the singular gifts deeded to us more than 200 years ago.

For now it seems that far too many would trade away the real freedoms built into the tripartite structure that survived for so long in exchange for the false comfort promised by despots.

So here's to a very different 2006, and to the follow-up column I want to write a year from now, to be called "Conviction."


John Steinberg is a Senior Recidivist with the Poor Man Institute for Freedom and Democracy and a Pony. He bloviates regularly @


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