Wednesday, December 14, 2005
OPINION: Ralph Peters/NYPost on journalism's failure
PUBLISHED: Dec. 5, 2005 on the New York Post Op/Ed Page
JOURNALISM'S MORAL COLLAPSE
By RALPH PETERS
(Ralph Peters' latest book is "New Glory: Expanding America's Global
A SPECTER is haunting journalism: the specter of Watergate.
Three decades ago, two young reporters became the story and crippled American
Budding yuppies who avoided inconvenient service to the state needed heroes
they could call their own. And they got them.
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
on-screen. It was as if Mike Bloomberg was portrayed by Brad Pitt. Overnight,
journalism became an upwardly mobile profession . and our country is much the
worse for it.
In place of the old healthy skepticism, we have arrogant cynicism. The highest
echelons of the media and government became preserves for America's
most-privileged. An Ivy League degree was the ticket to a reporting job on a
major daily. And incest produced the usual ugly results.
"Mainstream" newspapers lost touch with American workers because the new breed
of journalists didn't know any workers.
After journalists became matinee idols, every bright young reporter had a new
career goal. Forget honest, get-at-the-facts reporting. Henceforth the crowning
ambition in the field was to bring down a president . especially one who wasn't
"our kind." Failing that, turning the tide of a foreign conflict against
Washington would do.
"Serious" journalists became scandal-mongers in drag.
The other product of the Woodward-Bernstein cult was the rise of the
self-adoring conviction that journalists were above patriotism, the law and
common decency. Today's Joe McCarthys aren't on Capitol Hill . they're in the
newsroom. In lieu of Edward R. Murrow, we have Hedda Hopper masquerading as
Joan of Arc.
Now we learn that Bob Woodward, the muckraker who became a groupie to the
great, felt himself entitled to ignore his basic responsibilities as a citizen
and journalist in the CIA leak case: He had information and withheld it from
His counterpart at the New York Times, Judy Miller (the loudest diva since
Maria Callas), invoked the journalist's exception to the rule of law in the
opposite manner, grandstanding about protecting her source.
Leona Helmsley famously remarked that taxes are for the little people. Star
journalists assume that the law is for the little people, too. "Journalistic
privilege" is the biggest crock of merde since phrenology or eugenics:
Reporters aren't priests in the confessional: They're citizens, just like you
Celeb journalists love to invoke "freedom of the press," but dismiss the
reality that the exercise of freedom in an open society demands a corresponding
sense of responsibility, as well as self-restraint and mature judgment.
The coverage of Iraq by once-great publications such as The New York Times and
The New Yorker has been nothing more than a propaganda effort to convince the
American people that our efforts are destined to fail. Stories lie by omission
Patriotism? Forget it.
After Watergate, patriotism became an embarrassment among journalists. They're
"citizens of the world." CNN International has grown so casually anti-American
that it rivals the BBC, while much of big media here at home gives terrorist
atrocities a pass, while celebrating the slightest errors of our troops with
The Washington Post . the old home of Woodward and Bernstein . offers a
fascinating study in the tensions at work in journalism today. Its editorial
page has improved remarkably in recent years, while the quality of its general
reporting has far surpassed the Times' page one editorializing.
Yet the quest for headlines-at-any-cost and the sense that evident patriotism
is distasteful led a superb paper to shameful decisions. Dana Priest, a
journalist with much fine work to her credit, recently broke the story of
secret CIA arrangements to hold captured terrorists in Eastern Europe. For the
sake of a headline, the paper did severe harm to our counter-terror efforts and
our diplomatic relations.
The editors would insist that "the public has a right to know." That tired
mantra needs scrutiny: It would have justified revealing secrets such as Ultra,
the Manhattan Project or the timing of D-Day in the Second World War.
Our country is at war with implacable enemies. If the media disdain supporting
our efforts at self-defense, they should at least refrain from undercutting our
security. How many deaths is a story worth? (And imagine if we had published
daily casualty reports from World War II battlefields. Would "journalistic
integrity" have justified aiding Hitler)?
Another Washington Post reporter, Anthony Shadid, published a long string of
soft-on-the-insurgents columns. An Arabic-speaker with family roots in the
Middle East, Shadid was apparently such a vital asset to the paper that his
work never got the scrubbing it deserved.
This year, Shadid published a book, "Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the
Shadow of America's War." Turn to the index. In 424 pages that pretend to
describe the suffering of "Iraq's people" under American occupation, there are
only nine entries under "Kurds" . when Kurds are about a fifth of the
population. Kurdish success and pro-Americanism would have been inconvenient.
Media bias just might turn the future of Iraq into a disaster that will
reverberate for decades. Last week, The Washington Post interviewed
Sunni-insurgent sympathizers. They said they "loved" media-creation Cindy
Sheehan and took heart from reports of the anti-war movement in Washington.
There you have it, from the camel's mouth.
As vile as Richard Nixon was, I'm no longer certain that Woodward and Bernstein
did our country a service. The post-Watergate journalist's unexamined
conviction that he or she is "beyond good and evil" has done far more evil than
Actions have consequences. Today's journalists refuse to accept that the rule
applies to them. The wages of irresponsible journalism are death . for others.
Expose a crucial clandestine operation, shatter a policy or wreck a struggling
state, and you get a Pulitzer Prize. The motto of journalists today is
"Nothing's ever our fault."
The republic suffers.
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