Kill the Messenger
The CBS Public Eye blog has been a bit of a mixed bag since its inception — anxious to distance itself from the unwashed horde of the "fever swamp," they’ve been rather quick to wag their finger at "angry liberal bloggers" and quote the likes of Jim Brady and Deborah Howell without considering the source. But Brian Montpoli has also done a good job of raising journalistic ethics questions with regard to things like the Dateline "Predator" series as well as addressing some sketchiness in CBS’ own reporting. Overall it’s been an interesting effort from a major media outlet to interface with its audience.
Montpoli has a piece up on Laura Ingram and her critique of journalists in Iraq that is such a breath of fresh air, such a welcome pushback against the chickenhawks of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists and the conservative noise machine in general that I very nearly jumped up and did the happy dance. He quotes Atrios, who really got the ball rolling on this one after Ingrahm made this outrageous crack on the Today show:
David, to do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military. To go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people, instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.
In July 2005, a group of six conservative talk show hosts organized a "truth tour" to Iraq to combat what they considered the dire portrayal of the war coming from the liberal media. Their belief that they could simply get the real story on the ground, unlike the mainstream media – one host, Melanie Morgan, said she planned to "get away from my military minders and talk to people" – prompted liberal talk show host Al Franken to say, "That’s how stupid these people are. They think they can walk around and talk to shopkeepers. They don’t realize how dangerous it is over there." (Here are the talk show hosts’ reports from the trip.)
The Iraq war is now considered by some to be the most dangerous in modern history for journalists, with 71 journalists and 26 support staffers killed, more than in Vietnam, Korea or World War II. Iraq is, without a doubt, an extraordinarily dangerous place. And particularly in light of what has happened to journalists in this war, one can’t help but note that Ingraham decided her eight-day Iraq tour qualified her to judge journalists who risked their lives for long periods covering the conflict. Kimberly Dozier has just had shrapnel removed from her head. Paul Douglas and James Brolan are dead. And they are just three of many.
Members of the press corps in Iraq are risking their lives trying to bring the story of the war to Americans, and the trivialization of those efforts strikes me as offensive. War reporters deserve our respect and admiration, but some in the conservative media criticism echo chamber have seen fit to slander them in order to argue that the situation in Iraq is far better than it appears. They take metaphorical shots at the messengers as the messengers do their jobs among very real bullets.
It’s true that if reporters were more willing to go out into the streets, we might be getting a slightly more complete picture of the situation in Iraq. We would also have more dead reporters. Considering the situation on the ground, I think most journalists have gone above and beyond the call of duty to do their jobs well. Several months ago I asked my bosses to go to Baghdad in order to report on the press corps there, and was turned down for safety reasons. I’m not sure I would make the same request today. If Ingraham feels, despite all of the violence against members of the press, that journalists are too cautious in covering the war, I encourage her to get out on the streets of Baghdad for an extended tour.
This is a remarkably rare phenomenon in the modern discourse about the war on journalism being perpetuated by the right. When we holler it’s because we value the press and want them to be better; when the right hollers it’s because they hate the press and want them destroyed. When it was recently revealed that the government was probably spying on journalists, their general apathy — as noted by Editor and Publisher — was rather shocking. It’s a very difficult psychology to grasp.
I think this 2004 interview with Ryan Lizza of TNR about what happened to reporters to displeased Lord Pissypants explains a lot:
RYAN LIZZA: Well, what I find interesting about this final stretch is that the RNC, they regularly send out what’s known in the business as opposition research about political opponents. So every day in our mailboxes reporters covering the campaign get a release with a sort of unflattering picture of John Kerry at the top and, you know, a list of negative information about him, and that of course goes on in every campaign. This is the first time I can remember where they’re sending out the same kind of stuff about specific reporters.
BOB GARFIELD: Who has been targeted?
RYAN LIZZA: The first one I got was during the debates when they went after Chris Matthews. They didn’t like the way that Matthews referred to Cheney’s comments about tying Saddam to 9/11. Chris Matthews basically said that Cheney was wrong in the debate when he said he’s never done that. The RNC sort of blew a gasket over this and sent out a lengthy rebuttal mentioning the fact that Chris Matthews is a Democrat, because he used to work for Tip O’Neill. It was kind of ironic, actually, cause of all the TV pundits the night of the vice presidential debates — that’s when this happened — Chris Matthews was one of the only ones at saying Cheney sort of cleaned Edwards’s clock.
BOB GARFIELD: Another RNC emailing went after Ron Suskind, after he had a piece in the New York Times magazine examining the president’s faith and its role in, in his presidency. Tell me about that.
RYAN LIZZA: They didn’t like that one much at all. And this was the first one where they included one of those unflattering pictures like they usually do with their political opponents, so they had a sort of dopey-looking picture of Suskind where he’s got his eyes sort of half-closed. [LAUGHTER] They actually looked up his party registration and found out that he’s a registered Democrat, and they pointed that out. They’re trying to discredit this story by claiming that Suskind is too much of a political partisan.
BOB GARFIELD: The headline said "Liberal Democrat Suskind Has Creativity but Not Facts," and the headline on the release about Chris Matthews said "Democrat Chris Matthews’ Selective Analysis."
RYAN LIZZA: That’s right.
BOB GARFIELD: I also notice that they seem to be using attacks on the press as the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free. When newspapers started doing more fact-checking of assertions made in campaign advertising and in the debates and on the stump, a leading Republican was quoted as saying he didn’t think that the president and Vice President Cheney should be subject to reflexive criticism from the press. What was that all about?
RYAN LIZZA: That was a comment from Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, made to Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post who was writing a piece about this subject. And what’s remarkable about that to me is it, it sort of tells you what the White House and the Bush campaign’s view is of the press. What they would like and what they’ve worked hard to accomplish is for the press to basically be an unmediated receptacle for their message on a daily basis. And if the press suddenly concerns itself with fact-checking that message every day, that doesn’t sit so well with the White House or the Bush campaign. I think actually the White House has been very good at using the press to get their message out relatively cleanly without a, a whole lot of fact-checking.
The price paid by journalists who complain about being an unmediated conduit for BushCo.’s Good Time War narrative is high. We don’t see a lot of it. It takes some guts to not only push back but call out this right-wing mau mauing for what it is, and I’d be delighted to see a whole lot more.
(photo by Robert Capa)