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(Photo by searmid — do click through the link and read the background on the shot.  Some lovely, enigmatic photos here.)

Digby has some thoughts on the Libby trial and its exposure of the press relationship with the Bush Administration that I want to discuss a bit further:

If the trial did nothing else it showed the sickeningly parasitic relationship between many in the press and the Republicans. The Libby apologists in the media and the political establishment are screaming bloody murder about the trial because there was no "underlying crime" so Scooter shouldn't have even been been tried for lying to the Grand Jury. Forgetting their unbelievable gall in making this argument after their non-stop shrieking about the "rule 'o law" in the Lewinsky matter when the alleged underlying crime of sexual harrassment had been thrown out of court on the merits, their crocodile tears for the first amendment are especially rich coming from the people who wanted to jail reporters in stories that revealed current illegal and extra-constitutional policies on the part of the administration. Dana Priest and others are actually doing the work they are supposed to do which is overseeing government and they are vilified by the same Republican establishment that has otherwise wrapped itself in the first amendment to defend Tim Russert and Judy Miller and the Bush administration.

This isn't brain surgery. A reporter's privilege should not be used to help powerful people in government lie to the public about what it's doing or punish its enemies for speaking out against it. It exists to protect people who are risking their livelihoods by speaking out against those same powerful people. This is not hard for rational people to understand and yet in Washington they are so confused by their relationships with the powerful that they seem to be speaking in tongues on this issue.  (emphasis mine)

The thing is, as Digby rightly points out, there are a number of reporters who are not confused by this at all. One of the reporters who testified at the Libby trial, David Sanger, has been fairly careful all along about sourcing, granting of anonymity, and being a skeptic, and he had a piece in the NYTimes Week in Review on Sunday that puts this issue into a broader context regarding national security matters and public scrutiny thereof:

And more than ever it is building on reporters whose job it is to go beyond reporting the latest conclusions of a secret National Intelligence Estimate and explain to their readers whether those conclusions — and the always-murky data attached to them — are reasonable, or being twisted to fit a policy agenda.

None of this started with Mr. Libby, of course, but his case centered on a brief window in time that summer, when the White House was forced to admit that it couldn’t support President Bush’s assertion that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium in Africa. Amid nasty finger-pointing between the White House and the C.I.A., the administration suddenly had to declassify its intelligence findings, in a desperate effort to explain why Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney made so many false assertions. Mr. Libby was consumed in that effort….

…For the first time in memory in dealing with a White House that prizes “no comments,” it is easier to squeeze officials into explaining how they reached their conclusions — and who dissented.

“As a nation, we’ve lost something that’s very hard to get back, which is the benefit of the doubt,” said Ashton B. Carter, a Harvard professor worked for the Clinton administration and is now on an advisory panel to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “It will be years before we restore our reputation for veracity, and the only way to do that is to reveal more about the sensitive information that underlies our policies.”…

The big question is how long this flirtation with openness will last, and how long journalists will remember the bitter lessons that arose from their inability (critics would say unwillingness) to insist that the government talk not only about its conclusions, but about its logic….  (emphasis mine)

And that truly is the crux of the matter here.  The contrast between Sanger's testimony at the Libby trial, and that of the WH PR Flack Cathie Martin and that of Judy Miller and/or Tim Russert stands out enormously.   Sanger's rare as possible granting of anonymity contrasted against the backdrop of Russert's assumption that every conversation is off the record, unless otherwise agreed later in the conversation, does not show the Russerts of the media world in a flattering light.  Nor should it.

During the Republican-controlled Executive and Congressional reign of the last six years, we had a perfect storm of failures of oversight.   The Bush Administration has failed to police itself in terms of integrity and ethics, preferring instead to go on an orgy of cronyism and power consolidation.  The Republican-led Congress all too happy to enable the Bush Administration in this, in order to maintain its hold on the perks purse and the PR appearance of power.  The judiciary tied itself in Constitutional knots over terrorism prosecutions and ideological tangents over precedential, Constitutional duties.  And, in the meantime, the vaunted Fourth Estate concentrated more on perfecting its curtsy to the Unilateral Executive, save for a few members who continued the important wariness and mistrust of those in power, but consequently spent far too much of their time relegated to page A-17 on a Friday by a timid editorial class whose personal interests were thought to be served by not ticking off those in power.

This is not new — the need to please those in power warring against the public's interest in questioning those self-same political power brokers has always been fought.  But the unprecedented scope of these failures across such a broad spectrum from the top to the bottom of political leadership in this nation of ours has been as painful as it has been infuriating.

It has taken the jolt of multiple, successive failures to wake up a large portion of the American electorate, the political establishment and the media at large.  And, even so, we have so much further to go — and it is going to take all of us to keep things moving in a more pro-active direction.

We must continue to ask questions, demand accountability, and search for answers.  From ourselves, our elected officials, and anyone in the public sphere.

It is the questions that are important — for it is through the questions that we begin to see that more are needed — and to understand that whatever initial answers are given, they are the opaque and superficial first blush.  The opacity of the Bush Administration has been especially honed — not just with the American press, but with the public at large — but it is to the public that the Administration is, ultimately, answerable at every level.  We forget that at our peril, and the press forgets this at a costly mortgage to all of our futures for generations to come.

The price of the failures of the last six years is steep.  We have lost something that will be years in the regaining, if ever, and that is our national integrity.  I keep going back to the basics that Dan Froomkin laid out in his Neiman piece back in February — that any of it had to be written down astonishes me, but clearly there is a desperate need for some plain-spoken common sense.  Skepticism ought not be a lost art, especially in Washington, D.C., given the penchant for spin that so many within the Beltway possess.  Someone's interpretation of events is variable, depending on the perspective, but the facts themselves ought not be malleable.  And we would do well to remind ourselves of that frequently.

What I would like is more reporting which lays out clearly when someone is giving personal opinion, and what is based on hard, cold fact; what is interpretive, and what is analytical; what interest or rationale is propelling the analysis, and what is behind a particular push — in short, the surrounding circumstances and the history alongside the spin, including some background on the person doing the spinning.  This is what we try to do here every day, and what people do all across the blogs on both sides of the aisle — people do not get information in a vaccuum, they are sophisticated enough to know that there is context behind every parsed, focus-group-tested phrasing.  What we do not need from the press is more sales pitch — instead, we would, as Sanger suggests, appreciate a bit more deconstruction.  And some plain, old honesty and skepticism from the people we depend on to peer into the halls of power and report not just what they are told to say, but also what those who are doing the telling would prefer that we not know — the devil, as they say, is in the details.

Transparency in government is necessary.  It is equally appreciated in reporting.  It puts us all on an equal footing, trying to parse out the reality from the malfeasance which can only, in the long run, serve as a deterrent to those who would seek to use the public sphere as their own, personal ideological playground. 

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com