Murdoch, Russert, and Mitchell
In today’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune, editorial writer and columnist John Rash asks and answers a pointed question with respect to the latest on Rupert Murdoch:
So the journalism scandal may soon cross the pond. Could the reckless style of journalism do the same?
Not likely, considering the differences between the two countries’ social, political and media models.
Oh, please. In many respects, the US press is already precisely where the UK press is — and shows no inclination to change.
The scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s now-shuttered News of the World is described regularly as a “phone-hacking scandal,” but that’s a bit superficial. Behind the phone-hacking, however, are the revelations of the incestuous nature of politicians and journalists in the world of British politics and media.
Hugh Grant summed it up well, and provided a simple little anecdote to make it very plain to see what this looks like:
Grotesque abuses have been allowed to continue because of the cowardice of our politicians, who have done pretty much – on both sides of the house – … what they’ve been told to, partly because they believe News International can get them elected and partly because of a kind of blackmail. There has been a grotesque power over our lawmakers. . . .
The sad fact is that the prime minister and his wife, the leader of the opposition and his wife, members of the cabinet and shadow cabinet were all there at [Murdoch’s] party on 16 June, sipping his Pimms and laughing at his jokes, and that’s a sad reflection on the people who run our country.
But that could never happen here, right?
According to [NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim] Russert’s testimony yesterday at Libby’s trial, when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record.
That’s not reporting, that’s enabling.
That’s how you treat your friends when you’re having an innocent chat, not the people you’re supposed to be holding accountable.
Many things are “on trial” at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse right now. Libby is the only one facing a jail sentence — and Russert’s testimony, firmly contradicting the central claim of Libby’s defense, may just end up putting him there.
But Libby’s boss, along with the whole Bush White House, for that matter, is being held up to public scrutiny as well.
And the behavior of elite members of Washington’s press corps — sometimes appearing more interested in protecting themselves and their cozy “sources” than in informing the public — is also being exposed for all the world to see.
In 2008, reporters John Harwood and Jerry Seib came to the FDL Book Salon to chat about their new book Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power. I hosted the chat, and I noted in the post that I was surprised that no media figures were included. How can you talk about backroom power players and omit the media figures like Russert? Harwood and Seib demurred, saying they wanted to focus on others and not join in media navel-gazing — all the while praising Russert as a paragon of journalism. As Marcy noted in the comments of a very vigorous discussion,
Russert was good at what he did–very good.
But media people repeatedly claim he was a “journalist” all the while citing the rules that journalist purportedly follow. For example, I had a local journalist claim that “journalists don’t use anonymous sources” and hold up Russert as an example. That’s objectively false–none of the highfalutin journalists who testified at the trial followed the rules the entire profession purports to follow. The journalists in the media room were very sheepish about it, too.
So Russert was the best at what he did. But what he did does not comport with the rules of journalism repeatedly held up as the example of why journalists are so good and noble and objective and so on.
REcognizing that doesn’t change Russert’s accomplishments. But it ought to cue journalists to be a little more self-critical about the claims of their profession–and whether the supposed ideal is really what people aspire to anymore.
Russert may be gone, but there are a lot of Media Villagers remaining. Andrea “Mrs Alan Greenspan” Mitchell regularly reports on economic matters, but never do you hear her raise questions about her husband’s actions as chair of the Federal Reserve in the run-up to the financial crisis — even when they would be central to the discussion. I’ve seen local reporters yanked from covering stories for far less of a conflict of interest, but the DC media operates like Leona Helmsley — the rules are for the little people.
And then there’s the White House Correspondent’s Dinner — aka the Nerd Prom — which is billed as the highlight of the year for the DC media. What was it Hugh Grant was saying about sharing drinks and jokes?
And then there’s the access journalism practiced by the financial media and the companies on which they report.
Tell me again how the UK media model can’t happen here.
Our DC media are just as tightly enmeshed with those they purport to cover as the UK media are with theirs. Given the coverage of the Murdoch story so far, it’s doubtful that the DC media even sees the parallels.