Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The reality-based community

If there's one thing worse than being on the only side that values facts, it's being on the one side that values honesty:
During George W. Bush's first term, reporters had a powerful confluence of motivations for their difficulty in calling the President to task. First was tradition; mere journalists lacked the authority to call a President a liar. Second, post-9/11 they were intimidated by Bush's McCarthyite with-us-or-ag'in-us rhetoric as well as by a bloodthirsty right-wing punditocracy. (New York Times White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller admitted that she and her colleagues found it "frightening to stand up there," and "no one wanted to get into an argument with the President at this very serious time.")

Finally, though much of what Bush said during his first term was laughable, it was not easily disprovable in a normative sense. Would the poor and the middle class be the primary beneficiaries of tax cuts designed almost exclusively to enrich the extremely wealthy?...

Now the results are in--and reporters, under siege from several directions, are still trapped in self-eviscerating sanctimony. Jim Lehrer explained the peculiar form of "objectivity" he and his colleagues practice to CJR Daily's Liz Cox Barrett not long ago: "I don't deal in terms like 'blatantly untrue,'" he averred. "That's for other people to decide.... I'm not in the judgment part of journalism. I'm in the reporting part of journalism." As Todd Gitlin pointed out on TPM Cafe, Lehrer's interview sounded an awful lot like Rob Corddry lecturing a befuddled Jon Stewart, "I don't have 'o-pin-i-ons.' I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called 'objectivity'--might wanna look it up someday."

So truth is for "liberals." Were it not for the fact that our democracy is being undermined by the liars in office, we might be flattered. But even the collapse of the President's popularity has not installed much backbone in the press corps. Bush can still lie about whatever he wants whenever he wants; treasury secretaries one day; war the next. It's "just the President being the President."
Who will stick up for a free press, when the press won't even speak up for themselves?

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