The Responsibility of the Press

Sharyl Attkisson, as demonstrated in the previous post, is an ethical reporter. She may very well be in a small minority in the main stream press. Consider this case.

“In 2014, with almost perfect timing and illustrating the farce of the left, a liberal favorite — The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd — was exposed by the Sony e-mail hack for just how much hypocrisy and contrivance rules her world.

An Internet search of Ms. Dowd brings up a whole host of approving profiles and interviews over the years, with a particular column considered by her sycophants as one of her greatest accomplishments: the “takedown” of former Times investigative reporter Judith Miller.

Ms. Dowd provided what many thought was the coup-de-grace against Miller when she wrote that column about her then-colleague at The New York Times excoriating Ms. Miller for her coverage of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) leading up to the Iraq War [covered in detail above]. WMDs include chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Undisputed evidence, including photos, existed of the results of Hussein’s use of chemical weapons from the Iran-Iraq War era and numerous intelligence agencies from several countries had reported [accurately, as it turns out] that Iraq was importing, from Africa, “yellowcake” (an unrefined form of uranium oxide that could be utilized in a “dirty” bomb that could potentially contaminate [and kill] large numbers of people with radioactive material).

Ms. Miller, you see, had done the unthinkable. She reported what her investigation found on the issue, which also happened to be what the Bush administration and scores of other governments had also determined:  Saddam was pursuing a WMD program and an untold number of those weapons were developed and undeclared.

As her fellow liberal colleagues piled on Ms. Miller, Ms. Dowd’s column, dripping in ridicule and moral authority, condemned the reporter for being a “stenographer” for the Bush administration.

Ms. Dowd complained Ms. Miller’s work “fit too perfectly” with what the White House had been asserting about WMD. In other words, Ms. Dowd accused Ms. Miller of being too close to her subject, essentially of colluding with others to lie to the American people, of selling out to make someone happy or to further a shared agenda.

It was absurd and petty. But what we didn’t know at the time was that it was also a perfect case of [a psychological coping-behavior called] projection. In emails revealed late in 2014 by the Sony Pictures hack, Ms. Dowd, The New York Times’ supposed paragon of journalistic ethics, was discovered to have assured a [female] Sony executive that she would be sure to make her “look great” in a column, and appeared to promise to show the column to the executive’s husband, a former Times reporter, beforehand.

After the column ran, more emails were exchanged, with Ms. Dowd telling the executive, “I hope you’re happy … let’s do another.” After her subject declared the columnist her “favorite person,” Ms. Dowd gushed, “You’re mine! You’re amazing.” [Oh, the hypocrisy!]

Ms. Dowd has since denied that she provided the column in advance. That’s possible. So, was it a draft that was provided? And by someone other than herself? For those who might suggest this mistake of Ms. Dowd’s was a one-off, issues of character inform everything we do. Hypocrisy doesn’t sneak up on you once. It’s part of how you relate to the world.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times from 2003 to 2011, confirmed to the left-wing blog Media Matters in 2011 that the newspaper’s treatment of Ms. Miller was due to politics and to assuage the leftist critics. Mr. Keller confessed, “I let a year go by when a lot of people, particularly people on the left, became disenchanted with the Times because they saw it as having been cheerleaders for the war. I think I could have saved the paper a lot of trouble and some damage by dealing with [Ms. Miller’s reporting] much sooner.” [What does that mean? Silence Ms. Miller? What about “ALL the news that’s fit to print. “Apparently, some news is “more equal than others”! (with apologies to George Orwell)

Facts do tend to be pesky things, as Ms. Dowd and the rest of The New York Times crew found out in 2014. After years of morally superior, self-righteous preening, they had a problem: [As we have seen,] Judith Miller was proven right about WMD in Iraq.

Revealed in a 2010 WikiLeaks document dump, The New York Times finally wrote a 10,000 word story on “abandoned chemical weapons” [they conveniently forgot about the nuclear material] in Iraq as it became evident our troops continued to be injured by them and their existence could no longer be denied.

The New York Sun suggested the Times’ story be viewed as “journalism’s longest correction,” and was “designed to try to extricate the Gray Lady from all these charges about how President George W. Bush and his camarilla lied about the danger of Saddam’s chemical arsenal. It turns out that Iraq was littered with thousands of shells containing poison gas, like Sarin.”

In that 2005 column attacking Ms. Miller, Ms. Dowd dramatically warned her readers if Ms. Miller remained a reporter at The New York Times, the newspaper itself would be at risk. Ten years later, with the Times on the verge of financial collapse, forced retirements, layoffs and plunging ad revenue, the facts are teaching a lesson in irony and hypocrisy to Ms. Dowd and everyone else at the Times who jettisoned the truth [in favor of the lie] to soothe jealousies [too close] and pander to politics [collude].”

Bill Keller should have “saved the paper a lot of trouble and some damage by dealing with [Ms. Dowd’s opinionating] much sooner.”

In short, a free and responsible press, the dream of Benjamin Franklin even before our founding, is no longer discernable among the myriad of news sources available.

On one hand, there is no standard by which to measure veracity or accuracy or bias. There is just too much information too readily available and too perfectly packaged. Citizens are as likely to rely on “peer news” for their information as any other source. Everyone is a reporter these days – meaning there are no reporters.

On the other hand, news organizations systematically withhold information from the public by simply not covering significant events which do not fit their preconceived political templates of the issues.

Most reports of world and national happenings described as “news” begin these days in the corporate-world “news” headquarters in New York City. The four major broadcast news networks (ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC) all are headquartered in NYC. The country’s so-called “Newspaper of Record”, The New York Times, and its worldwide news serviceis headquartered in NYC.

The major news services like the Associated Press and Reuters are based in headquarters in NYC. Two of the three major cable news services are headquartered in NYC. The major newspaper chains, and their online editions, like Gannett, Knight-Ridder, Hearst, McClatchy, etc. all rely on these major news services emanating from NYC. Even USA Today, self-styled as “America’s Newspaper”, is owned by Gannett who places a USA Today generated news section in all of its local daily and Sunday papers.

New York City is dominated, financially, economically, politically, culturally and socially by the shining lights (and wealth) of the progressive/liberal world. That does not make for a healthy politically diverse atmosphere in which to live, work or socialize, especially for aspiring “celebrity” journalists. The result of this concentration of news and infotainment power has become “news” disseminated to America with no intellectual integrity attached – which is no more than sensationalism, rumor, innuendo, half-truth, ignoring truth, hiding truth, lies or deceptions, motivated by corporate greed, extreme political bias, cultural superiority or worse. It’s all style over substance, all glitter and no glue, no right or wrong, no good or evil – just profit, caste or ideology.

The purveyors of this “compromised news” about a “media-contrived” world are known popularly as the “media elite”, plying their trade by trolling the corridors of power in New York and Washington – seeking fame and favor with the denizens of the upper echelons of the “high society of celebrity”. In the 20th Century (1933-Pres), the high society of celebrity was created around its “high society” president, Franklin Roosevelt and was enamored of the New Deal ideal of “take the ‘other guy’s’ money (Republican captains of industry – the ‘old money’ high society) and give it to the poor, who were more deserving, and which made both provider and receiver feel good.

Over 90% of the major players in the “news business” in America proudly and freely admit that they are registered as, and supporters of, the Democrat Party. The only outlier is FOX News, which, since 1996, has attempted to provide balance in their reporting and opinion.

FOX has become the object of continual derision from the progressive/liberal precincts so they must be doing something different – and different in this case is not adhering to the liberal ideology in bringing America the truth about events both at home and from around the world. There is now a problem for the media-elite, both with the message and with the messenger – a problem that only 20 years ago – we would have never known we had. That’s scary.

Here’s another aspect that is almost as frightening. Since the vast majority of the members of the press are supporters of “big government” with its attendant “big regulation”, they cannot also be supporters of capitalism – which dies under too much regulation. The American liberal press in the 21stCentury routinely covers up big government failures (during Democrat administrations) and abuses but virtually persecutes big business for any alleged failure or abuse – always finding “victims” of “capitalist overlords”.

They are still enamored of the socialist (perhaps even Soviet) economic model. The belief system running through most liberal economic reporting/opinion is: “from each according to their means, to each according to their needs”. Tax the rich to pay for “womb to tomb” government handouts. Sound familiar?

We are in an information crisis in America – a crisis of quality, not of quantity. Throughout our history, competition in the news business was a healthy thing. Because of the loss of so many printed journals and the growth of so many anonymous and unverifiable sources of information online – there is no more competition because one just doesn’t know with whom or what they are competing. Now, hidden ideology rules the dissemination of information to the public. A case in point: national unemployment.

Using hard data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the year 2000 – while Bill Clinton was President – the population of the United States was 282.2 million people. Of those, 221.4 million were in the workforce. About 153 million people were employed full time and about 50 million did not participate in the workforce at all. That means about 78 million people were unemployed or underemployed. The actual unemployment rate was 9.65%. The non-employment rate (not working/not looking for work) was 17.7%. The reported unemployment rate was 5.7%. The government employed 4 million people in non-wealth producing jobs.

In 2015, the population reached 321 million; the workforce was 238.1 million. Of these, 145.9 million people were employed full time and about 80 million did not participate in the workforce at all.  That means about 95 million people were unemployed or underemployed. The actual unemployment rate was about 17.25%. The non-employment rate (not working/not looking for work) was about 25%. The latest reported unemployment rate was, again, 5.7%. The government employed 24 million people in non-wealth producing jobs.

So, what is the story that the mainstream press was trumpeting in 2015? “The unemployment rate is back to where Bill Clinton (certainly a media darling) had it 15 years ago!” What is the story that a free, competent and reliable press should be reporting? How about reporting this story?

The population has grown by about 40 million people – about 14% since the Clinton administration. The workforce has only grown 7.5% – about half of the population growth! In fact, there are fewer people fully employed now than at the turn of the century. The number of people not even participating in the workforce has grown by 60% – 30 million more people! If government had not hired millions, the non-participant number would have doubled – to 50 million more people not even trying to work!

That’s 10 million more people not working than the population grew!

So what, you say. Today, 44 million people live in government described poverty. That’s a 36% increase. Also, 46.5 million Americans are on food stamps – an increase of 164%! The population grew by 40 million and more than 40 million people still live in poverty. That is not a growing economy. That is what should be the news but, that’s not what the press/media want to talk about.

America’s economy is in serious trouble and there is no apparent urgency among the mainstream press/media to address it, other than more government hiring. If so, it will only get worse and America’s decline in the world will continue because new government hires don’t produce any wealth (in fact, they are a burden on the economy) and don’t create new jobs for a growing population.

Have you heard any of this in the “mainstream media” or elite press? Of course not. It is not in line with the Progressive/liberal/ Democrat governing template that their policies are never the wrong policies, failure never occurs and government is always the solution.

And bless their hearts, sometimes the ideology is even hidden from the press themselves. A case in point:

Since I live in Middle Tennessee, I read the newspaper from the state capitol, Nashville, called The Tennessean. The paper’s motto (read mission) is

“[t]o actively influence and impact a better quality of life in Middle Tennessee.”

The understanding of the Ratifiers was that a free press was necessary to make all information about the activities of their governments, their policy-makers and their surroundings available to the citizenry so that citizens could make the best decisions for themselves about public policy matters and so that policy-makers could make the best decisions for their constituents and communities – be they local, state or national constituencies or communities.

By seeking to “actively influence” their readers, The Tennessean seems to be telling us that the information they provide will be biased in favor of what they determine to be the best interest of their readers. And what do they mean by “a better quality of life”? If they are following in the footsteps of their progressive ancestors, guaranteeing a better quality of life to some, via unearned government largess at taxpayer’s expense, is not a good thing for either the recipients or the taxpayer.

The establishment press is, in many cases, not functioning as a “free” press but as a dishonest press, for the most part practicing deliberately false political speech – and that is not a constitutionally protected press because it undermines the basic democratic principle of an informed electorate. The “watchdogs” for the People have become the “lapdogs” of any progressive/liberal/Democrat government! A case in point: [you may have heard this one before]

ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, a former spokesman for President Bill Clinton, never disclosed to his network – or viewers – $75,000 in contributions he made to the Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation in recent years, even as he waded into covering Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and her foundation’s financial controversies – foreign countries paying for access while she was Secretary of State.

Even when he interviewed Peter Schweizer, the author of “Clinton Cash” – the high-profile book examining potential conflicts of interest behind Clinton Foundation funding  on ABC’s “This Week,” Stephanopoulos did not disclose his own contributions. No problem. Moral relativism and situational ethics at their best.

Is there a solution? As intellectual radicals discovered long ago, if one cannot control the message or the messenger it must seek to control the receiver of that message. As we have seen, the Intelligentsia in history have always turned to the student for control. Now America must turn to the student again – this time with education and training, not on what to listen to but, how to separate the wheat from the chaff – to learn how to listen.

The year 2014 was perfectly described by some commentators as the year when facts died. Politicians, mobs in the streets and their willing accomplices in the media swamped America with lies, obfuscations or [worse] because, as author Thomas Sowell has noted;

“What matters today is how well you can concoct a story that fits people’s preconceptions and arouses their emotions. [Sycophant] politicians like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, professional demagogues like Al Sharpton and innumerable irresponsible people in the media have shown that they have great talent in promoting a lynch mob.”

None of this is unique to 2014 however, nor is the aptitude to stir up a lynch mob the exclusive purview of politicians. It has been both the vocation and avocation of liberal media darlings for a very long time. Somehow, the nation has progressed in its relationship between the races. The oppression of slavery and Jim Crow have been overcome and now both majority and minority have equal representation at the table of ideas.

By contrast, the free press, guaranteed in the same Bill of Rights, has morphed – from the earliest days of the Republic, when news was controlled by the political parties, for their own partisan advantage, with scurrilous attacks on opponents that demonstrated that the press was anything but free – to its long recent history of responsible reporting and editing, where all sides of an issue had equal representation at the table of ideas – to now, when the academics and intelligentsia, at virtually all of our schools of journalism, indoctrinate students into the progressive/liberal/Democrat world of information-control through propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, exclusion, fabrication and falsehood – all for the purpose of gaining political power.

Today, news outlets only hire “vetted” journalists, those that were correctly molded in school – while students who wouldn’t toe the “party line” were eradicated – in order to control the political discussion and, as we have seen, thwart any attempt at honest journalism. So, while physical slavery in America has been assigned to the dustbin of history, intellectual slavery is alive and well in America – which raises the question – what are the constitutional responsibilities of a free press?

“Law professor Elizabeth Blanks Hindman points out that the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to the familiar liberal tradition, protects the press from intervention by government. Because that protection is so important to our system of democracy, it has been taken to mean that the press is free to do as it wishes, for to require it do to anything – to print certain information, to refrain from acting in a certain way – would irreparably damage its freedom. The press, it has been written, ‘has the right to be irresponsible.’

This interpretation of the First Amendment traditionally has been based on the ‘marketplace of ideas” model, articulations of which can be found in John Milton’s Areopogitica, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and in Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ opinion in Abrams v. United States. The ideal of the First Amendment, as presented by the marketplace model, is that speech and press are protected in order to aid society in the search for truth. A necessary consequence of that protection, however, is that the press [apparently] cannot be forced to assist in that search. It [apparently] has the right to hide the truth [or hide from the truth].

Alas, the members of the press are mere mortals, just like the rest of us, and so the idealistic model works no better for them than it does for any of us.  Free speech and a free press are based on the concept of individual rights, in this case, the right of free speech and free press. And each sees the limitation of government in general, and the separation of government from the media specifically, as a fundamental part of freedom of the press. Within the scope of traditional, liberal First Amendment theory however, commonly seen as providing freedom for the press to do as it wishes, there are certain expectations of press responsibility.

There are many examples of the Supreme Court requiring responsible behavior of the press, examples similar to those found in libel law as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court and privacy law as outlined by many of the states which demand a minimum level of responsibility on the part of the press. The Supreme Court made an explicit statement about press responsibility when it ruled that the First Amendment does not offer protection to newspapers that break a promise of confidentiality to a source. Clearly then, despite the protections of the First Amendment press clause, the press in the United States can be, and on occasion is, required to exhibit responsible behavior.

The task is to identify what constitutes responsible behavior by the press and the government, especially when asked to reveal confidential sources, or when a journalist has pre-knowledge of a crime or when information concerning the safety and/or security of America or Americans has come into the possession of an American journalist.

Western societies pride themselves on protecting the freedom of expression and the right to publish. But they are much less categorical when it comes to protecting the reporting process practiced by (all too human) journalists who may [read probably do] have ulterior motives other than journalistic altruism – fame, fortune, power, prestige – need I go on?

The number of journalists asked to reveal their sources, testify in courts or yield reporting material to investigators – all in the name of responsibility and civic duty – is on the rise in western countries, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America. Interestingly, the Supreme Court opened the way a quarter century ago when it ruled in the 1972 Branzburg case that the First Amendment to the Constitution did not protect journalists when they are summoned before a Grand Jury.

This ruling has been used several times against journalists refusing to reveal their sources. One of the more prominent cases began in 2005 when the wife of a former diplomat and Republican President George W. Bush administration critic, Valerie Plame [remember her?], was outed as a CIA employee. Almost a dozen journalists were forced to testify in the subsequent trial of [the alleged leaker, who was not the leaker] White House Vice-presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, most of them against their will. The New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who refused to talk, spent 85 days in jail until Libby relieved her of confidentiality.” Next time: The Plame Game.

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