The Big Chill
Journalists have been operating under the illusion and defense that they are above the law the rest of us live under. That they need “Journalistic Privilege” to uncover the truth and spread it throughout the land. That they are the guardians of truth and all that stands between democracy and fascism. I might be somewhat sympathetic to their position if I could recall that even on balance during the past decade they exposed more government corruption and criminality than they hid. Or if substantive exposes of national importance were occasionally done and could only have been accomplished with the existence of “Privilege.”
The MSM doesn’t do that. They have abused the “Privilege.” They are conduits for propaganda which they dish out to the public without alteration, analysis, research or investigation. Those who call themselves “journalists” were incapable of determining or too timid to report the truth about the WH “aluminum tubes” claim. If they are so incompetent that they couldn’t uncover the truth about the aluminum tubes, then this country will not suffer if the MSM disappears. If they were simply too timid, that is even worse. For that means that they value getting what look like scoops but is only clever GOP disinformation over the truth. If that’s true, this country would be better off if the MSM disappears.
When people learn to value personal promotion and advancement over professional standards and ethics, they don’t retain those standards and ethics, assuming they had any to begin with. The cognitive dissonance would be too high. Freud would have us believe that the individual is merely ignoring the superego. The human brain is far more holistic and organic than a Freudian metaphor can explain. Deluding oneself for more than a very short period of time isn’t merely a matter of turning off some part of the brain. The brain cells involved undergo changes, and replace what was once there. Traces of what was once there may live on but the original “file” no longer exists.
(The TKC killer can report his crimes in detail years after the fact but he has completely lost any capacity to sense the horror of them. He didn’t stop his killing spree because he understood that they were wrong, but only because the emotional impulses to engage in killing grew too weak. Emotion is a complicated concept, but we know that we get it from the deeper structures in our brains, is critical in the process of learning (change) and the strength of it declines with age. Age stopped the TKC killer. Unfortunately, Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers didn’t need as much emotional charge to continue their crime waves, but neither can comprehend the horror of what they have done any more than the TKC killer can. Physiologically they are all, as is the one described by Billmon as the “undead one,” too old to develop anything close to normal conscience or even to fake all that well that they have developed one.)
To recreate that “file” requires a significant emotional investment. Major change at the cellular level of the brain, a transformation, occurs only in conjunction with powerful emotions. When an individual reports such a change without evidence of an emotional breakdown or collapse over an extended period of time, it is at best merely a shift to a new position that offers more value for personal promotion and advancement. Like anything else, this can be faked, but the propensity of Americans to forgive quickly or accept that a person can change quickly, there is little reason for anyone that hasn’t experienced a real transformation to report one. This is why I trust David Brock (see “Blinded by the Right”). And why I don’t trust Arianna Huffington and Wesley Clark. Why I don’t trust Bill Clinton and do trust the now more liberal Al Gore. Chuck Colson back on the airwaves to denounce Mark Felt inadvertently disclosed that his spiritual awakening was on the shallow side.
Maybe national political reporters in the MSM were merely exercising their cynicism by masking the fact that Reagan was obviously gaga shortly after the beginning of his second -term. And this was only exacerbated in 1988 by the ridiculous nominations of GHB and Dukakis. Did 1992 further disgust them to the point that they saw no reason not to give lots of attention and time to a third clown to go with the other two? Or perhaps I only cling to some notion of minimal competence, objectivity and intelligence in the MSM of the past. All I can state with some confidence is that after 1992, more of them embedded in the GOP than in the DEM. And after 2000, almost all of them became GOP embeds.
While many of us are horrified to see the MSM repeat ludicrous GOP talking points to defend Rove, they seem not to be doing this out of cynicism. Rove can’t be guilty of anything more serious than being the meanest political operative in living memory without also indicting the entire MSM for failing to report the truth. For sending over 1,700 Americans to their death and several thousand to lives with serious physical and/or mental injuries. Instead of following in Steno Sue’s footsteps to a Pulitzer Prize will the Pulitzer committee strip her of the prize? Cognitively they can accept that they didn’t question BushCo enough but at the critical emotional level, they can’t see that they did anything wrong. Milbank hit it almost right the other day, but I would revise it to, “Washington DC is Karl Rove’s town and the rest of feel honored that he allows us to live in it.”
Journalists want us to believe that they are tough and fearless. But look at them whine when one of them is denied special privilege. (That’s rich given how they have mocked Democrats and labeled them as whiners.) Did any of them even bother to read the opinions in the Miller/Cooper/Time appeal? These judges appeared to struggle with the case more than the SCOTUS did in Bush v. Gore. They were unanimous in finding against the defendants but they all got there using differing interpretations of the relevant legal precedents. It is not at all clear that they would have found against the defendants if they had been protecting the identity of a person that had disclosed that Rove and Libby had plotted to destroy Wilson by using classified information. What they agreed on was that Privilege doesn’t exist to hide the identity of a source that is critical to a criminal investigation of a national security matter.
Any journalist not willing to go to jail to protect a source that disclosed information the public had a right and need to know, someone like Mark Felt, isn’t much of a journalist. What was also clear from the opinion was that Fitzgerald didn’t rely simply on the argument that Miller and Cooper had to talk because no journalistic privilege exists and ignored Federal Rules on compelling testimony from journalists. If a federal prosecutor went after Sy Hersh to give up his source for the torture pictures from Abu Ghraib, hysteria in the MSM would be comprehensible. (Would the MSM rush to Hersh’s defense? It’s easier for me to imagine the courts ruling in Hersh’s favor than it is to see the MSM defending him. Given how they went after Rather, it would not be surprising if they went after Hersh with equal viciousness.)
The MSM would have us believe that the “chill” isn’t that journalists fear being jailed but that anonymous sources will dry up. This is a dubious claim. It may cause those who pass on gossip, innuendo and suspicions to have second thoughts before talking. However, how much of that stuff is all that valuable except as newspaper filler? Real whistleblowers, people with solid information on governmental or corporate fraud and abuse of power, are rare. They are rare because access to information is almost always restricted to those that wouldn’t object to whatever is going on. They are also rare because they know that even if a journalist doesn’t give up his or her source, the risk is high that they can be identified from the information they pass along. OTOH, “anonymous official sources” are a dime a dozen. The Bush WH is particularly effective at using this method to get their messages out. If those people are “chilled” into silence, we’d be better off. It’s journalists and not journalistic privilege that should protect the identity of a source. It’s journalists that are responsible for the credibility of their reports, not their sources. Journalistic skill and integrity not exercised, withers. Use it or lose it, and most of them have lost it.