They Are Not Your Friends
I've finally gotten around to reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, which is both astonishing and nothing new, but one brief section that jumped out at me was about Dan Senor, the Coalitional Provisional Authority (each word of which could be placed in quotation marks) spokesman, whom Chandrasekaran describes as having had...
...a you're-either-with-us-or-against-us attitude toward journalists.
Which is basic Bush Administration, and not at all surprising.
Behind the podium, Senor never conceded a mistake, and his efforts to spin failures into successes sometimes reached the point of absurdity.
Which, again, is basic Bush Administration. Think Scott McClellan, pre-book deal.
When Senor was frank, it wasn't for publication. In April 2004, a few reporters asked him about a paroxysm of violence that had Americans hunkering down in the Green Zone. "Off the record: Paris is burning," he told them. "On the record: Security and stability are returning to Iraq."
So, he was a professional liar who considered any reporters who weren't sycophantic stenographers to be enemies. Again, standard fare for the Bush Administration. But, of course, for this, Campbell Brown became infatuated and fell in love. I googled. This is how the New York Times describes them:
After working for six years as a press secretary to Senator Spencer Abraham, Republican of Michigan, Mr. Senor got an M.B.A. at Harvard and then led — and loved — the cushy life of a venture capitalist. But when he was offered the job as spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, it took him 60 seconds to accept, he said. For his first days on that job, he slept on the floor of a former palace of Saddam Hussein, taking showers with bottles of water. In March 2004, Ms. Brown appeared in the crowd of journalists covering one of his daily news conferences. She was doing a story on Abu Ghraib prison for NBC. Each was too busy tracking down information and drinkable coffee to get acquainted then.
But when Mr. Senor returned to Washington in 2004, she called him. "I was wildly, wildly curious about his experience in Iraq," she recalled. Their first date was a group dinner, with Tom Brokaw and another journalist. They were all discussing Iraq while Ms. Brown and Mr. Senor flirted. "There was clearly a lot of energy and electricity between us," Mr. Senor recalled.
Their early dates were like being on the campaign trail: full of debates and cheap food. "We would mostly get sandwiches and sit in the park and talk," she said. "We're both passionate about the Middle East. We never ran out of things to talk about."
Clearly, she had been fascinated, from the start. Even though his job had been to lie to people like her and her colleagues! She sought him out. They had instant chemistry. They had dates in the park where they discussed their passion about the Middle East. How romantic. Except that she's a supposedly professional journalist and he's a professional liar whose passion about the Middle East included being a propagandist for an imperial military invasion and occupation. And the Times article has charming quotes from other prominent media types, testifying to the beauty of the couple's love. Which is charming. And beautiful. Except that you would think that any professional media company that cared at all about its credibility would have told Brown that they were personally thrilled for her, but could not, in the interest of said credibility, continue to assign her to anything having anything to do with politics. Instead, of course, from CNN's own website:
Campbell Brown anchors CNN Election Center, the network's daily examination of news from the campaign trail that combines CNN's unrivaled field reporting and analysis with state-of-the-art broadcasting technology.
Prior to joining CNN, Brown worked with NBC News for 11 years. While there, Brown served as co-anchor of Weekend Today. She also served as the main substitute anchor for Brian Williams and a primary correspondent for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and the weekday Today show. For NBC, she provided award-winning reporting on Hurricane Katrina and covered the last two presidential elections and the death of Pope John Paul II. Brown made several trips to Iraq to report on the Iraqi elections, abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and the trial of Saddam Hussein. She also traveled to Gaza and the West Bank to cover events in the Middle East.
Brown served as NBC News' White House correspondent during President George W. Bush's first term. She covered Bush's first presidential campaign and spent more than a month reporting from Austin, Texas, on the post-election recount story.
Which is all very comforting, given what we know about her ability to remain objective and professional. And she's now anchoring CNN's election coverage, and helping moderate debates. And none of this is supposed to be questionable. This is how it works. Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan. Andrea Koppel and Kenneth Pollack. I'm sure there are many others.
A couple months ago, I was watching the film Almost Famous, which besides being beautifully written and magnificently acted, is a cultural touchstone to anyone who remembers the early '70s (I was a child) and loved that era's popular music. I've seen it several times. The extraordinarily gifted Philip Seymour Hoffman plays legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, and to give you a taste of the Bangs magic, I would link to his review of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, which many regard as the greatest ever review of a rock 'n' roll album, but unfortunately, the review is no longer online. But writer/director Cameron Crowe, whose career was inspired by Bangs, put these words in his late mentor's mouth:
You CANNOT make friends with the rock stars. That's what's important. If you're a rock journalist - first, you will never get paid much. But you will get free records from the record company. And they'll buy you drinks, you'll meet girls, they'll try to fly you places for free, offer you drugs... I know. It sounds great. But they are not your friends. These are people who want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of the rock stars, and they will ruin rock and roll and strangle everything we love about it.
Crowe also quotes Bangs on the single most important lesson for any journalist to remember:
My advice to you. I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.
But, of course, Bangs was only writing about music. Something I consider of such import that my son's middle name comes from one of the past century's greatest musical geniuses, but something that doesn't cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the destruction of nations. But those supposed journalists whose job it is and was to cover the Bush Administration so failed their responsibility to be honest and unmerciful- a responsibility that was not only to those members of the administration that they wanted to believe were their friends, but also to, you know, the American public and the world- that they have lately been ridiculed for it even by Bush's own former spokesman!
There's an old adage about rock stars all wanting to be movie stars and movie stars all wanting to be rock stars. Well, politicians want to be both, while corporate media hacks merely want to believe that they serve an important function in the world. Or any function. But all they are is corporate propagandists, and I don't care whether they lean left or right, when push comes to shove, they will protect their own. So, it's been jarring to watch, this primary season, as passionate supporters of both the leading Democratic candidates at various times embraced various corporate media types, from known right wing smear merchants such as Andrew Sullivan and Matt Drudge to the slick, sometimes left leaning Keith Olbermann. With people such as the former, nothing should be taken at face value. With people such as the latter, everything should be taken with an asteroid-sized grain of salt. These people each have a purpose, and it is not to represent your best interests. It is, first and foremost, to sell themselves and protect their own. As Lester Bangs might have wanted you to remember: they are not your friends!
Now, the shrillosphere has lately become particularly enamored with Olbermann, mostly because he shares its loathing of Hillary Clinton. When he appears on the blogs, people slobber and drool as if the divine has been made flesh. But anyone who watched Olbermann even a year ago knows that he once respected both Clintons. Those of you who share his loathing of the Clintons will undoubtedly shrill about the mean nasty mean cruel underhanded sinister evil mean and nasty campaign that Hillary Clinton waged against Barack Obama as cause of Olbermann's turn, but those of us with less jaundiced brains saw plenty of dirt flung from both sides, this primary season, and we also understand how much of the alleged mean and nasty was concocted through post-parsing and outright lies. What I noticed was that Olbermann's increasingly unhinged hatred of Clinton roughly coincided with the Clinton camp's call-out of the NBC/MSNBC slime machine's rampant misogyny- a misogyny that some Obama supporters continue to generally share, embrace, excuse, or laugh about, which is, to anyone with a shred of remaining sanity and decency, unacceptable and inexcusable. But this misogyny has been well-documented by sources as diverse as Media Matters, and Melissa McEwan, and digby, and the brilliant Plutonium Page (here, and here, and here). So, with his network and his colleagues under attack for their gruesome behavior towards her, is it mere coincidence that Olbermann suddenly bought into every smear and post-parsing of Hillary Clinton?
Now, most of this is already ancient history, and it will be for the historians to explain to a (hopefully) smarter, saner, more decent future world. But with the media finally having succeeded, after having waited decades to help defeat the Clintons, they will focus more and more on the Obama-McCain horse race. And it's no coincidence that they waited until Obama was the clear leader in the primary race before they began to hammer him with questions they easily could have raised months earlier. Because their hatred of the Clintons does not mean that they love Obama. As digby wrote, yesterday:
According to The Politico today, the Drudge Report is a reliable, fair and balanced news service because it has given decent coverage to Obama over the past few months. (They fail to note the longstanding loathing and hatred for Hillary Clinton as a possible motivation, but whatever.) I would expect this meme to catch on because the media are desperate to rationalize their Drudge dependence as being something other than sophomoric gossip mongering. But it will, in the end, serve to validate the right wing smears that will make their way through the Drudge report. (Look for the inevitable "even the Obama supporting Drudge says ...")
But they do truly love one of this year's candidates. So, what happens when the twitch in Tweety's leg switches from Obama to Saint Maverick? What happens if the bigot in Tweety gets more blatantly racist, now that there's no inspiration for his misogyny? He's already gotten ethnic, and then ethnic again, just a day later. But what if he gets called on it? What if the Tweety attitude infiltrates the general thinking at his network, as it clearly did with Clinton? What will Olbermann do? Will he side with the critics, or will he defend his network? I know that you Olbermann fans think he's one of yours, but he is not your friend. He will love you as long as you serve his interests, but he is not your friend. None of them are. They live in The Village and they think everyone who doesn't is an idiot. Always remember that they are, first and foremost, in this for themselves. For their egos, for the money, for the illusion of power, and for their family and friends. They want you to like them, love them, and follow them. They want you to believe them. They got where they are for very clear reasons, and they serve very clear purposes. And none of it has to do with your best interests. They are not your friends.