Journalists missing in action?
Peter Bart, editor of _Variety_, asks an interesting question. “Are journalists missing in action?” By which he means, are the media asking the right questions of the president and the situation in Iraq.
While I read accounts during the election campaign describing George W. Bush as a calm, middle-of-the-road conservative and consensus builder, I somehow missed those stories suggesting that he would be the most radical right-wing president in American history.
The press kept telling me what a great guy W was, so why has Mr. Nice Guy alienated every ally in the world?
Also, at the press conference last week, Bush called on reporters in a pre-selected manner (there’s no evidence their questions were vetted, however) and snubbed Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House House press corps. Peter Johnson, media reporter for _USA Today_, said reporters were summoned into the East Room in pairs, “as if we were in grammar school and were being called on the line for something,” CBS’ Bill Plante says. Follow-up questions were non-existent. And on Sunday’s talk shows, Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday derided Thomas as the “nutty aunt” who wasn’t professional and she was kept around only because people were “personally fond of her.” (Brit is, he quickly assured us.)
Is this the action of a White House that respects the idea of a free and independent press? Obviously not. It’s not entirely the reporters’ faults, however. They’re caught in a bad spot. They know that if they hit too hard, they get cut out, and they’ll have to answer to their editors back home. Trust me, no reporter wants to do that. Plus, when the news conferences are televised, and with the president’s personal popularity still relatively high — especially in anxious times — they don’t want to look like assholes jumping on the guy. In the battle with Bush for the hearts and trust of the public, individual reporters with a lot to lose (careers, assignments, access, etc.) know who will win that battle. No president looks bad when he attacks the press.
There are a lot of reasons for this situation, and the list is long and relatively well-known. I’m not going to rehash how the country got to this point. But I do offer at least a small step toward a solution.
I know it sounds presumptuous, but unlike the high-powered White House reporters, or the embedded correspondents with the troops, if the majority of my 800+ readers yesterday donated $5 each, you would have your own guy in the field with contacts among the Turks and the Kurds, people ready to help me get into the country and an eye on the ground when the shooting ends and the occupation begins.
Look, I know I can’t do much. I’m one guy. And I truly believe reporters from _The New York Times_, the _Washington Post_ and other newspapers are doing their best in bad situations. But every story can benefit from having many sets of eyes looking at it, from a myriad of angles. The big guys will be able to get stories that I won’t be able to, that’s a fact of life. But with your help and support, I can report stories over in Iraq that the big guys can’t or won’t. It’s not that I have a monopoly on truth or that they or hopelessly corrupt. It’s just that the more people reporting on something the better.
And I have nothing to lose. My sources aren’t dependent on permission from Ari Fleischer. My stories don’t demand access to the White House. I have no access to lose if I piss off the powers that be in Washington. And shouldn’t that be the point of intrepid journalism?
If you’ve been reading my site, you know its take and you know whether to trust me or not. I can’t _make_ anyone trust me. All I can do is work at earning your trust. I hope I’ve done that so far.
The B2I fund is over $1800 now, with $1800 from me, for $3600 total. That’s great, and I’m thankful to everyone who has donated, but it’s frankly not enough. I estimate between $8,000 and $10,000 is needed for a month there, to cover travel, bribes, hiring or drivers and translators, etc. Please drop a little scratch in the bucket over to your right. You’re not just helping me get over to Iraq, you’re helping yourself understand the world a little better.
And if you can’t donate or don’t want to, please pass this site along to others. At least spread the word.
Thanks very much…