I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?®

Yes, I stole the title from Brad DeLong. But that's the question that Gilbert Cranberg asks and he calls for an independent investigation as to why the press was reluctant to challenge authority at a time when the country most needed it most, the lead up to the Iraq war.
As the war in Iraq nears its fourth anniversary, and with no end in sight, Americans are owed explanations. The Senate Intelligence Committee has promised a report on whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence to justify the war against Iraq. An explanation is due also for how the U.S. press helped pave the way for war. An independent and thorough inquiry of pre-war press coverage would be a public service. Not least of the beneficiaries would be the press itself, which could be helped to understand its behavior and avoid a replay.

Better a study by outsiders than by insiders. Besides, journalism groups show no appetite for self-examination. Nor would a study by the press about the press have credibility. Now and then a news organization has published a mea culpa about its Iraq coverage, but isolated admissions of error are no substitute for comprehensive study.

The fundamental question: Why did the press as a whole fail to question sufficiently the administration’s case for war?
Mr Cranberg continues with a list of specific questions and concludes with this.
The press response to the build-up to the Iraq war simply is the latest manifestation of an underlying and ongoing reluctance to dissent from authority and prevailing opinion when emotions run high, especially on matters of war and peace, when the country most needs a questioning, vigorous press.

Foundations that invested in research into how and why the press behaved as it did on Iraq would make a profoundly important contribution.
Lucky for us Dan Froomkin gives us a few answers to Mr Cranberg's questions in Washington Journalism on Trial.
If you're a journalist, and a very senior White House official calls you up on the phone, what do you do? Do you try to get the official to address issues of urgent concern so that you can then relate that information to the public?

Not if you're NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert.

When then-vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby called Russert on July 10, 2003, to complain that his name was being unfairly bandied about by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Russert apparently asked him nothing.

And get this: According to Russert's testimony yesterday at Libby's trial, when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record.

That's not reporting, that's enabling.

That's how you treat your friends when you're having an innocent chat, not the people you're supposed to be holding accountable.
Of course poor Tim is on the hot plate today but he's not alone. One of the reasons the press did not do it's job in the lead up to the war is for the most part the DC press corps is not made up journalists but narcissistic stars concerned more about maintaining contacts and invitations to the party circuit than reporting the news.

While we need to investigate what the administration did to get into this war it is just as important to investigate what happened to the fourth estate.

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