Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"It's Not the Jeans That Make You Look Fat. It's Your Ass That Makes You Look Fat."

Russert: Howie Kurtz, I want to ask you about the Scooter Libby trial. William Powers in the National Journal has an interesting column where he thinks that the fact that journalists have to testify is good because it will open up, in terms of the public being able to see how reporters cultivate relationships to get information. You have a different view of that.

Kurtz: Yeah, I certainly don’t think it’s a good thing at all and I think the reputation of journalists in this Libby trial have taken a hit. I was in the courtroom when you testified Tim, and you looked uncomfortable during five hours of cross examination, cautious, hesitant, as anybody would be. No journalist likes to be on the witness stand, when, in this case, Libby’s lawyer was trying to take small statements you had made and find discrepancies and ask you why, on the one hand, you were willing to talk to the FBI about your conversation with Scooter Libby but you resisted a subpoena. You said that it was because you didn’t want to get into a prosecutorial fishing expedition.

The problem for us, as a profession, is this: When journalists get up there and testify, leaving aside the First Amendment question, it looks to people like, out there, like we have become too cozy with Senior Bush Administration officials, not so we can ferret out information about national security, not so we can find out about corruption, but in this particular case, in some cases, acting as a conduit for White House efforts to put out negative information about Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame’s husband, a big critic of the prewar intelligence. And I think that the people out there who don’t follow this all too closely think that we have become part of the club, too much the insiders, and that is a problem for journalism.

Meet the Press, 2/11/07

Gee… How could the American public get so mistaken a notion? Whatever would give them the idea that the media is in bed with the Bush Administration?

Could it be that Vice President Cheney’s office saw “Meet the Press” as a friendly venue where Cheney could “control the message”? That’s hardly a surprise to anyone that pays attention. Most people I know already refer to the last half of the show as “Russert’s Republican Roundtable”.

Could it also be that Judith Miller’s slavishly taking dictation from the vice president’s staff and Ahmad Chalabi led her and the New York Times to publish the only pieces they’ve ever run that were more fictional than a Jayson Blair piece? Couldn’t be that, could it?

Don’t be absurd. Despite Howie’s assertions, the Libby trial does nothing to undermine the credibility of journalists. Journalists did that to themselves.

You see, the problem is not that Judith Miller talked to Darth Halliburton’s office on WMD--- It’s that she never bothered to look any further. A guy that’s been exiled from Iraq for forty long years claims to know the inner workings of its weapons programs?

Not that she was the only one--- Far from it. I’m not sure anyone in the press as a whole bothered to question the WMD Scavenger Hunt until six months after the invasion, when we still hadn’t found any WMD.

And one thing that has remained constant throughout--- The White House has always known that a lapdog media was only a phone call away. Whether it’s passing along Valerie Plame’s name or trying to control the message on any given issue, they’ve never had any difficulty finding a willing accomplice in the media.

We would be talking about President Kerry right now had the New York Times, the epicenter of what conservatives whine about as a “liberal media”, had disclosed what they knew of the illegal wiretapping program when they first learned about it in mid-2004. So the idea that this trial somehow creates the impression that the media is in bed with the White House is more than a little bit of wishful thinking on the part of Howard Kurtz, David Broder, and the rest of the roundtable on Meet the Press last Sunday.

We need journalists. Not stenographers.

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