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Thursday, February 05, 2004
 
Will Lie for Food

In the latest installment of Brad DeLong's dressing-down of Jonathan Weisman for filing a report on the budget that "reads like 90% of it is a rewritten White House press release," Brad provides a list of defenses and/or excuses that have been suggested to him by several of Weisman's supporters. Among were the following points:

  • He's in an impossible situation. He knows he's not good enough to survive if White House Media Affairs directs the administration to close down his access, and they know he knows, so he is under immense pressure to trim his stories to the liking of the White House--or else.

  • He gets little backing in his struggle with the White House from his editors, so it is not credible for him to go back to his sources and say, "Gee, Karl, I know I told you I would write it that way, but my editor said that was unbelievable and made me change it."

  • He's not alone in feeling muzzled by enormous, intolerable pressures: remember, even reporters as good as William Greider and Ronald Suskind could not do their big stories about how it really happened until they were out of the daily news reporting cycle.


I don't understand what the whole media gotta-toe-the-line-if-I-want-to-keep-my-access thing comes from. At the beginning of the Bush presidency, I could see how that impression might have taken hold. If you're covering the administration, you need to be where they are. But that was then.

By now, it has to be plain to everyone that the worst possible source of information on the Executive Branch's activities is the White House. It's common knowledge that if there's good news, it'll be blown out of proportion. If there's bad news, it'll be ignored or denied. Sometimes they just make shit up. The only journalists who get anything relevant from actually being there are the Mo-bots who write piffle about the jaunty tilt of W's belt buckle and the raw virility of the gleam in Rummy's eye.

The news isn't about what the WH says. That isn't the news. The news is about what they do, and what it means for us. The WH isn't a closed soap opera, of interest in and of itself. It's a critical part of the awful and exquisite machinery that maintains our freedoms, such as they are. We are the issue. They are not.

What earthly purpose can be served by journalists' aiding and abetting the administration in disseminating its insultingly transparent dishonesty? If you ask the WH press corps, it's so they can be on hand to receive more of the same.