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Thursday, May 29, 2008

From the Dept. of "No Shit"

Watched, incredulous, last night as media talking head after media talking head - after being called out by Scott McClellan for goodness' sake - defended their abysmal performance in the run up to the war. In much the same way that current and former White House staffers made the rounds parroting, verbatim, coordinated talking points ("That's not the Scotty we know," "puzzling," "Why didn't he ever speak up?" etc.), so, it seemed, did the media folks.

I listened to David Gregory, Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson, et al, explain in nearly the same exact words that it wasn't their job to "create a debate" over the justification for war (since, of course, there was no debate, and nobody was opposed to the godawful war, right?) and passing the buck to the failures of Congress. Now, Congress is far from without blame, but for anyone in the media to think that they did a good job in covering the rationale for war is nothing short of delusional. Even Katie Couric knows that much.

Glenn Greenwald has been covering this issue over at Salon the last couple of days, and he's got a much more exhaustive rundown than I have time to work up. But I did want to share the following exhange between Anderson Cooper and Jessica Yellin from last night. Yellin, now a CNN correspondent had this to share about her experience at ABC, where she was working during the march to war:

So we know, from Yellin, that overt corporate pressure stymied those few who went "off-road" from the administration's propaganda campaign. Consider the fates of Phil Donahue and Ashley Banfeild, who were both kicked to the curb by MSNBC for daring to question the motives of a popular (at the time) president to a nation whipped into a jingoistic fervor (by the media, we should note). In fact, the true cause for Donahue's firing was revealed in a leaked memo from NBC executives:
The study went on to claim that Donahue presented a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war . . . . He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives." The report went on to outline a possible nightmare scenario where the show becomes "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."
As to the idea that it wasn't the job of the press to "create a debate," as Gibson et al would suggest, Greenwald puts it this way (emphasis my own):
The idea that journalists only convey statements from politicians rather than "create debates" is the classic Stenographic Model of "Journalism" -- "we just write down what people say. It's not our job to do anything else." Real reporting is about uncovering facts that the political elite try to conceal, not ones they willingly broadcast. It's about investigating and exposing -- not mindlessly amplifying -- the falsehoods and deceit of government claims. But our modern "journalists" (with some noble exceptions) don't do that not only because they can't do it, but also because they don't think it's their job. That's because, by definition, they're not journalists.

But beyond that, this claim is just categorically, demonstrably false. As Eric Boehlert and Atrios both demonstrated yesterday, Ted Kennedy in September, 2002 "delivered a passionate, provocative, and newsworthy speech raising all sorts of doubts about a possible invasion." Moreover, Al Gore (the prior presidential nominee of the Democratic Party) and Howard Dean (the 2003 Democratic presidential frontrunner) were both emphatically speaking out against the war.

Thus, three of the most influential voices in the Democratic Party -- arguably the three most influential at the time -- were vehemently opposing the war. People were protesting in the streets by the hundreds of thousands inside the U.S. and around the world. In the world as perceived by the insulated, out-of-touch and establishment-worshiping likes of David Ignatius, Brian Williams, David Gregory, and Charlie Gibson, there may not have been a debate over whether we should attack Iraq. But there nonetheless was a debate. They ignored it and silenced it because their jobs didn't permit them to highlight those questions. Ask Jessica Yellin. She'll tell you. She just did last night.

UPDATE: For the YouTube impaired, here's the transcript of Yellin and Cooper's discussion above:

COOPER: Jessica, McClellan took press to task for not upholding their reputation. He writes: "The National Press Corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. The 'liberal media' -- in quotes -- didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served." Dan Bartlett, former Bush adviser, called the allegation "total crap." What is your take? Did the press corps drop the ball?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I wouldn't go that far. I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president's high approval ratings.

And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives -- and I was not at this network at the time -- but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president. I think, over time...

COOPER: You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?

YELLIN: Not in that exact -- they wouldn't say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces. They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive, yes. That was my experience.

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