Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Newsweek's explosive allegation was no "honest mistake."

The AMMP strikes back. The beat goes on. Same old story, "Dan Rather, CBS News!"..............T
"Newsweek no longer stands by its story. 'Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay,' editor Mark Whitaker said in a statement yesterday. Sen. John McCain, a moderate Republican, was among those who 'applauded the retraction, but suggested Newsweek must go further,' CNN reports.
To put this in some context, it's worth recalling that essay Howard Fineman wrote in January, on the occasion of CBS's releasing its report on the fraudulent '60 Minutes' hit piece on President Bush. Fineman, Newsweek's chief political correspondent, argued that the what he infelicitously called 'the American Mainstream Media Party' was 'dying.' The 'AAMP,' he said, had formed when the media abandoned their old ideals of neutrality and nonpartisanship to take sides--first against the Vietnam War, then against President Nixon in the Watergate scandal:
The crusades of Vietnam and Watergate seemed like a good idea at the time, even a noble one, not only to the press but perhaps to a majority of Americans. The problem was that, once the AMMP declared its existence by taking sides, there was no going back. A party was born.
It's not just that the media are biased against conservatives and Republicans, though they certainly are. It is that they see every war as another Vietnam and every supposed scandal as another Watergate--at least when Republicans are in the White House, which they usually are.
The obsession with Vietnam and Watergate is central to the alienation between the press and the people. After all, these were triumphs for the crusading press but tragedies for America. And the press's quest for more such triumphs--futile, so far, after more than 30 years--is what is behind the scandals at both Newsweek and CBS.
It's also behind the Valerie Plame kerfuffle, which hasn't been properly recognized as a journalistic scandal. The mainstream media accepted uncritically a Democratic partisan's unfounded allegations of criminal conduct within the Bush administration, suddenly discovering that there was no crime only when the ensuing special prosecutor investigation threatened to put two reporters behind bars.
In response to the Koran-flushing debacle, Newsweek has acknowledged only technical problems with its reporting. This follows the pattern of CBS, which commissioned an "independent" report that allowed the network to claim it was free of political bias. In the Plame case, we don't know of any journalistic outfit that's admitted an error; the Times, for instance, still insists baselessly that Plame's "outing" was "an abuse of power."
The problem in all three cases is that news organizations were so zealous in their pursuit of the next quagmire or scandal that they forgot their first obligation, which is to tell the truth. Until those in the mainstream media are willing to acknowledge that it is this crusading impulse that has led them astray, we are unlikely to see the end of such journalistic scandals.