Watchdog Blog

Rose Rappoport Moss: The Press Needs to Keep Its Eye on the Ball

Posted at 3:32 pm, March 30th, 2007
Rose Moss Mug

For the moment, the press seems to be doing a good job covering and maybe even enjoying the multiple troubles besetting the President – Libby, Walter Reed, Gonzales, one after another. This is fun I would not like to forego. But, I suspect, the President will not change course. Being gloated over may only make him dig in.

The press, therefore, needs to keep its eye on the ball, to continue its new-found skeptical, aggressive approach. This Administration has remarkable gift for slippery inventions to work around the law and keep its moves hidden. Take the case of Iran. A direct war with Iran – an attack – may too unpopular to risk right now, but there could be other ways.

For example, the Boston Globe reported on March 21 that “the State Department and the Pentagon are quietly seeking congressional approval for significant new military sales to U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region. The move is part of a broader American strategy to contain Iranian influence by strengthening Iran’s neighbors and signaling that the United States is still a strong military player in the Middle East.” Who knows?—we may be able to use trade as war by other means.

At home, the press should keep in mind that the President and allies are probably not stymied by the fuss over Gonzales. An important step here would be for reporters and editors to focus on firings and promotions in other government agencies, not only Justice.

If the Constitution alone is not enough to restrain the President and Vice President, let us hope the media can. Our founders took it for granted that the press would restrain the ambitions and corruptions of politicians. These last few weeks, the media have been exposing scandals. Our country needs more sunlight, much more. We dare not assume that those to whom we have given too much power are not making haste to use all they can while they can.

The Administration has used the Iraq war as a rationale for stripping citizens’ rights and protections, and there’s no reason to believe they have changed their goals. We should expect to see more tactics that rely on rush in Congress, overwork in the press and indifference in a public that does not fully know or understand what “politics” in Washington means for their own lives.

One Response to “The Press Needs to Keep Its Eye on the Ball”

  1. John Seed says:

    Does a “new-found skeptical approach” actually exist in the press or does the skepticism in the press just reflect a Democratic Congress that is challenging Republican abuses of power? There is little evidence to support the existence of a truely independent press as perhaps was envisioned by the nation’s founders. It was a very accepting press that implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) endorsed the Administration’s abuse of intelligence and power prior to the Iraq war. There were some exceptions (McClatchy), but the dominant picture was a reflection of public opinion. Now that public opinion has changed, so has the reporting. That’s not independence as I see it.

    There also is a more general question of balance vs. objectivity. Reasonable people understand that these are not the same, but during the last 10 years or so, the press has been behaving as if they were. The egregious sophistry of Fox News marketers does not make that organization fair or balanced; it just enables a political group to criticize reporting it doesn’t like as “unbalanced”. The response of the press has been everything but reassuring. Giving an extreme and illogical position the exact same weight of one that is balanced does not make a story balanced, and is very far from objective. Being objective is one of the primary responsibilities of professional journalists and the failure to be objective only gives solace to the extremists in our society.

    The insidious politicization of the entire Federal Government and the unrelenting assault on civil liberties should have been front and center in the public mind long before the Democratic Congress appeared. Does journalism need a method to identify poor journalism without going to the extreme of a Jason Blair? It seems that there should be a way to do that without endangering freedom. Then perhaps we could identify Fox News as Fox Conservative Opinions and not need to make space for that absurdity.

Comments are closed.

The website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.