Journalists Should Not Be “Disinterested” About Truth

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Congress, Iraq War, News Media

I’m a little late commenting on the bogus charge that John McCain was heckled by Michael Ware, but it’s been weighing on me so I’ll comment anyway.

I sometimes wish videos of President Lyndon Johnson’s press conferences were available on the web (if they are, let me know). As I remember it, at some point after the Vietnam War began the Washington press corps began to hound LBJ mercilessly. The press became openly antagonistic to Johnson, and I won’t say he didn’t deserve it. When reporters began to treat Richard Nixon the same way they’d treated LBJ, Nixon sent out Spiro Agnew to stir up faux outrage against the nattering nabobs of negativism and whine about liberal media bias; thus a myth was born. The fact is, as I remember it the press was a shade gentler to Nixon than it had been to LBJ. And by the time Reagan came along they’d become sufficiently defensive about “”liberal media bias” that reporters generally treated Reagan with kid gloves compared to the way they’d treated presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. And in comparison to the press corps in Johnson’s day, today’s White House reporters are a neutered and toothless lot, indeed.

I thought of LBJ’s press conferences yesterday after I saw this post by the Instaputz:

DISINTERESTED JOURNALISM: John McCain heckled by CNN reporter.

Ah, professionalism.

UPDATE: Hard to argue: “Michael Ware’s behavior here is flat out unprofessional. If CNN keeps him on staff after this incident, that says something, doesn’t it?”

ANOTHER UPDATE: John Tabin: “Heckling at a press conference is very rude, and wouldn’t be acceptable even from an opinion journalist (I wouldn’t dream of laughing in Nancy Pelosi’s face during a press conference). That said, isn’t it better when guys like Ware let their biases hang out, rather than embedding them in reports that are ostensibly objective?”

Wouldn’t it be better still if they just did an honest job of doing, you know, their jobs?

Later, Raw Story posted videos of the alleged heckling and, um, it wasn’t heckling. And to be fair, several rightie bloggers, including Reynolds, retracted their allegations.

But I want to address the part about reporters being “disinterested,” which means objective or neutral. Objectivity and neutrality are splendid. But “neutrality” and “objectivity” don’t translate into “pretending not to notice when a politician is lying his ass off.”

“Objectivity” used to mean that one shouldn’t allow personal biases to get in the way of telling the truth. Now it seems to mean one mustn’t tell the bare-assed truth about what politicians are up to, especially if they’re Republicans, because it makes the politicians look bad.

Regarding John McCain’s stroll through a Baghdad market (accompanied by 100 troops and two Apache helicopters), Kirk Semple writes in today’s New York Times:

A day after members of an American Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain pointed to their brief visit to Baghdad’s central market as evidence that the new security plan for the city was working, the merchants there were incredulous about the Americans’ conclusions.

“What are they talking about?” Ali Jassim Faiyad, the owner of an electrical appliances shop in the market, said Monday. “The security procedures were abnormal!”

The delegation arrived at the market, which is called Shorja, on Sunday with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees — the equivalent of an entire company — and attack helicopters circled overhead, a senior American military official in Baghdad said. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area and restricted access to the Americans, witnesses said, and sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests throughout their hourlong visit.

“They paralyzed the market when they came,” Mr. Faiyad said during an interview in his shop on Monday. “This was only for the media.”

He added, “This will not change anything.”

At a news conference shortly after their outing, Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, and his three Congressional colleagues described Shorja as a safe, bustling place full of hopeful and warmly welcoming Iraqis — “like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime,” offered Representative Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who was a member of the delegation.

McCain and Pence and everybody else who staged that little stunt in support of the war deserved whatever razzing they got from the press. The fact that we are still being told about the soldiers and helicopters is not “media bias“; it’s “what a free press looks like.”

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9 Comments

8 Comments

  1. moonbat  •  Apr 3, 2007 @3:45 pm

    I’m glad the NYT exposed McCain’s charade. Had the press not done so, I would’ve recommended Nancy Pelosi take a swing through Baghdad herself on the way back from her trip to Syria. It would’ve been fun to see someone, a poised and powerful woman no less, from the reality party expose yet another war mongering fraud.

    Great to see her dialoging with the leadership in Syria, much to Bush’s sputtering consternation. It’s great to see our people get creative in finding ways to end-run the stonewalling stupidity that’s been choking this country.

  2. Bill H  •  Apr 3, 2007 @4:42 pm

    I would agree with moonbat, except that this sort of political grandstanding puts our military at risk. They are there to fight a war (right or wrong), not to risk their lives for political showffery. What if, while they had their helmets off for the photo ops, one or more soldiers had been killed? Politicians need to stay the hell out of the soldiers’ way and let them do their job until we can end this insanity and let them come home safe.

  3. Marshall  •  Apr 3, 2007 @5:09 pm

    McCain has jumped the shark.

  4. Donna  •  Apr 3, 2007 @5:51 pm

    Umm, Bill H. [#2 above], for a moment, I at first read your statement ‘they are there to fight a war [right or wrong], not to risk their lives for political showffery’ as a commentary on the whole nature of the Iraq misadventure, not just as a comment on the McCain, etal photo ops event.
    Anyway, I think our soldiers were there from the git-go for ‘political showffery’ on behalf of the neocon/hegemony dreamers.

  5. Doug Hughes  •  Apr 3, 2007 @7:56 pm

    McCain is running for president, He has hitched his campaing wagon to this war, and the expansion of it. The war is not working; the surge is not working and his politicl fortunes are looking bleaker by the minute. So let’s stage a little theatre for the media. Some parts of Baghdad – outside the Green Zone – are safe.

    Ware called it for the fraud it was – and is. He’s been there in Iraq, with his ass on the line – almost killed once. My hat’s off to him; I hope he does not get the Pullitzer prize posthumously. He skates on thin ice.

    Bill, there is no ‘job for the soldiers to do’. They are in a civil war and EVERYONE agrees there is no military solution. ALL the significant battles are being waged politically, in Washington DC, in Baghdad, in the capitals of all the surrounding countries, and in the mosques where decicions for the militias are made. Politics – not combat – will determine the final outcome. Our soldiers are pawns – and not the only ones – there are Moslem pawns , and I feel sorry for them too, and their families; they all pay the ultimate price for the delusions of fanatics.

  6. Swami  •  Apr 3, 2007 @8:48 pm

    McCain claims he’s a student of history, adept at military issues, and knows whoever militarily holds the Capital city has the advantage. So he’s not concerned about the insurgency taking their battle elsewhere in Iraq to circumvent Bush’s surge. I got to agree with him..the Soviets held their advantage in Kabul during their war in Afghanistan…it works every time.

  7. expat  •  Apr 4, 2007 @10:19 am

    A great fortune it was to have Wm L. White (son of W.A. White) as editor of the town paper. Not in his wildest nightmare would Bill White ever recognise today’s media or what arguably passes as media. What these fascist republicans were at is propaganda, pure, simple and fact. If it is so safe, the troups can come home – now.

  8. Bill H  •  Apr 4, 2007 @11:56 am

    Doug, I agree with you in principle. Stooging around in the middle of someone else’s civil war is not a “job.” But if nothing else the soldiers have the job of protecting themselves and their fellow soldiers. I repeat, they are not there to expose themselves to the risk of death and mutilation protecting some piece-of-crap self-aggrandizing politician.

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