Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Leader of the Pack

Helen Thomas, the Doyen of the Washington Press, as always, manages to speak the truth in a clear, forthright manner. The Nation has an article, Lap Dogs of the Press, in which Thomas reviews the role of the press in the run up to the Iraq War. She critiques the failure of the press to challenge the Administration:

Of all the unhappy trends I have witnessed--conservative swings on television networks, dwindling newspaper circulation, the jailing of reporters and "spin"--nothing is more troubling to me than the obsequious press during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They lapped up everything the Pentagon and White House could dish out--no questions asked.

Reporters and editors like to think of themselves as watchdogs for the public good. But in recent years both individual reporters and their ever-growing corporate ownership have defaulted on that role. Ted Stannard, an academic and former UPI correspondent, put it this way: "When watchdogs, bird dogs, and bull dogs morph into lap dogs, lazy dogs, or yellow dogs, the nation is in trouble."

* * * *

My concern is why the nation's media were so gullible. Did they really think it was all going to be so easy, a "cakewalk," a superpower invading a Third World country? Why did the Washington press corps forgo its traditional skepticism? Why did reporters become cheerleaders for a deceptive Administration? Could it be that no one wanted to stand alone outside Washington's pack journalism?
Attytood has had an occasional series of posts on the future of journalism and print media (in particular the future of the Philadelphia Daily News with the sale of the paper pending), which delves into these issues in detail. My own interest in blogs, international and alternative media sources (such as the Guardian Unlimited, AlterNet and truthout), can be traced to the run up to the war in Iraq. Traditional media, be it newspaper or TV, did not report on (or question) the many areas in the Administration's push for war that were clearly bunk. It was astonishing to me at the time to see what wasn't reported at all in the press or what was slanted in favor of the Administration's position. It wouldn't surprise me if some Press Releases issued by the White House were printed in their entirety, without any independent investigation. Reporting the propaganda promulgated by the Administration was the order of the day for the press. Wrapped in a flag, of course, as was everything in that period of enforced patriotism.

I have to believe that a major contributing cause of the decline in the credibility/relevance of the press is due to the "lap dog"syndrome. A related factor is the marginalization of the press by the Administration, which adds credence to the diminished importance of the press in the view of the public.

The Nation article was adapted from Helen Thomas' forthcoming book, Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public.

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