Thursday, June 02, 2005

No longer a great newspaper

An editorial in last Thursday's Washington Post started out with these words: "It's always sad when a solid, trustworthy institution loses its bearings..." What's tragic is that these words were written without a trace of irony. Because the Post was ostensibly talking about Amnesty International. That opening statement, however, really applies to the Post itself. Here's how the editorial starts:

It's always sad when a solid, trustworthy institution loses its bearings and joins in the partisan fracas that nowadays passes for political discourse. It's particularly sad when the institution is Amnesty International, which for more than 40 years has been a tough, single-minded defender of political prisoners around the world and a scourge of left- and right-wing dictators alike. True, Amnesty continues to keep track of the world's political prisoners, as it has always done, and its reports remain a vital source of human rights information. But lately the organization has tended to save its most vitriolic condemnations not for the world's dictators but for the United

Maybe because we deserve it, huh? There are none so blind as those who will not see. Why not assume that Amnesty International is still solid and trustworthy but that it's the United States that has lost its bearings? Because the Washington Post has lost its willingness or ability (or both) to speak truth to power. How ironic that now, following the disclosure of Deep Throat's identity, the once great newpaper is glorying in its own past role in exposing the Watergate scandal. Greg Palast speaks to this in an article entitled, "Deep Throat cover blown — Washington Post still sucks". Here's some of what he says:

I've been gagging all morning on the Washington Post's self-congratulatory preening about its glory days of the Watergate investigation. Think about it. It's been 33 years since cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein pulled down the pants of the Nixon operation and exposed its tie-in to the Watergate burglary. That marks a third of a century since the Washington Post has broken a major investigative story. I got a hint why there's been such a dry spell after I met Mark Hosenball, investigative reporter for the Washington Post's magazine, Newsweek.

It was in the summer of 2001. A few months earlier, for the Guardian papers of Britain, I'd discovered that Katherine Harris and Governor Jeb Bush of Florida had removed tens of thousands of African-Americans from voter registries before the 2000 election, thereby fixing the race for George Bush. Hosenball said the Post-Newsweek team "looked into it and couldn't find anything."

Nothing at all? What I found noteworthy about the Post's investigation was that "looking into it" involved their reporters chatting with Florida officials -- but not bothering to look at the voter purge list itself.

Yes, I admit the Washington Post ran my story -- seven months after the election -- but with the key info siphoned out, such as the Bush crew's destruction of evidence and the salient fact that almost all those purged were Democrats. In other words, the story was drained of anything which might discomfit the new residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Palast then talks about the way today's journalists have sold their souls for access to people in power. He concludes this way:

The Washington Post has no monopoly on journalistic evil. If anything, the Post is probably better than most of the bilge contaminating our news outlets. This is about the death-march of investigative journalism in America; or, at least, its dearth under the "mainstream" mastheads.

Why don't we read more "Watergate" investigative stories in the US press? Given that the Woodwards of today dance on their hind legs begging officialdom for "access", news without official blessing doesn't stand a chance.

The Post follows current American news industry practice of killing any story based on evidence from a confidential source if a government honcho privately denies it. A flat-out "we didn't do it" is enough to kill an investigation in its cradle. And by that rule, there is no chance that the Managing Editor of the Washington Post, Bob Woodward, would today run Deep Throat's story of the Watergate break-in.

And that sucks.

It sucks indeed. How Bob Woodward can live with what he has become is beyond me. He's just sold out - plain and simple. Journalists who don't, of course, are attacked - like Bill Moyers. The difference in courage between the two men is stunning.

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