Saturday, January 08, 2005

Buying off the news media

Jan. 8, 2005

He is a one-time aide to Clarence Thomas, who himself has reported accepting more than $40,000 in gifts while meting out supposedly impartial justice on the nation's highest court. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that when the Department of Education sought a little free publicity from the media it turned to Armstrong Williams. That's right, the U.S. Department of Education bought the rights for good news, paying this ostensibly fair-minded columnist $241,000 -- real money -- to make No Child Left Behind look real good.

Don't you love the ethics of the righteous Republicans leading this nation. Just where do their family values begin? With the Republicans in Congress taking steps to ensure there won't be any more ethics investigations of sitting members? With the presumptive new Attorney General dodging Senate Judiciary Committee questions about his past endorsement of torture with the dexerity of a nimble-footed running back dodging tacklers in the open field? With government-produced propaganda videos that Republicans seem to be shipping with increasing frequency to the news media? Or with the more overt payola directed at Williams?

"We believe that the act of bribing journalists to bias their news in favor of government policies undermines the integrity of our democracy," Democratic senators Reid, Lautenberg and Kennedy wrote to the president. Seems plain as day to me.

What's more, I'll wager that if there's one bought-off journalist who has been caught, others likely are still in the business of promoting the administration's agenda. I only hope someone will continue to look for them. Still, it seems odd that anyone would bother to buy reporters off these days. Because, with some notable exceptions in the elite press, most journalists have become as much lapdogs of the Bush agenda as the Democrats in Congress. Not that Democrats or reporters are standing and cheering. But in most journalistic and political quarters the silence is deafening -- on torture by American military and spy agencies, on repeated ethical transgressions, on the erosion of civil liberties, and on an overall agenda of debt and war that leaves us far more vulnerable to terror than ever.

Journalism's job is not to represent any political party or any political ideology. But aggressive news organization's used to stay with a substantial story of government transgression until something was resolved, until something changed. I'll guarantee you that when they started covering Watergate, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were not popular in much of the media (and most definitely not in the White House). But neither they nor The Post let go. I've yet to see the same tenacity applied to this administration on anything.

Bravo to columnists like Dowd and Ivins, Krugman and Herbert, among others, for trying. But though their musings, unlike mine, are read by a real and sizable audience, it's an audience that these days appears to have no recourse. I could scream. But let me instead be a good solutions-oriented citizen. Consider. Ending any continuing payoffs to journalists might be a small first step in making a dent in that gargantuan budget deficit. A step with bipartisan support at that.


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October 1, 2005 at 9:41 PM  

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