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View Diary: Disgrace to Journalism (250 comments)

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  •  The Problem Is All This Off The Record Stuff (4.00)
    Remember back when journalists tried to find out what was going on so that they could report it to the public.

    Now we have pundits. Pundits know a lot more about what is going on than is known to the public, but since they learned it "off the record" and have an "obligation to their sources" they can't tell the public what they know.

    Everyday we see played out before our eyes the strange machinations of these pundits managing a Chinese Wall of public and secret information inside their own heads. While they clearly know more than they are revealing they take great pains to only ask questions that are based on information that is already public.

    Often you see strange exchanges like on Hardball recently when Mathews asks Fineman if something about Cheney's involvement in the Plame matter was known. To which Fineman, with obvious discomfort says: "Not publicly we don't." So, he knows, but he's not going to tell us since it's not something that can be known publicly.

    The reason for all this is supposedly that journalists would get no information unless they "protect their sources." What it does in effect is to create an entire new class of complicity. It creates a new catagory of information which can be known to journalists, but not by the public.

    Who is it that defines what information falls into this catagory? The politicians of course. By playing the game, "I'll tell you but don't tell anyone," they circumscribe that which the public can be told and that which shall remain secret. In effect the forth estate is coopted by this practice.

    Reporters no longer report the facts as they know them, they opine on a subset of information known to the public, all the while knowing that this is a very inaccurate picture. In the twisted logic of the profession, it becomes necessary not to inform the public of the truth, but to perpetrate the myths and propaganda proferred up for public consumption. That is, it becomes necessary to spin a yarn for the sake of their journalistic integrity.

    When this goes on for as long as it has, those in the profession absolutely lose all conception of truth. Drunk on power and smugly "in the know'" they go about crafting public opinion with their allies in the government. Falsity becomes the norm, and the better at spinning the bull, excuse me "protecting your sources," the higher you rise in the business.

    The Plame leak issue lays out clearly for all to see the danger of having reporters make "off the record" agreements with those on whom they are supposed to report. I don't want Judy Miller and Chris Mathews deciding what they can and can not reveal. I don't want some fuzzy rules of engagement creating a new secret class of information that is defined by some bizarre rules of engagement between the government and the press.

    I want reporters to find out what is going on through any means they can without making deals that restrict my access to the truth.

    The arguement is that they have to protect their sources or people won't come forward and blow the whistle. The case often cited is Deep Throat. This is entirely different. Deep Throat was exposing government corruption, not perpetrating it. This is not the fine line some would have you believe. Woodward and Bernstein chose not to reveal their source because ethically they felt bound to protect the truth, not help sell a lie. Who could have imagined that such a noble principled action would become the prima facia rational for a vast government public relations propaganda campaign waged through information access control using secret sources.

    In closing, secrecy is the devil. Secrecy is the antithesis of a free press. We do not need laws to further protect the ability of the press to keep things secret. We do need journalists who understand their obligations to the truth.

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