Friday, May 31, 2013

Teflon Media: Beyond Contestation?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?  This is a Latin phrase that translates to “who will guard the guards themselves” or “who watches the watchmen.”  Often, this phrase is associated with Plato in reference to political corruption, “who will watch the watch-guards?”

It makes sense to ask the question in reference to the government.  Given the role of government, keeping its potential power in check seems sensible.  However, this question isn’t exclusive to the government; no, I’d argue that ANY entity that assumes the role of “the watcher” automatically becomes the focal point of the question.  Adding my own twist of phrase, I’d say, “that’s fine, watch me, but who the hell is watching YOU!”

I’m sorry, but it appears as if the folks in the media (newspapers, news programs, reporters, et al.) feel that the media is above the law.  As if it stands above everything else with an investigative, judgmental, and sanctimonious eye; everything else is subject to criticism, scrutiny, and – if necessary – punishment… but not them.  To suggest otherwise is a violation of the First Amendment. 

To a lesser extent, I had a similar feeling towards the media during the Barry Bonds/BALCO fiasco.  Game of Shadows, the book that blew the lid off steroid use in MLB, used sealed grand jury testimony, which is confidential by law.  The DoJ subpoenaed the reporters who wrote the book and the media community pushed back insisting that the reporters were protected under the First Amendment.  Not a huge deal to me… At the time, I didn’t really argue the media issue – nor would I today; however, I always felt uneasy with the idea that the media had a “get out of jail” free card but the rest of us didn’t.  Now, with the AP/FoxNews story, those same concerns have returned. 

To some, on its face, it appears to be an extreme overreach of the federal government AND a violation of the First Amendment, Freedom of the Press.  For those who agree that this is an over extension by the federal government, your perspective is further advanced by every reputable “news” station, journalist, news reporter, newspaper, or magazine article regardless of political leanings.  

  “massive and unprecedented intrusion” 
"[government] had no conceivable right to know."- AP

"...flagrant an assault on civil liberties as anything done by George W. Bush's administration..."
"...uses technology to silence critics in a way Richard Nixon could only have dreamed of" - Dana Milbank

"President Barack Obama has declared war on the press..." - Washington Post/New York Times/National Journal/FoxNews...

("Oh the humanity!!!!") The media is also refusing to sit down with the DoJ to discuss monitoring of reporters and how to move forward because the meeting is to be conducted "off the record."  You know, if there's no story, there's no money... but I digress
Wait a minute…wait a minute… wait a minute…. Stop the presses (pun intended)
Should it matter that the very institutions controlling the narrative are part of the narrative?  If you do not believe the government because it will simply protect its own interests, in this situation, do you hold a different set of expectations for the media?   I gotta be honest with you.  I do NOT feel as though I can go to the media to get an impartial account of the “facts.”  Not on THIS issue.  I understand that I’m in the minority for not being as outraged at Attorney General Eric Holder and his Department of Justice.  But I'm not alone.  Jack Shafer at Reuters and the Washington Post's Walter Pincus (in addition to a dozen or so national security journalists who supported Pincus's defense of the DoJ) feel that the media may "have an over-sized sense of themselves."  I don't know if the DoJ was in the right or wrong; time will tell.  Like anyone, I have my leanings, but I’d prefer to wait before I cement my position.  The problem is my usual source of information (the media) does what ANY group does when it feels under attack: they let the emotions get the best of them and impartiality gets tossed out the window.  Think about it like this: how can you hear both sides of the argument when one side controls 90% of everything you hear and see?  So forgive me for not bowing to the feet of Hermes, the Greek God of communication; who, by the way, is also considered a trickster… go figure… 

Understand, this isn’t an indictment on all media; I simply don’t subscribe to the belief that the media is beyond reproach.  While, in my humble opinion, local media remains closer to journalism’s original intent than their national counterparts, I believe we can all agree that today’s version of the media isn’t as “independent” as they’d like to portray. 

News Flash: IF the media broke the law, the DoJ has the duty to investigate. 

First and foremost, there is a HUGE difference between a criminal investigation and suppression of “Freedom of the Press.”  Sure, the media will absolutely try to conflate the two and why wouldn’t they?  You will hear parallels to the "Pentagon Papers."  Just like any organization, if they can get a little more wiggle room then why wouldn’t they?  As Walter Pincus points out, this is NOT like the "Pentagon Papers": 
"The person or persons who told the Associated Press about the CIA operation that infiltrated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Kim — or someone else — who informed Rosen about North Korea, were not whistleblowers exposing government misdeeds. They harmed national security and broke the law."

Whistleblowers disclose malfeasance; leakers simply break the law and their oath of office.  If the AP is receiving information from a “source” that reveals top-secret security information and/or could potentially put citizens’ lives in danger, the AP's position is the government doesn’t have the right to know?  Really?  Of ALL the things that the government MUST know, national security is probably on the top of the list. 

Journalism’s first loyalty is to the citizenry; to serve as an independent monitor for powerful individuals and institutions within society.  The “Big 6” of GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS control 90% of what we hear and see.  Other larger corporations like Clear Channel own the remaining 10%.  It appears that the monitors of “powerful institutions” happen to be POWERFUL institutions.  Yeah… it's like killing lady liberty herself... or so we’ve been told.

Is the media beyond reproach?
Does the media have any responsibility in National Security?
Is there a difference between a whistleblower and someone just leaking security secrets?
Should leaking security secrets be a crime?
Does the wrong doing on this issue fall ONLY on the DOJ and White House?
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