Thursday, January 20, 2005

CBS and the Bloggers: What it Really Means

Okay, many things have been written about CBS, Dan Rather, and the bogus memos. From the Fighting Keyboardists on the right side of the blogosphere, the story is one of triumphalism: The bloggers dug up the truth and exposed CBS as the lying, liberal propaganda network they've always known it to be. From the left, it isn't about liberal bias on CBS part, it was just a dumb mistake in a rush to get a story out.
"And third, because it's pretty clear that the reason the story was aired wasn't due to liberal bias, it was because of a far more prosaic journalistic sin: wanting to beat the competition." (Kevin Drum). Or, as Kyle says, it was to the benefit of Bush, diverting attention from Bush's record to CBS.

To me, though, it means the end of independent media in the US. The right-wing bloggers such as those on Little Green Footballs who held CBS' feet to the fire weren't driven by a burning desire to find the facts. There was no effort to discover the truth of Bush's service record. There is no comparable diligence in holding Bush's feet to the fire over his dishonest statements in support of the war, his tax cuts, his plan for privatizing Social Security. No, truth was not the objective. The objective was to punish CBS for daring to step out of bounds in criticizing their President. The message is clear: follow the approved script, or get pounded.

While the right wing complains about liberal media bias, the left complains about media cowardice in investigating the truth, in reporting truth, and in holding powerful politicians accountable.

The other side of the coin is the increasingly cozy relationship between journalists and politicians. The latest outrage, of course, is conservative commentator Armstrong Williams being paid to promote Bush's educational agenda. But the use of "embedded" reporters in Iraq is another example of the government trying to get journalists on their side. The deal there was the usual bargaining over "access": Politicians say "Play nice with us, and you'll get the juicy stories and exclusives. Otherwise, you get nothing."

The carrot and stick in combination are proving tremendously effective in keeping mainstream US journalism in line. The right wing might find this an occasion for rejoicing, but what it means is that increasingly, hard-hitting investigation of the powerful will only happen if it is being egged on by a powerful opposition. It's all politics, now.


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