Like many of you here, I was drawn to blogs -- and ultimately to doing my own writing -- by the extraordinary feeling of frustration I felt with mainstream media -- newspapers, magazines, and television -- starting with the 2000 election, an emotion that seemed to grow exponentially with each passing year. I think that this sense was magnified by living in DC since 1982 and traveling in circles that included a fair number of journalists and Hill types, a world where anyone on the left who actually believes strongly in anything is deemed instantly suspect.
For a brief moment I hoped that the unmitigated disaster that was the Bush Administration and the shameful role that media played in giving him a pass might have brought about a bit of a sea change. That and the fact that traditional media are in such deep trouble led me to think that some sort of collective reappraisal might well be possible. But alas, as I think Toast expressed here a few weeks ago in comments, it's like the last ten years didn't happen. The mainstream press is as smug and clueless as it has ever been, as insular and arrogant and useless a group of people ever assembled anywhere. And all the while it is heading toward what appears to be inevitable oblivion, its leading lights alternate between a sad ass, helpless pity party and the addled notion that they somehow remain the cool kids who will determine who gets to be in the club. Two recent incidents have brought this home in the starkest of terms -- the McChrystal scoop by Rolling Stone and the firing of Dave Weigel by the Washington Post.
The reaction within corporate media to free lance journalist Michael Hastings' expose of the attitudes toward civilian leaders expressed by General McChrystal and his staff on their Bud Light Lime fueled expedition through Europe was priceless. First there was the eye-rolling, hippie punching, with the two words "Rolling Stone" used as though a punchline in and of itself, notwithstanding the fact that Rolling Stone has long featured serious and thoughtful journalism. This was followed by outraged whinging over what was assumed to be Hastings' tricking poor old General McChrystal to speak candidly in a setting that the eunuch reporters of Washington would have presumed (without so saying) to be off the record. I hate to give Politico the links, since it personifies just about everything wrong that exists in mainstream political journalism, but this article captures the conflict perfectly.
There is simply a fundamental misunderstanding by these long-time beat reporters about the nature of their jobs. They see themselves having a role in protecting their sources in order to continue to have access to these sources that they can in turn continue to protect such that the real news never quite gets out. I would propose that they consider a kind of journalism that doesn't involve contact with those at the top at all -- or at least not until one is ready to run a story for which comment might be sought. I would submit that little of lasting value ever comes out of these clubby, off-the-record as the default setting, relationships. Indeed, it seems to me that much more is obscured rather than illuminated through this kind of psychological embedding.
I will take up Weigel again tomorrow, but I'm running out of steam. But let me just say that on this subject I am one hundred percent in agreement with Glenn Greenwald and his appropriately bludgeoning takedown of the horrible Jeffrey Goldberg. It is hard to comprehend a world in which Dave Weigel is an unacceptable partisan and Jeffrey Goldberg is deemed an honest, objective, and reliable exemplar of reporting. Surely madness lies that way.