Monday, June 06, 2005

Our crusading media 

A great perspective from a British journalist, Kevin Myers, on the legacy of the Deep Throat affair (hat tip: Dan Foty):
Whatever [Felt's] motive, the project was utterly disastrous for Nixon, and nearly as disastrous for journalism. For contrary to what most members of my profession believe, we journalists are not a particularly courageous or morally gifted species and, moreover, are pathologically inclined towards group thinking. And so, inspired by the Watergate example, all over the English-speaking world, young journalists got it into their not very imaginative heads that their primary duty was to expose corruption in government.

Travel back 25 years and ask a journalist whether he would prefer a scoop either into secret killings and burials by the IRA, or into MI5 operations in Belfast; nine times out of ten he would leap at the latter. For to gain kudos within our profession, we had to be instinctively against the government and its agencies. The swiftest way of drawing a torrent of derision upon your head in the company of your fellow journalists would have been to praise the security forces. Yet we know, the most flagrantly, extravagantly, wickedly corrupt and corrupting organisation throughout the Troubles was the IRA.
Muckraking journalism exposing corruption and scandals of our governments has a long tradition, but Myers in right that post-Watergate the overall ethos of journalism in the Western world has changed, with the once marginal assumptions becoming a part of the mainstream of journalistic thinking: the authority is to be viewed with extreme suspicion, your own government and its agencies are presumed guilty, everyone else will be given the benefit of the doubt. This set of attitudes is partly related to the view that most of our society's institutions are conservative, and therefore at odds with beliefs and sentiments of majority of journalists. The other aspect of it is that our governments make for such easy targets.

Yesterday, I was reflecting on the different reactions within the Islamic world to sacrilege committed by Muslims and non-Muslims:
Most likely this stark contrast between the outrage in one case and the deadly silence in the other is a sort of an underhanded compliment for America - the recognition of the fact that if the United States have done (or is said to have done) something wrong, you can jump up and down, burn the stars and stripes, chant against the Great Satan, and the Great Satan will profusely apologize for hurting your feelings. But if the Islamic extremists do something wrong - something sacrilegious and offensive - and you start jumping up and down in protest, the extremists will simply come over and kill you.
I think broadly applies to our home-grown journalists, too. The government and its agencies, such as the military, are constantly targeted because they are, in effect, sitting ducks: they will take accusations and will answer them in a civil manner. Yes, there will be some stalling and cover-ups from time to time, but more often than not the authorities will respond and accommodate criticism. There is preciously little personal and physical risk for a journalist in attacking the powers that be - they won't kill, imprison, or intimidate in return -– and the rewards, in terms of public adulation, work recognition, and professional advancement, are virtually unlimited.

Contrast that with tackling some of the real enemies of the free and open society, like organized crime, or domestic and foreign terrorist organizations. Go after them, and you might end up in concrete shoes on the bottom of the river, or with your throat slashed in some hovel in Pakistan. Mafia or Al Qaeda will not hold inquiries in response to your allegations, and won't give out press conferences to give the media an opportunity to cross-examine their officials. They won't fold because of passionate editorials, or buckle under pressure from the opposition politicians armed with media revelations.

Any wonder then, that - even without taking political bias into consideration - our crusading journalists prefer to storm own castles?


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