Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I am increasingly impressed with the calm, mature professionalism of the elite Washington/NewYork media. Only recently, and for several decades, the WashingtonPostNewYorkTimesCBSNBCABCCNN entities could not resist reporting dramatic national news — even if the information came to them by informal or questionable methods. From the illegally leaked Pentagon Papersthree decades ago to theillegally leaked Pentagon Iraq war plans of last year,the media elite senior editorsnever spiked an important revelation for mere want of quiet title to the document in question.

They would leave it to red- faced and exasperated senior government officials to express impotent outrage that the sanctity of government secrecy had been breached by enterprising reporters or heroic whistleblowers. Indeed, in the major media’s bumptious and irresponsible youth, the Rathers, Bradleys, Bernsteins and Jennings could not completely disguise their prankish glee at the official discomfort their shady methods had caused.

But in the last three weeks, a calm, self-restrained maturity has suddenly swept over what only last month still had been the gangly, youthful, irresponsible Washington/New York media elite. Three vastly embarrassing and newsworthy memos — two from the Senate and one from the Pentagon — came to light. But in each case, the shocking revelations were not revealed in the august pages and electrons of the newly mature media elite.

In the remaining actual news gathering and reporting institutions (the Weekly Standard, The Washington Times, the New York Post, Fox News,Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh radio programs, et al.) those three leaked memos were substantively reported on and extensively quoted.

For those of you who get your news from the WashingtonPostNewYorkTimesCBSetc., here is a summary of those three now half-famous memos: 1) Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee had drafted plans to use and misconstrue classified intelligence data to politically undercut the president of the United States (“pulling the trigger” closer to the election); (2) the CIA and other intelligence offices of the government have identified 10 years of contacts between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden —thus tending to dramatically justify our war against Iraq and contradicting one of the major Democratic Party criticisms of President Bush’s Iraq policy; and 3) Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee were working closely with outside groups to block judicial appointments for the purpose of ethnic bigotry and unethical manipulation of court proceedings. In Sen. Durbin’s case,the memo advised that Miguel Estrada be blocked as he is “especially dangerous because he is Latino.” In Sen. Kennedy’s case, the memo advised to stall Judge Gibbons appointment so she couldn’t get on the bench in time to decide the pending Michigan affirmative action case. The memo questioned “the propriety” of such tactics, but nonetheless advised it. She was confirmed just two months after the landmark case in question.

The suddenly mature and responsible media elites did feel obliged to make a passing reference to these stories — or their remaining readers and viewers might be embarrassed when the topic was brought up by the growing part of the public that gets its news from other sources.

But in all three instances, the major media’s articles on these explosive (and undenied) revelations led with a mature and responsible expression of shock at the questionable manner by which the memos were publicly revealed. They then respectfully quoted the embarrassed senators and government officials who were calling for a Justice Department investigation of the leak.

The articles followed with quotes and analysis from non-government experts (usually former government experts from the last administration) who shared the embarrassed senator’s view of things. Finally, before wrapping up their minimalist articles (not even a sapling died to print these nano-reports), they would quote the most benign and unnewsworthy sentence from the smoking memoranda.

While scarcely any news had been perpetrated by these articles, they did reflect the suddenly gained mature understanding of these senior editors that as adult members of the governing class (if not quite, technically, in office currently), their primary responsibility was to protect the public — not merely to inform it. Impressively, the senior editors have come to realize, as high government officials have known for centuries, that protecting the public often requires more than not informing them. It may actually require disinforming them.

Still, it is puzzling that maturity, self-restraint and an impeccable respect for the exclusive intellectual property rights of corrupt government memo writers should have finally come to the senior editors of the media elite just when these three memos were revealed. Why do I suspect that if a leaked memo embarrassing to President Bush should come to light, these senior editors will have a mid-life crises and revert to their irresponsible youthful inclinations?

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