I was just reading this article about Viveca Novak’s role in the whole Plame thing, and it reminded me of a post which I don’t think I ever got around to making. And it’s about what this whole Plame thing exposed regarding how the media works and how they got so totally suckered by the Bush Whitehouse, starting back in 1999 or so; and continuing through to this day.
And the basic problem is with the current model of the Washington press corp. The idea is that the reporter is supposed to befriend important people, as well as underlings-in-the-know, and eventually get them to, intentionally or not, say too much and tell them what the hell is going on. And it’s not necessarily a bad system at all. Anyone who’s read All The President’s Men knows exactly how this works. We see both the intentional leakage by Deepthroat, as well as underlings saying too much over a friendly cup of coffee. But in both cases, it’s the same thing: the reporters befriend people to gain their confidence, and eventually pump them for info that they can report. Not necessarily to answer questions, but to just talk about their work; in the hopes that something is accidentally spilled.
I myself was exposed to this a little, back when I (briefly) worked for the federal government. It was after the Oklahoma City bombing, and reporters were desperate to get any inside track info on it. And I was the phone answerer at our office and got involved in a lengthy discussion with one reporter. It was clearly conversational, but I had few doubts that she wasn’t trying to befriend me, with hopes of getting an inside track (as if I knew anything). And several times throughout the call, it was obvious that she was trying to press a little further to get me to talk about what I knew, or to get me to transfer her to someone who knew more. And that’s exactly how things work. Sure, they’d love to get the high-up insider, but that’s the rarity; and they’re happy enough to befriend the low-level staffer with more insight than they might realize.
And in a perfect world, there’s nothing wrong with that system. But…what if people start to game the system? What if people start to take advantage of the befriending and actually turn the tables? Instead of the reporters cultivating good sources to take advantage of, what if these people are working to cultivate good reporters to take advantage of? And the reporters who are pliable and glad to have good sources will get the “good” scoops; while the hard-nosed reporters will continue to be left out in the cold. And after each time, the reporter believes themselves to be awesome at their craft; able to cultivate great inside sources. In reality, they’re just big tools being used by their sources, and they have no idea of what’s really going on.
And we’re not even just talking about giving out top secret info, or shilling out important lies. That’s just one feature, but not one to be used too regularly. It works even better for conveying gossip and inventing rumors. We’re not talking about secret meetings in parking garages, but just friends chatting over drinks. And the whole time they’re together, the reporter is trying to squeeze out any piece of anything that their editor will let them write about; while the “source” is trying very hard to not be too obvious about the info they’re intentionally dishing out.
And this explains everything. Not just Judy Miller’s Iraq lies. Not just the Plame outing, which every reporter involved insisted had just been conversational gossip; and not some intentional effort to out Plame. But everything. Like all the “War on Gore” stuff that The Daily Howler complains about. I agree with him completely that it was our “liberal” media which was to blame for that. But how much of it originated with them, and how much of it was conveyed as two friends bullshitting over drinks, with GOP operatives filling them with the anti-Gore stuff that they craved so badly. As well as the anti-Kerry stuff in 2004, and the impression of “Cowboy Bush” we’ve been fed during this whole time.
They give out “inside gossip” about how great, solid, and grown-up the Bush side is; while dishing out negative “gossip” about Gore, Kerry, and the Disarrayed Dems. But nothing that smacks of spin; it all comes out just like conversation. And this would never have worked if the reporters weren’t already receptive to this type of thing; but again, there are enough reporters out there that it’s not too hard to groom many in the right direction, while ignoring the others. And after the Clinton impeachment fiasco blew-up in the Beltway Press’s puritanical faces, they were more than ready for some old-fashioned Dem bashing. And thus came the Karen Hughesing of the Washington Press Corp. They wanted to believe all the best things about Republicans, as they were so disillusioned and upset about the whole Clinton experience.
Not to say that they realized that they were Republicans. In fact, if anything, I think they consider themselves to be the pure form of the “New Democrat” that Clinton posed as. Too pure for any actual Dem to be. The imbecile Joe Klein is a good example of this. Right-leaning Dems who do far more to damage the party than anything Rush Limbaugh can do. Only Dittoheads can believe Limbaugh’s bullshit; but lots of moderates can be misled by Klein’s brand of pretend-liberalism. And that’s exactly where too many “liberal” journalists stand; and what makes them so prone to the Karen Hughes treatment.
They’re glad to hear about how lousy the Dem politicians are doing, as it makes them feel like they’re still the liberal-purists they were in their youth; even if they’re not really liberal at all. They can support pre-emptive war, social security privatization, welfare reform, budget-busting taxcuts, torture, and any number of anti-liberal agenda items; yet continue to believe themselves to be idealist liberals, because they don’t like the Dem politician’s evil ways. And because they believe themselves to be pragmatic Democrats, they see our criticism of them as being ultra-liberal “Bush hatred”; while wanting to view the far-righties as being more moderate than they really are.
And so they just eat-up what the Whitehouse operatives dish-out, without ever realizing how badly they’re being used. The gossip they’re told helps them feel better about themselves, and allows them to gain more prestige in their “profession”. And all the time they’re being played like suckers, they believe that they’re the ones doing the playing. And they’re so wrapped-up into this whole system that it never occurs to them that they’re just being used.
Woodward is a fine example of this disgraceful state of affairs, but it’s all over the place. These reporters are being totally used, but because it’s done on what they believe to be their terms, they don’t see how they’re being used. Were the Whitehouse to call them up and say “ I want you to write a story on Gore’s boots” or “Could you write about how decent and upstanding Bush is?” they’d never do it. But this isn’t anything like. This is just friends chatting. That’s how they get their inside scoops, and that’s why they believe it all to be gospel truth. Whether it’s Plame’s name or Bush’s macho CEO-style of leadership; they believe they’re giving us the straight truth. They’ve been led to believe that it was their masterful journalism techniques which got this inside information. The conman has become the mark, and they’re the last ones to figure it out.