Monday, February 14, 2005

State of American Journalism

The past year has seen an unprecedented wave of media scandals south of the border. Beginning with the Jayson Blair fiasco at the New York Times in 2003, the media has been rocked by lies, corruption and plagiarism. With the latest round – the Gannon / Guckert affair – American news media seems to have reached a new all time low. In fact, some are beginning to question the very future of information distribution.

This latest affair must be put in context, so here’s a brief rundown of the media scandals of the past twelve month:

March 2004 – USA Today star reporter Jack Kelley is caught plagiarizing articles. The paper’s editor is forced to resign as a result.

September 2004 – CBS ‘memogate’ over Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. Independent investigation reveals that CBS did not adequately research the memos. Dan Rather resigns as news anchor largely as a result of the flap.

October 2004 – Sinclair broadcasting airs a blatantly anti-Kerry documentary in the weeks leading up to the election. They force local stations to air the show and gain most of their information from Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth. Thousands of complaints are ignored. Information later shows that Sinclair executives made massive contributions to the Bush election campaign.

January 2005 – Propaganda month arrives! Three journalists are caught on the government’s payroll. Armstrong Williams was paid $240k to support ‘No Child Left Behind’, Michael McMannus was paid $10k to support traditional marriage and Maggie Gallagher was paid $21.5k to promote the administration’s tax cuts.

February 2005 – CNN’s Eason Jordan resigns as the station’s Chief News Executive because of inappropriate comments made at a party.

The James Gannon / Jim Guckert affair is the latest in a long line of media problems, and by far the most embarrassing to the government. Gannon served as the Talon News White House Correspondent, and was famed for lobbing soft balls at government officials when they got in trouble. Gannon’s only journalism training was two days of training at the right wing “Leadership Institute Broadcast School of Journalism”. Gannon was denied a congressional press pass, and was thus denied a permanent White House press pass (as the former is a requirement for the latter). Instead, Gannon was given a steady stream of daily passes so that he could pursue his unique brand of journalism.

So why exactly was Gannon given daily passes? Well, there’s no proof of that, but there’s plenty of reasons not to give him one. He owes $20k to the state of Delaware in back taxes and he’s a former gay prostitute. On top of that, he’s lied on the record about both problems. In an era of such tight security where nobody is supposed to be able to get close to the President, how exactly does a gay prostitute with a criminal past a no qualifications get daily White House press passes?

Just what is his involvement with the White House? Gannon was given exclusive access to secret information naming Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. That information was later made public and an investigation was launched into how exactly this happened. Gannon was called to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the matter, but his testimony remains sealed. Further, Gannon is famous for being a right wing propagandist. His questions during press scrums often saved administration officials from difficult situations. His articles were full of outright lies and he tried to organize partizan protests during the election.

What is truly concerning is the fact that the so called liberal media was not involved in the Gannon investigation at all. It was led by SusanG of Propagannon and various other bloggers around the world. Only through them has the mainstream media picked up the story, although they are now starting to report it in earnest. The situation mirrors the events of the November election, when the media ignored inconsistencies between polls and results as well as election problems occurring in Ohio. Only after a torrent of emails did Keith Olbermann of MSNBC begin to report on the problems.

These incidents point to the new role of the media in the 21st century. They have become naught but tools for propaganda, sources of biased information. Instead, bloggers have become the investigative journalists of the 21st century, filling the shoes of Bob Woodward and the real reporters who proceeded him. Undoubtedly we will soon see more instances of blogs discovering the news and having to convince the media to report it.

In today’s world, the mainstream media is of increasingly little import while the people rise in power. Welcome to the information age. Welcome to democracy.


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