At a recent National Press Club roundtable about the effect of the internet on the job of the White House correspondents, journalist Richard Wolffe had this to say about bloggers:
They want us to play a role that isn’t really our role. Our role is to ask questions and get information. … It’s not a chance for the opposition to take on the government and grill them to a point where they throw their hands up and surrender. … It’s not a political exercise, it’s a journalistic exercise. And I think often the blogs are looking for us to be political advocates more than journalistic ones.
In response to a Glenn Greenwald post about the roundtable, Wolffe said:
I think you get better political reporting by having non-partisan reporting. That’s not a role for bloggers — that’s what reporters do.
I think bloggers can have a lot of fun, and serve a great purpose in landing political punches. But bloggers shouldn’t expect reporters to do that work for them.
What many mainstream journalists fail to comprehend is that the complaint that journalists, particularly the Washington press corps, are too trusting of the Bush administration is no longer simply partisan posturing, but grounded in repeated observation. At this point, the Bush administration lies and obfuscations are many and well documented: WMD, the failed hunt for Bin Laden, Katrina, Iraq, No Child Left Behind, every single ‘environmental’ policy, the War on Science, and Plamegate just to name a few (Frank Rich’s The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina gives a good summary). After the last six years, the idea that a reporter wouldn’t immediately fact check everything the Bush Administration claims boggles the mind.
The utter lack of veracity and honesty by the Bush administration approaches the theoretical–and I mean that in the scientific sense of the word theory: it borders on unassailable fact. Yet many reporters still report as if everything the Bush administration has some connection to the truth.
To return to Wolffe’s statement, what is remarkable is the unwillingness to assess, in their reporting, the basic veracity of the Bush administration’s statements, particularly in light of this Administration’s track record. When Wolffe says, “Our role is to ask questions and get information”, he’s not giving his readers useful information if he doesn’t even determine whether the administration’s utterances are factually correct. Most readers assume that reporters do verify accuracy. That’s not seen as ‘politics’, but as an integral part of his job.
And the failure to do so is a breach of the public trust.
Another related point: journalists can’t keep screeching about the need for shield laws on the basis that they serve public, if they don’t serve the public by challenging elected and government officials’ statements. Blastfax catchbins don’t need shield laws
I used to be a card-carrying [National Writers Union] member of the Press. I still have press passes issued to me for science conferences and science fiction conventions. I have run a small newspaper (community college students and 25,000 readers). But I feel that Journalists have betrayed America almost as much as Emperor Bush II.
I fall back on my other careers, as an adjunct professor of Math or Astronomy (not a same time), as a writer, and as a blogger.
The Libby trial exposes to the harsh light of day how much the Members of the Press were (figuratively) in bed with the Administration. Shameful!
Now, to quote a discredited writer who pretended to be a scientific materialist: “What is to be done?”
I’m surprised that this is coming from Richard Wolffe. What I’ve seen from him thus far on TV appearances, writing, etc. has been pretty damned reasonable. But this is just stupid:
Our role is to ask questions and get information. … It’s not a chance for the opposition to take on the government and grill them to a point where they throw their hands up and surrender.
Someone should ask Mr. Wolffe why he thinks these two things are mutually exclusive. It’s a case of what Mike calls “Compulsive Centrist Disorder” (CCD). “Reporters” these days seem to have a strange obsession with being neutral instead of being objective. Any disinterested observer can see that the Bush administration has been consistently full of shit for the last six years, and it damn well is the job of people like Wolffe to grill the president, not to score political points, but to get the information that is needed on the part of the public. Reporters seem to have a problem with recurrently failing in that area.
I’m thankful for the American reporters who actually spent a bit of time doing that in the run-up to the Iraq Invasion. Both of those reporters deserve our loudest, most resounding accolades.