Freedom of the Press

There is more than one way to erode the freedom of the press guarantee of the Constitution’s First Amendment. As a reminder, this brief Amendment reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment need not be eroded by Executive Branch subversion and challenges to the freedoms it grants. It can be eroded by the failure of the members of the press to investigate and report what they find. A single reporter faces enormous institutional pressures. These pressures come from major corporations that own broadcasting networks and newspaper facilities; from the routine, everyday sources for meeting deadlines; and from the “high-level” sources who, it is hoped, provide something new, however laden with spin. It is not easy to be a reporter, and it is even less easy to be an independent publisher of print media.

How this works is beautifully detailed in an article on the Media Matters website by Eric Boehlert, titled “Scooter Libby and the Media Debacle.” In careful prose he cites name after name of well-known reporters who were aware of the source of the information that Joseph Wilson, former Ambassador in Africa, had a wife who was an active undercover CIA agent, and that her name was Valerie Plame. In addition, some of these reporters knew that the story emanating from Libby and others in the Office of the Vice President was false. Their collective failures to report what they knew are carefully documented in Boehlert’s article, without flaming liberal prose.

In a similar vain, I have noted here Eric Umansky’s article in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) on the U.S. record on torture, which asks “How Well Has the Press Covered Torture?”

<>The previous doctortwo comments on issues and articles connected with press freedom can be found under the titles “Press Freedom” and “Reason and Responsibility.”
<>The lack of press responsibility on the issues of compromising the CIA, and on torture, in the major, most used press outlets  means that as citizens we have a heavy burden of due diligence. This burden is the time-consuming search for alternate news sources, and failing (or suspecting) those as well, for reporting on the newsmakers themselves, and the newsmaking process.

Yes I know . . .

Yes, I know. Bob Woodward wrote a book called State of Denial that was released at the end of September. It started out to be a big media frenzy, but was rapidly eclipsed by the real news of Congressman Foley’s resignation and the Amish schoolhouse shooting. What do I think? It seems to me that the news that’s more worthy of serious thought is the release of Woodward’s book. The–well, I have to use the word “denials”–of Woodward’s assembled evidence in support of his rather new and more radically alarming case have popped up in the interstices of the news about Foley and Hastert, and the Amish schoolhouse.

Thus we have not had the chance to examine in depth any of the counterclaims to Woodward’s case.

It seems to me, as a critical reader of the Newsweek excerpt, that Woodward had this evidence, these statements from interviews, long ago. That is, he seems to me to have gone back over information he already had, and seen it/heard it with new eyes and ears. Eyes and ears informed by what? He may tell the story of his new perspective in the full book, or the reader may need to study State of Denial in comparison to his earlier two books about the current Bush administration.

Most of us would say “I have too much on my plate right now to examine Woodward’s change in perspective.” Me, too. Until I am able to go through Woodward’s third book, at least, I am reserving judgment on whether he goes on the “heroes” list.