Former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card once advanced the once-novel idea that journalists “don’t represent the public any more than other people do. In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election. I don’t believe [journalists] have a check-and-balance function.”
No, he didn’t. Neither do other ill-schooled members of the Bush administration. But we’ve come to expect that. What’s worse is that more and more journalists, often modulated by their corporate keepers, have joined in subscribing to this peculiar, ahistorical, aconstitutional and thoroughly antidemocratic point of view.
And that disturbing phenomenon -- accompanied by a devastatingly sober, point-by-point, case-by-case record of it over the last several years -- provides the foundation for a new, critical must read: Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, by Rolling Stone contributing editor Eric Boehlert. (My thanks to Lapdogs’ publisher, Simon & Schuster’s Free Press, for providing a promotional copy.)
“The goal of Lapdogs,” writes Boehlert [p.x], “is to cut through incessant rhetoric about a liberal media bias, and to show, factually, just how the mainstream media has tipped the scales in President Bush’s favor for going on six years…. Lapdogs simply corrals as much of the information as possible and lays it out in a way I think makes the conclusion -- that the press rolled over for Bush -- inescapable.”
Although regular observers of the press have been saying so for some time, that conclusion will indeed be inescapable to any remaining fence-sitters after scouring Boehlert’s 296 pages of meticulously researched sins and omissions committed by today’s journalists. It’s a long and depressing list that includes:
· their fear of appearing “rude” to POTUS.
· their mortal terror of “being tagged with the liberal Scarlet L.”
· their look-the-other-way fondness for Bush’s affability.
· their frequent and open disdain of Democratic leaders.
· their “worship at the altar of ‘balance’ -- Not necessarily ‘fairness.’”
· their timidity against the onslaught of conservative criticism.
· their preference to avoid at nearly any cost the “career track implications the ‘liberal bias’ allegations carry” versus the easier but less-honestly earned rewards of getting and going along.
Traipsing through Boehlert’s nearly six-year history of the Bush administration’s arrogance toward the press and the latter’s responding obsequiousness may be a real downer, but it’s a recommended journey.
Perhaps it’s because we live in such a dog-eat-dog era that a canine theme seems to be emerging in book titles these days. There’s Boehlert’s Lapdogs, and then there’s Helen Thomas’ upcoming Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public, a volume, obviously, of concerns similar to Boehlert’s. I recommend it as well, especially for its nostalgic references to the typewriter-clattering pressrooms of yesteryear, when most journalists shied away from mere stenography.
Today, whether they’re labeled lapdogs or errant watchdogs is your call, but there’s no denying the press corps isn’t the public referee it once was -- and that’s a journalistic reversal of fortunes that only journalists themselves can overcome.
(Note: BuzzFlash readers can purchase a copy of Lapdogs here. Watchdogs of Democracy? is being released June 20.)