When Ben Bradlee, the cosmopolitan former editor of the Washington Post died on October 21st, the world of American journalism mourned the loss of one of its greatest icons. Bradlee, after all, was almost single handedly responsible for the abrupt shift in the role of the print media in the early 1970s from an institution which sought to gather, present and analyze the news to one that became fixated on the pursuit of justice. For many the high water mark of his long and storied career came when Richard Nixon boarded a helicopter on the White House lawn on the morning of August 9, 1974 and slashed his arm through the air in a final wave of farewell to his staff. Bradlee knew that his paper’s unrelenting commitment to the investigation of the Watergate break in and cover up had been the key factor in leading to the events of that day. The abuse of power had been confronted and justice served.
But a review of that period might reveal much darker motives which impelled Watergate reportage and the subsequent Congressional investigation. The overwhelming defeat of Democrat George McGovern’s 1972 for the presidency had not sat well with the Beltway media. In McGovern, many had felt they had found the antidote to the United States’ rightward drift as the first Nixon Administration had not only maintained but escalated the war in Indo-China and had allowed many of the progressive Johnson reforms to be undermined. The Nixon White House endured four years of stinging coverage from Washington reporters, commentators and news editors and was very much at war with them. But the trouncing of McGovern, one of the greatest electoral landslides in American history, was a rebuke to the media who had lavished such untoward attention on a candidate whose far left views and policies had proved decisively out of touch with the American public.
But that was not the only impetus for the persistent desire to ” get” Nixon. How many know, for instance, that Bradlee himself harbored a deep resentment of the Nixon White House for purportedly preventing the Post from receiving a range of broadcast licenses it had applied for in the late 1960s? And we can’t forget the closeness of Bradlee and his then wife Toni to John F.Kennedy and his wife Jackie, who were their Georgetown neighbors during Kennedy’s Senate years. Bradlee shared Kennedy’s abiding contempt for Richard Nixon, an attitude made clear in his own book Conversations With Kennedy. Bradlee had come to see Kennedy’s immediate successors Johnson and Nixon as impostors who had stolen the mantle of American leadership and committed himself to restoring the crown to its rightful owners.
Hatred for Nixon and his Administration was so dominant that the Post, New York Times, Time and other major newspapers and magazines zeroed in on the indiscretions and sleight of hand of the new Administration, focusing intently on behavior they had entirely overlooked in previous administrations. After all, FDR had created his own ‘ Intelligence Unit’, responsible only to himself, with a staff of eleven financed by state department special emergency funds. Prefiguring another Democratic president 80 years later, he was not above using the FBI and the IRS to harass his political enemies. Lyndon Johnson had few qualms using executive power to target his adversaries and the Kennedys’ use of dirty tricks was legion. Robert Kennedy was in fact one of the most underhand and vicious Attorney Generals in U.S. history, employing his agents to carry out dawn raids on the homes of U.S steel executives and the IRS to question their financial integrity. His own and his brother’s womanizing, which included virtual orgies in the White House and allowing a bevy of women access to the President without the slightest background checks, was well known within the Washington Press Corp ( some of whom apparently participated in the romps) but nothing was said. And Bobby Kennedy’s almost certain involvement in the death of Marilyn Monroe, a service carried out to protect both himself and his brother, went unmentioned by anyone in the Press at the time despite considerable circumstantial evidence that could have implicated him.
The Watergate break-in, the petty, almost laughable bungled burglaries in May and June, 1972, conducted by men associated with the White House, if not directly controlled by Nixon himself, was dismissed by most at the time as a random urban crime. But the Post, smelling a rat, took on the case with gusto, running the story on its front page 79 times in the next two years and in the final month of the 1972 election season ramping up its coverage with a series of investigative reports by the now famous team of Woodward and Bernstein. Once the Courts and Congress got involved and matters devolved to the point of a potential impeachment of the President in 1974, the media, led by the Washington Post, had a field day and became the cheerleader in the saga’s denouement.
That the same attitude and standards had never been applied to Nixon’s Democratic predecessors seemed to worry no one. By the time of his ouster Richard Nixon had been so demonized as a latter day Richard III that nothing could save him. The media, more than the courts and more than Congress itself , had ground him up into pulp. And on top of the ash heap which had once been his Administration stood a glowing Ben Bradlee, certain of the righteousness of his actions and sure that it would restore a Democratic president to power.
Many who have reviewed the events of that time have lauded it as an example of the strength of American democracy and the ability of the system to cauterize a tumor when it recognizes its malignant spread. But that is not the way others abroad have viewed it. The English author Paul Johnson, writing in his majesterial A History of the American People has called it an act of startling political immaturity, as close to a witch hunt as the 20th century would ever produce. Others in Europe were dazzled by the spectacle of American self-flagellation, as if the country had fallen into collective penance for the wrongs committed in Vietnam.
Of course it went further than it should have ever gone and the entire process did incalcuable harm to the office of the Presidency and the trust in both an unbiased media and a responsible judiciary. Nixon had to carry much of the blame himself for the fiasco which ensued and the many poor decisions he made as his enemies closed in on him. But the punishment never matched the offense and if presidents can be routinely dismissed for dissembling and cover ups then neither Woodrow Wilson, FDR , Lyndon Johnson , Bill Clinton or Barack Obama should ever have completed their terms of office.
But more egregious than this was the course upon which the media, encouraged by its victories in the Watergate scandal, now set its compass. With its reporters lionized as the new Knights of the Realm, the Washington Post reached the zenith of its power as a journal of reportial integrity and became the flagship for media authenticity. Nothing was said about the sheer malice and hubris which had driven the campaign to unseat a sitting President. No explanation was given about how there had become established one set of standards for Democrats and another for Republicans. From the mid-70s onward, the news sections of the print media – and soon to be followed by television and radio – would no longer see themselves as mere purveyors of the unbiased presentation of the news but as vested with a responsibility, as if from High, to filter the news through their own particular prism of right and wrong. The search for justice, at least as liberals understand it, swiftly became more important than the conveyance of actual truth.
Which perhaps explains where we are today. What conservative, reading the news in our present day, cannot help feel the deepest loathing at the media’s refusal to doggedly investigate the multitude of scandals swirling around the Obama Administration? Where today, after all, are our contemporary Woodwards and Bernsteins, scraping through the garbage cans of our federal officials searching for leads on such notorious scandals as the Benghazi attack, Fast and Furious campaign and the IRS scandal? If such reporters exist, then they must necessarily suffer ostracism like the award winning investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, hunted and spied upon by the government and sidelined, on spurious grounds, by the very news organization which employed her. We should never forget that no American died as a result of Watergate and its subsequent cover up. But when Americans do die because of Government action or inaction, when our own ambassador is abandoned and subsequently murdered and the government then seeks to cover up its willful negligence in allowing it happen, is it not right that we should expect howls of outrage from our media barons and their unfettered determination to expose the truth?
Unfortunately those who expect such an outcome are living in a different century. For in the 21st century, truth is hardly relevant to any story. What matters today is how the story conforms to or supports a particular narrative and how much attention it can attract from advertisers. To understand this tragic development we need to follow a disreputable trail that leads back to Ben Bradlee and 1970s Washington. But to understand how the media operates today, we probably need to borrow the observations of White House counsel John Dean – “we have a cancer within the media, that’s growing daily….. it grows geometrically now because it compounds itself.”
Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and the coordinator of the March AFA international conference Shocking Truths: The Repression of Free Speech in the Western Media.
The astonishing revelations that an important NPR fundraiser regards part of his network’s own listening audience with contempt shouldn’t come as a surprise to any conservative. For decades the suspicion that the most popular public broadcasting network in the country is illiberally partisan and insensitive to conservative viewpoints has been a source of great frustration and resentment among those who believe that a tax payer funded radio network should be open to views from all quarters of the political spectrum.
But the sting that netted former NPR fundraiser Nicholas Schiller revealed far more than bias. It lifted a rock on a curdling hatred and seething paranoia which added together amounts to open bigotry. And all from the mouth of an institution which regularly decries it.
Here are some of his verbatim comments:
“The Tea Party is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian — I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move.”
” Tea Party people” aren’t “just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”
“I think what we all believe is if we don’t have Muslim voices in our schools, on the air … it’s the same thing we faced as a nation when we didn’t have female voices.”
In the heavily edited tape, that last comment followed Schiller being told by one of the men that their organization “was originally founded by a few members of the Muslim Brotherhood in America.” There’s no sign in the edited tape that Schiller reacted in any way after being told of the group’s alleged connection to an Islamic group that appeared to be connected with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Schiller is also caught laughing at a joke made by one of the men who suggests that NPR should be renamed ‘National Palestinian Radio.’
Rarely are the inner workings and thinking of an institution given such flagrant and obvious exposure.
There is little way the officers and staff of NPR can avoid being tarred with the same brush as Schiller by ascribing his comments to their errant fundraiser alone. After all, Schiller was the leading NPR fundraiser in the country for nearly a decade. And while it is true that fundraisers will say and do anything to close a pledge, no one should forget that Schiller was representing a public facility with a huge national audience and therefore bore a responsibility to be both cautious and circumspect in the expression of his own views.
Even more troubling is the revelation that radio networks like NPR, just like our universities, can be bought for the right amount of money and that the representatives of these organizations are as craven and money driven as the institutions they regularly pillory.
Of course no one in the liberal sphere calls this bigotry since in these circles it is the prevailing belief that only conservatives can be bigots. But lets forget even bigotry. Schiller’s comments reveal not just hatred and intolerance – but a corruption that is as pervasive as it is soul deep.
NPR may now well dump its CEO and its officers. It may dispense with its entire Board. But nothing will save its reputation if the partisanship for which it has become notorious is not immediately repudiated and its internal rules for fair and balanced reporting rewritten and then rigorously enforced.
Today Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office as governor of perhaps the worst performing state economy in this country. It is indeed a deep irony that the movie star who came to take control of California’s fortunes after a recall of his (by comparison) surprisingly competent predecessor Gray Davis, has left this state in a far worse condition than in which he found it: A ballooning state debt , now slated to reach $25 billion by 2014; a gridlocked legislature; an unrepentant and emboldened union culture; environmental policies totally out of control and a bureaucracy that has swelled beyond reasonable imagination over the past seven years.
Schwarzenegger was the first governor since the Great Depression to issue IOUs to state employees and vendors after he was confronted with a $90 billion shortfall in 2009. He raised taxes ( violating a campaign promise) and curtailed spending on education. In my own neighborhood, public libraries were forced to substantially reduce hours of operation; the District Court would not stay open longer than 4: 30 pm because the supervisors feared having to pay overtime and the Department of Motor Vehicles slashed an entire work day from their branches’ operating schedules.
But you would barely know that Schwarzenegger retires as a failed governor. In most accounts of his stewardship, he is still the action hero who strode into office with great promise but was unfortunately dealt a bad deck of cards. The press seems loathe to truly take him to task for his maladroit performance and his abject failure of leadership. Pat Morrison’s fawning interview in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times is a good example. Rarely does Morrison,one of the paper’s leading columnists, go much beyond the giddy fan worship you would expect to find the paper’s Calendar section. No question about the Golden State’s embarrassing economic slide; no discussion about the State’s likely bankruptcy and nothing about the way in which government unions increasingly gained influence and control over state policy.
The failure of many media commentators and editorialists to savage Schwarzenegger for his limp performance is perhaps a symptom of a society that lives in thrall to celebrity. There is no doubt Schwarzenegger is a consummately charming man, possessed of a wicked sense of humor and a certain measure of self deprecation, which have all served him well in dealing with a combative public. But the convincing explanation of the press’ hero worship is that Schwarzenegger actually swapped parties while still in office. His volte face in October, 2005 after he was defeated on all eight special election initiatives he had proposed for dealing with some of California’s endemic economic problems, transformed him from a moderate Republican into a progressive Democrat who was prepared to embrace a host of hot button liberal agenda issues such as gay marriage, fixed emission controls for California industry and increased taxation.
This transformation left us with the odor of a man of few fixed convictions or principles and who was open to changing them as the political winds dictated. In the end Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seven year term of office differed little from his movie career. In both cases he regularly adopted differing personas to suit the script. The difference is that playing The Terminator never had dire implications for the future of California. Sadly, we are now reminded of how fantasy figures bear little resemblance to real life characters, who may turn out to have no good ideas about how to deal with the harsh realities of governing a fractious state.
Could there be a more provocative cover story for a major U.S. magazine?
The cover of this week’s TIME, set in a blue background and emblazoned with the image of a Star of David constructed of daisies, blares the vitriolic question ” Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.”
The cover story, by Karl Vick on page 36, is titled The Good Life and Its Dangers and proceeds to report on the seeming indifference of Israelis to the prospect of peace. By interviewing a handful of Israeli real estate developers, entrepreneurs and academics, Vick comes to the conclusion that Israelis have become so obsessed with material progress and economic success that they have little time left over to focus on the prospects of peace.
“In the week that three Presidents, a King and their own Prime Minister gather at the White House to begin a fresh round of talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the truth is, Israelis are no longer preoccupied with the matter. They’re otherwise engaged; they’re making money; they’re enjoying the rays of late summer. A watching world may still define their country by the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land and whether that conflict can be negotiated away, but Israelis say they have moved on.”
The four page article/argument is such a hatchet job in gathering evidence to buttress a foregone conclusion ( otherwise known in logic as petitio principii or begging the question) that any high school student could see through it.
First, is the cover story tagline, which actually has little do with the content of the article. Why don’t Israelis care about peace? According to Vick’s piece itself, Israelis certainly do care about peace, but don’t have much faith in the peace process. That is a very important distinction. Peace as a goal, is surely never beyond anyone’s mind in Israel. How could it be, when every family knows a friend or a relative who was maimed or killed in one of the country’s eight wars. Which mother – religious, secular, Jewish, Druze or Bedouin wishes to see their son placed in harm’s way in an unending conflict? But after 17 years of failed promises and an adversary who refuses to take even minimal steps toward peace in recognizing their country’s right to exist, why would any citizen of Israel not be cynical about Palestinian intentions?
To present any idea that Israelis don’t care about peace, is simply fatuous.
Second, the author himself fails to give his story much historical context, neglecting to measure the true shock and anger Israelis experienced time and time again over the past 17 years as territorial concessions were met with Palestinian violence. He quickly glosses over Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in July, 2000 to Yasser Arafat of 97% of the West Bank and Gaza – and even the division of Jerusalem – an offer met two months later by a fusillade of bullets in the second Intifada. One thousand Israelis dead and 4,000 maimed ( many disabled for life) later, it provided convincing grounds for most Israelis to believe that the Palestinian leadership was preternaturally disposed to a violent resolution of the conflict and not a viable peace. The IDF retreat from the Israeli security zone in Lebanon in May, 2000 and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August, 2005 – huge concessions by Israeli standards, left vacuums which were soon filled by violent Islamic thugs who proceeded to rain down rockets on Israeli southern and northern towns.
Who would blame any Israeli for believing that peace negotiations and concessions are just the precursors to a new round of violence?
Third, Vick just get some things just plain wrong. He quotes leftist political scientist Tamar Hermann who claims that Israelis are watching less and less news :
” They read the political sections of newspapers less. They say, it spoils my day, so I don’t want to see it.”
Really? Anyone who has been to Israel and traveled on public transportation or even in any taxi, knows that Israelis are news obsessed. It is built into the culture and fundamental to the security of a nation ever on the alert for a terrorist strike ( or “pigua” as it is more colloquially known). The realities of life are simply glossed over in a fanciful acceptance of one academic’s point of view.
The greatest problem with the entire piece however, is the way it supports an antisemitic stereotype without daring to acknowledge it. The ultimate images of profligacy and dissipation that remain- ‘oh those rich Jews, sunning themselves on their beaches and counting their shekels while the Palestinians waste away in abject poverty’ could have been taken directly from the pages of Der Sturmer and drives home the notion that this country of Jews may be no more than an actualized collection of Fagins drawn from English literature.
It shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that this is the same magazine , who when introducing the newly elected prime minister Menachem Begin in 1977, transliterated his name as ” Bay -gin – rhymes with Fagin.”
One has to wonder whether the magazine would ever commission a parallel cover story about internal Palestinian life? Would it have the nerve to expose the seething Jew hatred in the Palestinian media and in its education system or the manifest hypocrisy of leaders such as Saeeb Erekat who bray about peace but do all they can to prevent actual negotiations?
Probably not. To portray the Palestinians as anything other than victims and underdogs would be to upset a fundamental value of liberal magazines such as TIME – strong equals wrong; weak equals right. Far easier, it would seem, to render a portrait in keeping with accepted dogmas and age- old stereotypes.
Maybe this is, after all, what sells papers.
Encomiums have poured in from around the world today for the celebrated former Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad. The three time Pulitzer Prize winner, who died on Saturday at the age of 86, won renown as a political satirist, whose liberalism was worn as a badge of honor and who never shied away from confronting men and women in power.
But I can’t count myself as one of his admirers. While Conrad, more than almost any other political cartoonist of modern times, gave the concept of the ” editorial cartoon” a certain elan, freeing it from its image as a misplaced comic, he also did considerable damage to the image of the journalist as the objective reporter of truth.
The editorial cartoonist possesses great power. Among us few remaining newspaper readers, with our increasingly strained attention spans, there is a respect for the editorial cartoonist that stretches beyond his real powers of persuasion. We readers might scan images such as photographs and photo-sketches to obtain our opinions on any given subject. With one glance we believe we can absorb the full import of an editorial position, which may well have some bearing in forming our own ideas.
But in this way, complex issues are often reduced to fairly simplistic statements, stripping the issue of a certain gravitas and balance that is achieved in good editorial writing.
The political cartoonist, who does not have many words with which to convey an opinion and is often consigned to a single panel of images, must therefore be careful that his or her positions do not cross the line from commentary into propaganda – a tempting option in such a format.
Conrad rarely exercised this kind of restraint. Inflamed by his liberal sense of injustice he railed at the big and mighty often simply because they were big and mighty.
No more was that the case when it came to the Arab- Israeli conflict. He was unable to appreciate or understand Israel’s need for self defense and repeatedly made provocative comparisons between the IDF and Nazis. After a particularly meaningful use of the Star of David in a cartoon depicting Soviet prisoners of conscience as the equivalent of Jewish prisoners of concentration camps ( September 24, 1972) , he rarely ever employed it again except as a symbol of hate, repression and violence. His cartoon in the Los Angeles Times following the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon in 1982 ( where he arranged the Palestinian corpses in the shape of Star of David) was beyond the bounds of decency, considering that it was not the Israelis who had perpetrated the killings but the Christian Phalange. As his comment on the Palestinian intifada of the late 80s , he drew a Star of David made of barbed wire and billy clubs. He was a particularly vitriolic enemy of West Bank settlers, whom he often depicted as deranged gun-toting Messianists, bent on killing Palestinians and uprooting olive groves – an accusation which has absolutely no basis in reality. He gave very little time to exploring the violence inherent in Arab society and the emergence of the suicide bomber as the Palestinian weapon of choice.
Given this position it is hard for me to agree that Paul Conrad was one of the giants of Western journalism in the last half of the 2oth Century. His brand of “personal journalism” actually did far more damage to the practice of his craft than good. His greatest legacy is not a fearless approach to confronting men and women in power, as much as it is a profound cynicism which now pervades his profession and has brought it increasingly into disrepute.