Prodigal Journalism

The pain, the sorrow, the loss, that could have been avoided had these reporters done their job, is immeasurable.

Better late than never? That’s a relative appraisal. When the Conventional Media lags behind the public, and the truth, the consequences can be serious, even fatal. The late revelations of some prodigal journalists can hardly be characterized as “better” without ignoring the irreparable harm resulting from their tardiness. After the loss of more than 2,800 Americans and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, reporters can’t just come forward now, confess their professional deficiencies, and expect absolution. Yet that is exactly what some of them are doing.

It started with mea culpas from both the New York Times and the Washington Post for failing to report on the weaknesses of the Bush administration’s arguments for invading Iraq.

From the Times:
“Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper…while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.”

From the Post:
“We did our job but we didn’t do enough, and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder,” [Bob] Woodward said in an interview. “We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier” than widely believed. “Those are exactly the kind of statements that should be published on the front page.”

Then, last May, the reigning queen of misinformation, Judith Miller of the New York Times, expressed regret for not having written a story that might have led to the prevention of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. That was after five years and two wars, one of which she brazenly promoted with articles built on propaganda and the ramblings of disreputable sources.

“You know, sometimes in journalism you regret the stories you do, but most of the time you regret the ones that you didn’t do.”

Now Dick Meyer, the Editorial Director of joins the ranks of the confessors:
This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the “Contract with America” Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.

Really, it’s just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos. Together, they comprised one of the oddest legislative power cliques in our history.

Thanks for the heads up, Dick. It only cost us a dozen years of distress; of corruption; of impeachment; of deficits; of hypocrisy; of global warming; of poverty; of war.

I’m not sure what the value of these delayed self-flagellations is. I suppose it’s better that they unburden themselves and admit their mistakes rather than be like Bush and Cheney. But their mistakes are so egregious and the consequences so severe. The pain, the sorrow, the loss, that could have been avoided had these reporters done their job, is immeasurable. There might at least be some consolation if we could see that they had learned something along the way. But there is scant evidence of that. Just since the recent mid-term elections, the usual suspects in the press are already demonstrating the shortness of their vision. Norman Solomon writes at

“Too often, media coverage of U.S. policy in Iraq seems little more than a remake of how mainstream news outlets portrayed Washington’s options during the war in Vietnam. Routine deference to inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom has turned many prominent journalists into co-producers of a “Groundhog Day” sequel that insists the U.S. war effort must go on.”

In the movie, “Groundhog Day”, the endless loop in which Phil was trapped was eventually broken as a result of his transformation into a man with a conscience and compassion, a man who finally learned to care about something other than himself. This is a moral that would serve the media well. When they begin to realize that they do not exist to serve the interests of themselves, their careers, and their stockholders; when they realize that they are here to perform a public service; that is when they might begin to earn renewed respect from the people for whom they are supposed to be working.


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