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William C. Altreuter
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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Since I've been fortunate enough to be paid for writing for a stylish glossy for the last year, I guess I can say that I'm part of the media-- perhaps even a journalist, sort of. I was disappointed that I have not been issued a snap brim hat with a card that says "Press" stuck in the band, but life is full of little letdowns like that. It's the big disapointments that'll make you weep, and one of the biggest over the course of the past ten years or so has been how American media has failed us. Over the last couple of weeks I have been listening to some of my brother jackals give it to Bush Administration officials with both barrels, and as much as I have enjoyed the spectacle, I have been troubled by a nagging thought: Where the hell have you been for the last six years? When Bush stole the election, where were you? When he went to ground like a scared rabbit four years ago today, why did you play it as if he was demonstrating heroic leadership? When the war machine started ramping up, when the lies were raining down so thick that they couldn't be counted, when the war started, when the war went horribly, horribly off the rails-- where were you?

I'm way too far on the fringe of the media to claim any special insight. I'm a very parttime lifestyle columnist, not Robert Semple, but here's what I think. The American journalistic tradition of "objectivity" has led us to a degenerate place where probing questioning by reporters is perceived as partisan, and that has compromised the media-- that's part of the problem. A bigger part of the problem, though, is that the ubiquitous nature of the media in our twenty first century lives has created a situation where the media needs the cooperation of the people it covers more than the people who should be accountable need the media. The news hole needs to be filled, and if people in government shut the media out, they have nothing to file. Our government does not feel as though it is obliged to be accountable-- and the media has given up even trying to hold it accountable. I used to think that reporters simply didn't know how to ask a proper question-- something that is one of the chief things I do in my day job. What we have seen, though, is that the media has powerful jaws, when it cares to use them.

I'm afraid the real reason that the media has finally gotten up on its hind legs is not that the New Orleans catastrophe has been so visible-- Iraq is pretty visible, too. It is, instead, that the Bush popularity numbers are now low enough for the media to feel emboldened. Let's face it, nobody is grilling Donald Rumsfeld-- he is still too scary. Nobody is really taking Bush on yet. I said jackals, and I used the word advisedly; this is the way jackals hunt. Michael Chertoff is weak and vunerable, as is Michael Brown, so it's okay to bring them down. (In defense of the media I will say that my brother jackals are still ahead of House and Senate Democrats. The Dems are pure carrion feeders, and wouldn't think of attacking something that is still alive.)

The press is already full of self-congratulation about the swell job they have done in exposing the incompetence of the Adminstration's handling of the Katrina response, but the truth is that the media has really uncovered nothing. What we are seeing now is merely the same arrogance that the thugs who run our government have always ruled with, the same blythe belief that we will belive what we are told, and like it. The fact is that Bush and his handlers don't feel that they are accountable, and they reckon that if they accuse anyone who calls them on it of hating freedom, or hating America that'll cover it. The fact that this tactic has worked is a sad commentary. The fact that the veil has slipped for a moment is no cause for the members of the media to think that they have suddenly started doing their jobs again.

I'd stop short of saying that the media got us into this mess by fawning over the Presidnet and his henchmen-- or by failing to show Bush for what he is when he first ran-- or by treating Al Gore like a punching bag. We The People were complicit in all of that. We were just stupid enough to belive that there really wasn't much of a difference between the two men, and that Bush's just folks affability would work as well or better than intelligence and competence. It's not all the media's fault, but wouldn't it have been better for all of us if the media had done its job? What concerns me is the question of whether it ever will again.

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