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Mainstream American Journalism: An Obituary

by Dave Lindorff
When it comes to the mainstream corporate media, where the overwhelming number of Americans obtain their information about what is happening in the country and the world, professional journalism is dead.
Watching Bill Moyers’ special marking his return to PBS, Buying the War, I was struck by the stark contrast it demonstrated between the yeoman work of then Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, and everybody else in what used to be called the journalism profession.

It does no disservice to Landay and Strobel to say that there was nothing particularly astounding about the work they did in exposing the Bush/Cheney administration's lies and deceptions in the two-year campaign to put the country at war against Iraq. As they explain to Moyers, they simply did what any real reporter was supposed to do, going to sources they'd developed in the military and intelligence community in Washington, talking on and off the record with sources willing to tell the truth about what was going on, digging up and actually critically reading documents like the UN inspectors’ reports on Iraq WMD inspections, and finally confronting the lying warmongers in Congress and the administration for comment.

The amazing and disheartening thing revealed so clearly in Moyers' excellent program is that almost nobody else was doing that kind of nuts-and-bolts reporting in Washington or New York. The vaunted (and grossly over-rated) Washington Post and New York Times, as Moyers explains, did have a few reporters who did their jobs right, but they were sidelined by editors who were afraid to let their stories get any attention, preferring instead to reserve their front pages for the propaganda pieces churned out by the likes of Judith Miller and Bob Woodward. Television, which was more of a focus in the Moyers program, came off even worse. As CBS reporter Bob Simon told him, senior management was actually afraid to run stories that exposed the administration's lies for what they were. At MSNBC, we learn that senior management, which was happy to put government apologists on air with no balance, required that any administration or war critic be "balanced" with at least two government shills.

All this was bad enough, but making it worse was the knowledge that nothing has changed. The media have really not improved at all even after the catastrophic results of their ethical and professional surrender during 2001-3--a four-year war that has cost over $1 trillion and that has killed over half a million people, and a government that no longer can be called constitutional-- have become evident.

There has been almost no honest reporting about the administration efforts to gin up a new war against Iran. There has been little or no coverage of the solid evidence of administration-directed efforts to steal not just one but five national elections. There has been a virtual blackout in the mainstream media on evidence suggesting administration foreknowledge of the 9-11 attacks. There is almost no reporting on the actual impeachable crimes of Bush and Cheney, or on the extraordinary grassroots campaign to impeach these two constitutional criminals. (How many Americans, for example, are aware that a federal district judge, in a case that pitted the ACLU against the US Justice Department, ruled that the president had committed a felony in ordering the National Security Agency to spy on Americans' private communications without court warrants in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or that the president has invalidated and refused to enact all or part of 1200 laws passed by the Congress?)

Just on this last point, consider Rep. Dennis Kucinich's filing, last Tuesday, of a bill of impeachment against Dick Cheney in the House of Representatives. Clearly a historic event--the first concrete step towards impeachment in the House in the new Democratic-led Congress--the bill, which charges Cheney with lying about Iraq having WMDs, lying about a non-existent link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and illegally threatening Iran with an invasion (a crime under international, and US, law), went unreported in the New York Times, supposedly the nation’s “newspaper of record.” As for the Washington Post, the next day all it had was a sophomoric, pissy column by Dana Milbank, which spent most of its verbiage belittling Kucinich’s short stature and bad hairstyle. The nationwide demonstrations calling for impeachment held in over 150 different cities across the country on Saturday went unmentioned in Sunday's New York Times, though there was an article in the Washington Post about the event at the Washington Monument in the paper’s own city (it failed to mention that events, bigger and more successful, actually, were going on elsewhere, too.)

When it comes to the mainstream corporate media, where the overwhelming number of Americans obtain their information about what is happening in the country and the world, journalism is dead. Its practitioners--my professional colleagues and, sorry to say, many of my own Columbia Journalism School classmates--have in effect become media zombies, going through the motions of reporting but producing nothing like what journalism was supposed to be.

American journalism (1735-2001) RIP.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Another book is of CounterPunch columns, titled This Can't Be Happening!, is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff's latest book is The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky. Visit his website for more information. Lindorff may be reached at This story is published in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.

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This story was published on April 30, 2007.