Friday, September 03, 2004

A Disgrace to Journalism

I am watching the current U.S. presidential election with fascination, and while I'm not certain who the winner will be, I already know who the losers are.

The losers are the big media: The LA Times, the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN, to name just a few.

Having worked for some years as a newspaper reporter, including a stint as a stringer for the LA Times, I could see that individuals in the media were generally very liberal, but while their liberal bias would occasionally seep into their news coverage, I always believed that a good story would always trump a bias. In other words, I thought any good reporter would rather have a scoop than cover up a story, whatever his or her biases.

That may have been the case then, but I no longer believe it is true. What caused my change of opinion was watching Unfit for Command (a book very critical of Sen. John Kerry's experience in Vietnam) be published and rise to the top of Amazon's best seller list, and yet for more than a week the charges layed out in the book were utterly ignored by the big media.

I saw the story unfold on the Internet, in great detail, with quotations from the Congressional Record and testimony by Kerry's fellow Swift Boat veterans. I watched day by day to see how the major news media would treat it. Would they give the vets charges and Kerry's response equal treatment? Would they give it a liberal spin? Well, no, they didn't spin it, not at all. They pretended it wasn't happening. They wrote nothing.

Except sometimes they slipped. My local newspaper ran an editorial cartoon showing "mud" being thrown at Sen. John Kerry's war record. But I hadn't read anything in the paper's news pages about criticisms of Kerry's war record. So what was this "mud" the cartoon was referring to?

Not a clue from my hometown paper's news pages, or from any of the biggies. But a simple search on Google News for "Kerry Cambodia" turned up plenty.

The "mud" (in part) is this: Kerry claimed to have been on his Swift boat in Cambodia during Christmas, 1968, and that this memory is "seared" into him. Nixon, he said, lied when he said there were no Americans in Cambodia because he, Kerry, was there. However, Kerry's fellow Swift boat commanders, and Kerry's superiors, say he was not in Cambodia. He was at Sa Dec, 55 miles from the Cambodian border.

After a week or two the story slowly seeped into newspapers' editorial pages (I, for example, wrote a letter to the editor - which was published - asking where the news story about the "mud" was), but the news pages were remarkably free of anything on the topic. After I wrote my letter, the paper ran - grudgingly, it seemed to me - a vague Associated Press story on the bottom half of page two of the B section.

When the Swift Vets television ad began being run and the biggies could no longer ignore the story, they initially responded with stories about the motivations of the vets, and still studiously ignored what they were actually charging.

And when they were finally forced to address the charges, they picked the most ambiguous of the charges (how Kerry got his war medals) and for the most part ignored or burried the more clear-cut Cambodia charge.

Then, finally, Kerry got mad and responded to the Swift Vets, then the media started covering the story... sort of. By contrast, if these were charges against Bush, the media would have been all over it.

It would be easy to attribute all this to conspiracy, but I really don't think so. I think it is a result of today's media being run by a group of likeminded people who have apparently forgotten - or are intentionally ignoring - what they should have learned way back in Journalism 1A.

In any case, they are a disgrace to their profession and it makes me glad to have been a reporter back when my colleagues - even my liberal ones - had some professional ethics.

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