Who Watches The Watchmen?

September 1st, 2009at 10:00pm Posted by Eli

In the process of taking Joe Klein to the woodshed for being a tool and impugning his patriotism, Glenn Greenwald sums up in a few paragraphs what I’ve been trying to say for the past few years:

Establishment journalists have a very significant impact on the world.  They enthusiastically believe that to be true when it comes time to building their egos and establishing their own importance, but they instantly and emphatically deny it when it comes time to holding them accountable for what they do (don’t you have anything better to do than criticize the media?).  Their influence, thankfully, has eroded and continues to erode by the minute, but it’s still substantial.  That’s why entire industries exist, and vast resources are expended by the powerful and wealthy, to manage, manipulate and control what they say.

What they do and how they think matters.  They’re the filters through which the citizenry hears about and understands the actions of the government.  They can illuminate or deceive, disrupt or enable wrongdoing by the powerful, refute or amplify propaganda, expand or narrow the scope of accepted ideas.  They play a major role in whether we start wars, torture people, live under lawless leaders, maintain massive wealth disparities, allow a tiny group of corporations to own and control government. They constantly go on TV.  Their claims are aired to millions.  They’re given access to the most powerful people.  They’re the public face and voice of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world. They’re paid a lot of money.

It’s every bit as legitimate — and as vital — to hold them accountable as it is political officials themselves.  Far more than they are “outsiders,” they are now appendages of — spokespeople for — the political and financial establishment itself, as much as a Cabinet Secretary or White House Chief of Staff or an official in a large corporation.  I don’t see “political officials” and “establishment journalists” as two separate groups; I view them as merged, with the latter being important facilitators of (servants to) the former (which is why they’re able so easily to switch from one to the other).  That’s why I write as much as I do about media behavior.  What I learned from the very first political controversy on which I worked intensely as a blogger (the warrantless eavesdropping scandal) — when establishment pundits (including Klein) rushed forward virtually in unison to insist that Bush had done nothing wrong by breaking the law — media behavior can’t be extricated from any issue.  It shapes and determines all of them.

The media are supposed to be one of the critical mechanisms of accountability in this country, explaining and exposing the activities of corporations and government.  But they have become their willing agents instead (although they generally only protect the government so long as the government is acting to preserve corporate interests).  So now we are in the rather absurd position of requiring an accountability mechanism for our accountability mechanism.  Awesome.

(Parenthetical thought: In a sane and just world with a straight-shooting media, would George W. Bush be an even remotely electable presidential candidate?)

Entry Filed under: Blogosphere,Corruption/Cronyism,Media

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