It’s hardly the first time that someone has exposed the media double standard. So, you have to wonder why Peter Wehner, an eminently sensible writer, is taking the time to point out the gross disparity between the press frenzy over the Valerie Plame kerfuffle and the press blindness to the Benghazi debacle.
To begin his column Wehner describes the way the press covered Valerie Plame:
I served in the Bush White House during the intense press coverage about who leaked the name of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent, to Robert Novak. It was a story that obsessed the media and led to a three-year criminal investigation by a special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald.
In the end, it turned out Richard Armitage was the person responsible for leaking Ms. Plame’s name, no laws were violated related to the leak, and the favorite target of the press, Karl Rove, was innocent of any wrong-doing. Though one individual in the administration was convicted of lying under oath, no underlying crime was committed. Ms. Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson, who we know made misleading statements during the whole episode, became celebrities of a sort. It was, in retrospect, much ado about very little, even if the press made life hell for innocent individuals.
When he moves on to Benghazi Wehner recommends a thought experiment that, to be honest, has been tried more than once.
What if, he asks, the Benghazi attack had happened while a Republican was president:
Here’s a thought experiment. Assume during the Bush or Reagan years three things happened: (1) four Americans were killed in a terrorist-led attack on an American compound; (2) the president and his top aides showed stunning indifference and passivity before and during the lethal attacks; and (3) the nation was misled for weeks after the attacks, even though the highest ranking members of the administration knew the true story.
Do you think the elite media would have covered this story with intensity comparable to, or greater than, the Plame story? Absolutely. Presidents Bush or Reagan would have been bombarded with questions. There would have been a feeding frenzy. They would not have been subject to obsequious “60 Minutes” interviews. The press narrative would have made this scandal a central part, not a footnote, of both presidencies.
Yet with a few honorable exceptions, journalists have devoted only a fraction of the attention to the Benghazi story as it did to the Plame story. The press, in fact, has shown a remarkable incuriosity to the period before, during, and after the terrorist attack that cost the lives of Ambassador Stevens, security personnel Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, and information officer Sean Smith. There has been none of the burning passion and obsession with the lethal Benghazi attack and the administration’s misleading accounts of it that we witnessed during the Plame story.
What is Wehner trying to do? Quite simply, he is trying to shame the mainstream media.
In principle, we all believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Wehner is casting the light of reason on the mainstream media and asking them whether they have any remaining sense of decency. Do they see themselves as honorable professionals or have they sold out for political power?
If a journalist abandons even the pretense that he is in the business of reporting the news and informing the public, he has traded his integrity for power.
If Wehner believes that it worth one more effort to help journalists to recover their professional integrity he is saying that he finds it hard to believe that they have become so morally destitute.
Many have tried it before. Unfortunately, it has not been working. Over and over again commentators, columnists, pundits and politicians call out the mainstream media over its double standard. Over and over again the media shrugs its collective shoulders and keeps creating an alternative reality.
Shaming is an extremely powerful deterrent. Normal humans will do everything in their power to maintain their reputations, their honor and integrity.
Losing your sense of shame is worse than lacking empathy. Someone who loses empathy becomes insensitive. Someone who does not care whether or not he is respected will behave like a sociopath.
If that is true, then trying to shame them into good conduct starts feeling like a waste of time. But they can't be changed, how do you counteract their influence?