Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shaming the Mainstream Media


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?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

the "civil" war that is being waged in america is between white progressives and white conservatives. other peoples are not relavant. the progressives have already won because the only thing conservatives have to conserve is a sense of decency.

Jaqueline Hattann said...

I am a student of Psychoanalysis and will be writing about a transgender case we had in our conference in college. I will be using one of your books "Returning to Freud" Any suggestions? By the way, love your blog, your books and I am also following you on Twitter.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you Jacqueline. My memory is a bit vague, but I recollect that Catherine Millot wrote some things about cases that used to be called transsexuals. I'm not sure where they can be found, but perhaps that will help.

You may or may not know, but she was reputed to have been Lacan's last mistress.

If you have more specific questions, feel free to contact me via email: StuartSchneiderman@gmail.com

Lastango said...

Perhaps the first, best step toward correcting the MSM's behavior is aggressively calling them out. By their nature, strong accusations attract media coverage.

This is especially doable when the spotlight is on. We recently watched the GOP establishment bungle this twice -- during the presidential debates, and later during the Congressional softballing of Hillary Clinton. (Remember Newt's photo-op's with Hillary? The Congressional hearings were collegial in the same way. At the end of the day, they're all on Team Washington.)

Many years ago, I read a tennis instruction book by (IIRC) Rod Laver. He said, "Your opponent isn't going to have any trouble if you don't give him some." The MSM will run wild until true conservatives boot the get-along-by-going-along RINOs off the stage, and start attacking the Left. We can't expect those with a vested interest in the status quo to rock the boat. Establishment Republicans don't attack, except when not-attacking would be even worse for them.

Only real conservatives have the compass and the guts to attack. We saw an important example of this when John Kerry's candidacy was defeated by the Swift Boat patriots, and not by George Bush. Left to his own devices, Bush would have lost.

Bloggers can help, but it's not enough. The accomodationism of high-traffic rightwing websites (like NRO and Weekly Standard) is part of the problem, not part of the solution. We need to have a critical mass of conservative politicians on the offensive too. Conservatives won't get coverage from the MSM until we force them to, by putting them in the position of having a Hobson's Choice between reporting what we say and to, and their own irrelevancy.

JP said...

"Normal humans will do everything in their power to maintain their reputations, their honor and integrity."

Well, I'm not normal, then.

I also don't have any interest in behaving like a sociopath.

Since I believe in divine sanction, which has nothing to do with any nominal human reputation, honor, or integrity.

I am well aware that I will reap what I sow and there is nothing that I can do about it.

Sam L. said...

"Normal humans will do everything in their power to maintain their reputations, their honor and integrity."

Including lying, cheating, and stealing to conceal their faults and failures.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good point!

Glengarry said...

"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."

That particular trade happened all over the business 10 years ago or so, didn't it? At that time, one could sense there was at least a pang of regret. After the election of Obama, there's not even the pretense.

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