Imagine that while a slick death spreads across the Gulf of Mexico, a group of respected reporters from America’s best-known media companies attend a pool party hosted by the VP of British Petroleum. Imagine that they take their kids to play with the kids of executives from BP and the oil industry, and that the journalists claim to have had a wonderful time and post pictures, and videos and tweets of their perfectly friendly interactions with the people who are responsible for the greatest environmental catastrophe in a generation.
Now imagine those journalists, a few days after the party, claiming that their integrity had not been compromised, and that they are perfectly capable of reporting accurately and aggressively on the doings of BP and the oil industry.
Would you believe them? Hold on to that answer, and consider this: No such meeting happened with BP. But on the grounds of the Naval Observatory last weekend, Vice President Joe Biden and the DNC hosted a pool party for their friends in the Washington journalism industry. It was “a nice way to spend a hot Saturday afternoon,” according to the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder.
It was also a great way for the journalists in attendance —Wolf Blitzer and Ed Henry of CNN, as well as David Sanger of the New York Times — to reveal that their integrity is water soluble.
Ambinder’s defense is the stock defense of all those involved in this seamy underworld of co-optation: This is how Washington works. Power holders like to socialize, and journalists only stand to gain by getting as close to them as they can whenever an opportunity presents itself. And in case anyone doubts that getting super-soaked by a boat-shoed Rahm Emanuel won’t lead to scoops that serve readers, well, what the hell do you know? Probably not as much as Ambinder, the editor of the politics channel at the Atlantic, a political consultant to CBS, and a former editor at ABC News. And now a flack for the Obama White House.
According to Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, “All of this just helpfully reveals what our nation’s leading ‘journalists’ really are: desperate worshipers of political power who are far more eager to be part of it and to serve it than to act as adversarial checks against it — and who, in fact, are Royal Court Spokespeople regardless of which monarch is ruling.”
Ambinder doesn’t see it that way. “A bunch of really good, hardened, news-breaking, interest-accountable holding reporters are in fact able to share more comfortable moments with people they cover.”
In other words, only the best journalists are fit for “convivial commingling” with the powerful. Lesser beings would come at the administration the next time around with a soft touch, a bashful smile and lowered eyes, like a recently deflowered newlywed facing his spouse for the first time in the post-coital light. But not Sanger, who engaged in “teasing banter” with Emanuel. And certainly not Ambinder, who still manages to eke out every now and again a piece with which the Obama administration is not completely happy. These men, and their sycophantic ilk, are seasoned tramps who like the sex, but know they can get it anywhere.
When his readers took him to task Tuesday morning for brushing off potential questions of bias, Ambinder turned on his critics. “I think that attending a nice Biden event does less damage to the profession than not acknowledging the ambiguities inherent in trying to live life as a young reporter in Washington. The reaction to my post has been uniformly negative, but then again, people rarely take the time to comment favorably.”
This mentality isn’t new, but for the first time, it’s news. Yes, Al and Tipper threw Halloween parties; Ted Kennedy threw Christmas parties, and the Cheneys threw occasional cocktail parties. And thanks to the restraint of journalists of yesteryear, their readers and viewers in podunk shitholes never knew that a secret relationship existed between press and politician; if they did know, they didn’t know to what extent.
They did not know about Anne Kornblut’s submissively saccharine pool reports or Richard Wolffe’s recurring acts of treason against the practice of honest journalism.
But they know now. So perhaps Ambinder et al should be commended for voluntarily revealing the extent to which they’ve been corrupted by Beltway culture.
The insidery pap that was on display last week at Biden’s abode isn’t just bad for America, it’s also killing journalism. And reporters who can’t see the line in the sand can bet their bought-and-paid-for asses that having to drop their chickens parmigiana at a moment’s notice won’t always be their biggest problem.