The Journolist scandal, America, the media, and the assumption of objectivity

Phillip Smyth Contributor
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Left-wing bias in the media is nothing new. Regardless, journalists and the free press have been regarded as the peaceful guardians of America’s liberal democratic republic. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

In this respect, the press was supposed to be the voice of the people, not a propagandistic arm pushing a particular ideology, person, or party. Nevertheless, the founding fathers were no fools when it came to the protection of freedom. The free press is and was an institution like any other, thus it was corruptible. James Madison said it best, “All power in human hands is liable to be abused.” This applies to the press as much as governmental institutions.

As with the contemporary, there have been numerous subjective news sources that have circulated in the press. Many a 19th century newspaper would publish lurid, scandalous or even libelous stories about opposing politicians on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the modern press’s antecedents did not operate under a generally believed air of objectivity as today’s press wishes to push.  It is certain that this will not be the first nor last scandal in the ranks of reporters. As a result, the narrative of an independent and disinterested press may need to be reassessed.

As Thomas Jefferson takes another spin in his burial plot at Monticello, many modern ethicists would also be highly critical of the program of deception these journalists undertook. Journalists and prominent commentators on journalistic ethics, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel noted that, “the purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” This flies in the face of the Journolist “collective’s” Al Capone-esque (I.E. “if I wanted your opinion, I’d give it to you”) treatment of the coverage of Obama’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright these media mavens presented.

Kovach and Rosenstiel authored a nine-point list of prerequisites journalists should follow.  The list included anobligation … to the truth … loyalty is to citizens.” They continued, “[journalism’s] practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover … [Journalism] must serve as an independent monitor of power.” In no way did the journalists involved live up to these basic standards.  In place of standards, the left-wing press has set an agenda for its supporters with an end goal that affected millions. However, their actions were little different from their predecessors who invented the practice of yellow journalism.

In essence, this move involving an impromptu cabal of journalists, who set about swaying the public, were a micro-version of what readers of history have witnessed in places like Stalin’s USSR, Khomeini’s Iran, Castro’s Cuba, and (at the risk of being accused of reductio ad Hitlerum) Adolf Hitler’s Germany. The main difference between these examples and this case is the lack of a totalitarian propaganda-journalistic collaboration set by the state. Instead, this group acted on its own to set the discourse (or lack thereof) and obfuscate the facts in a drive to push its own political message. For the Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman (A.K.A. Mr. “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”) the journalist was to adopt the role of Greek rhetorician-cum-Goebbels with a touch of George Orwell.

Clearly, these journalists lived beyond Plato’s assessment of the banal rhetorician:

“A competent rhetorician need have nothing at all to do, they say, with truth in considering things which are just or good, or men who are so, whether by nature or education. For in the courts they say, nobody cares for the truth about these matters, but what is convincing.”

These writers embraced a further utilization of the Hitlerian, “big lie.”  It is remarkable how Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was embodied in this online-faction,

“To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed.”

Unfavorable stories to their glorious leader were, to borrow the Al Gore phrase, “inconvenient truths” that needed to be crushed.

In terms of political discussion, the members of this listserv were clearly not interested. The Machiavellian move to silence opposition embodied an ideology that is so anti-American only someone along the lines of Hugo Chavez could recognize it. The utilization of lies, distortions and the imposition of fear demonstrated a desire for these writers to exert control.

Andrew Breitbart asserted that, “American journalism died a long time ago”. Unfortunately the institution was still dead-on-arrival in terms of objectivity long before the Daily Caller’s article was published. Nevertheless, the press serves a vital purpose in the vitality of the freedom enjoyed in the United States. It must be noted that an unabashed conservative press organ uncovered this secret project. This stands as another example of our Freedom of the Press and the independent (of government) checks and balances on set systems. The press is and was never perfect. The lesson to be gleaned for those in a position ideologically dissimilar to the Obama-propagandists was one Thomas Paine knew too well, “[t]hose who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

While we view the press as a vanguard of sorts, it must be recognized by all involved that it is a fallible institution. Living up to set standards is truly laudable. Nevertheless, no system is complete without its failings. To work as a free nation with a truly free and objective press we must be constantly vigilant.
Phillip Smyth works as a freelance journalist, researcher and political consultant in the United States and in the Middle East. He is a managing editor with the Young American’s for Freedom’s New Guard Magazine, a researcher with the Middle East Political and Economic Institute, and has been published on the Counterterrorism Blog.