Monday, July 03, 2006

The Fourth Branch Of Government?

Note - this piece was inspired after reading AC's (Fore Left) recent post, Odd Coordinates, who had linked to this Michelle Malkin piece. I began this as a comment on AC's blog, but as it got longer, I realized it deserved a post of its own.

Since I began following politics (which was age 10) the media have played an increasingly larger role in the political process, during the course of time. But, with that larger role comes influence, and with that influence comes power.

What we see today is a news media that has become both a watch dog and a whistle-blower, and in some cases an out of control entity that has little oversight, except within itself. Using the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech principle, many have become highly irresponsible, as they see the outcomes their irresponsible actions (and in some cases inactions) produce. They not only enjoy the new-found power, they have become drunk with it.


It started with the Vietnam War. Now I am not going to debate the various merits (or lack thereof) in that conflict. But just take a look back sometime and see how a media played a integral role, in that campaign.


While resting on the laurels of that particular victory, they soon found a "gimme" with the Watergate affair. That's when the MSM became emboldened to go after a sitting president and made a major contribution to his removal. (I know he resigned, but he resigned under pressure. Therefore, he was indirectly removed.)

That is when the era of the Dan Rather (chew your face until you bleed) style of reporting was born. That was the beginning of an aggressive approach philosophy; one that relentlessly pursues a story in order to get the negatives or the so-called "dirty laundry" stories, either to sell or to ruin (or sometimes both).

It didn't stop there, either. The media soon got restless again, and again, another scandal fell into their laps, the Iran-Contra Affair. They got a lot of mileage out of that one, for sure. But, they didn't succeed in ruining a presidency, like they had with Nixon. Some of their momentum was (in effect) reduced, if only for a season.

They followed that up with the Whitewater investigation and when that fell through (due to a series of unfortunate events that directly favored President Clinton), they turned towards a new direction. Instead of respecting the President's private lives, they then became glorified tabloids in their coverage of "Monicagate".

And just when you thought it could get no worse, you find that there are more dastardly intentions, than selling a few papers and ruining a few politicians' life. Now the stakes have risen, again. Publishing general locations of government officials' homes is one thing, but printing more precise data that can lead to the exact locations of such homes, is not safe and it borders on violating the owners' rights to privacy, not to mention safety.

One has to ask themselves, where are the boundaries going to be in the future? Where will the public's right to know end? And where will the limits of the principles (of responsible journalism) begin?

Will they lose more integrity and force hands to put slight contraints on some media actions, in the future, creating another "freedom of speech" stir? If they do, freedoms will be forever lost, no matter how slight they may be. Or, will the media wake up and realize that with great power comes great responsibility? If they do, they can avert an entire battle that need not be fought.

Or does the media want to be the fourth branch of government? Just how far will this all go and what do they really hope/want to accomplish, here?

27 comments:

Gene said...

Read Glenn Greenwald's posts about this ludicrous non-story, then do the smart thing and retract what you wrote about the NYT putting Cheney and Rumsfeld's safety at risk. The article was your typical bit of fluff about the vacation homes of the high and mighty. The information was in the public sphere. It had been written about before--even on NewsMax, for crying out loud. And the Times photographer said Rumsfeld gave his OK for a picture of his house to be used. You think the Secret Service would allow that if they didn't like it?

I'd say Malkin and the other people whipping up hysteria over this should be ashamed of themselves, seeing as some of her scummiest readers went and posted the addresses and phone numbers of the reporter and photographer, along with some leaking bag of human garbage named Dennis K. calling for readers to..."(G)o hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous - grab for the golden ring."

But "shame" isn't a word Malkin and her ilk are familiar with. Along with words like "facts", "verification", "logic", "decency", "responsibility"...the list goes on and on.

Greenwald's blog is at glenngreenwald.blogspot.com

LASunsett said...

Gene,

retract what you wrote about the NYT putting Cheney and Rumsfeld's safety at risk.

Retractions are for when the information is proved to be false.

Are you saying that the the picture the NYT posted is false? If you are and can prove that it is, then do so. Then I will, in turn, retract it. But otherwise I will retract nothing.

I read the post you recommended. So what?

Fox is not media now? If Fox or Newsmax, or whoever put the same information, then they are guilty too. Do you really think that I distinguish between who does it and who doesn't? This particular episode just happened to be the NYT.

Your objection about this, does nothing to refute the central theme of this post, whatsoever. The media is still out of control. Remember, I said that the post INSPIRED me to write this post, it was NOT central to the overall argument that I make. It is the catalyst and not the only cause for it.

A.C. said...

Gene, why was it necessary to run those stories at all, including GPS coordinates? I don't see any public good in that even if you argue there was no privacy or national security issue at stake.

This attitude of "chill out, it's in the public domain already" is a non-starter for me. The same is being claimed about the banking story. If you want some illumination on just how weak the argument is, check Powerline blog's audio of Bill Bennett's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday.

This issue is not a freedom of the press argument, it's a responsibility of journalism argument.

L'Amerloque said...

Hi LASunsett !

Well … could one not replace "fourth branch of government" with "fourth estate" ? (smile)

In that case, LASunsett is but the latest commentator in a long line … (smile)

* * * * *

From Wiki: ( http://tinyurl.com/k9rb6 )

The term Fourth Estate refers to the press, both in its explicit capacity of advocacy and in its implicit ability to frame political issues. The term goes back at least to Thomas Carlyle in the first half of the 19th century.

Thomas Carlyle in On Heroes and Hero Worship (1841) writes,

... does not... the parliamentary debate go on... in a far more comprehensive way, out of Parliament altogether? Edmund Burke said that there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important than they all."

This was not Carlyle's first use of the term. If, indeed, Burke did make the statement Carlyle attributes to him, Burke's remark may have been in the back of Carlyle's mind when he wrote in his French Revolution (1837), "A Fourth Estate, of Able Editors, springs up." In this context, the other three estates are those of the French States-General; the church, the nobility and the commoners, although in practice the latter were usually represented by the middle class bourgeoisie.

Burke, as author of Reflections on the Revolution in France, could have had in mind precisely these three estates … /…

* * * * *

Best,
L'Amerloque

LASunsett said...

AC,

This issue is not a freedom of the press argument, it's a responsibility of journalism argument.

Exactly.

LASunsett said...

l'Amerloque,

Hello sir, how was your non-holiday weekend? ;)

Well … could one not replace "fourth branch of government" with "fourth estate" ? (smile)

In that case, LASunsett is but the latest commentator in a long line … (smile)


Yes, sir, they certainly could. Thanks for bringing a French flavor to the argument.

Carlyle wasn't French, true enough. But, his observations were spot on, in this case and certainly are every bit as applicable here.

Always On Watch said...

Carlyle had some flaws, particularly with regard to the influence he had and
some of his later work
.

All_I_Can_Stands said...

LA,

Great post. The media certainly wants 150% of the freedoms/benefits/power and 0% or the responsibilities. The only time they ever even self-police is if a liberal comes close to sympathizing with conservatives. Then they jump all over him.

LASunsett said...

AICS,

Great post.

Thank you, sir.

The media certainly wants 150% of the freedoms/benefits/power and 0% or the responsibilities.

I am afraid that many people are the same way, on an individual level. Organizations like the media are made up of individuals and if they are made up of too many individuals that display this trait, this is what you get. it happens in all professions, too.

Gene said...

The article didn't mention the GPS coordinates for Cheney or Rumsfeld's houses. Don't know where a.c got that from.

I get the very strong impression none of you actually READ the Times' piece. To think that this was some kind of retaliation against Cheney and Rumsfeld...it's beyond ludicrous.

I'm not saying you should retract that the Times posted a picture. I'm saying you should retract that the Times, as you say, were "violating the owners' rights to privacy, not to mention safety."
That's the issue here, obviously.

But don't take my word for it. How about Holleen Wheeler, Donald Rumsfeld's director of public affairs:

"She got approval to take a picture," Wheeler told me. "She called, we said fine, go take the picture. And that's it."

Wheeler also added of the picture: "It's already out in the public domain. I'm a little confused about why this has caused such an uproar."

Or the Secret Service. When asked about the story, a spokesperson named Jonathan Cherry said,

"As you can imagine, we would prefer less information than more in that regard. However, we take necessary steps to provide security wherever one of our protectees lives, and do our best to be as unobtrusive as possible to neighbors and the general public."

When asked specifically if the Times story posed a security threat, Cherry was brief and to the point:

"No, it is not a threat." (the above quotes came from Greg Sargent of the American Prospect).

So here's what happened: the Times wrote an innocuous piece about Cheney and Rumsfeld's summer homes. The sort of kinder, gentler coverage politicians eat up.

Then the usual band of dishonest hacks went psycho and started making ludicrous claims that the Times was painting a bullseye on Cheney and Rumsfeld. Of course, all it would've taken was a five-minute Google search or a phone call (to the Times, or to the Secret Service, or to Cheney and Rumsfeld's office) to learn that all this frothing and shrieking was for naught.

Odd that you constantly lambaste the "media", yet it wasn't the "media" who was at fault here. The Times got permission from the subjects of the story. It was the lunatic fringe who turned this into a tempest in a teacup. And then it was a collection of progressive bloggers who actually picked up a phone, asked a few questions, searched the internet, and set the record straight.

So, exactly who is an "out of control entity" here? Who is "highly irresponsible, as they see the outcomes their irresponsible actions (and in some case inactions) produce)"? Who "not only enjoy(s) the new-found power, they have become drunk with it"?

LASunsett said...

So, exactly who is an "out of control entity" here? Who is "highly irresponsible, as they see the outcomes their irresponsible actions (and in some case inactions) produce)"? Who "not only enjoy(s) the new-found power, they have become drunk with it"?

The difference is I am not a paid journalist, nor do I aspire to be one. I am just one man with his opinion. I have very little readership, compared to any of the entities that printed the photos. If the photos were approved, so be it.

Still let me say again, the post was INSPIRED by this thing, it is not the central theme. Shut the microscope off for a second, take a step back and look at the entire thing.

The media is out of control. Don't believe me? Do a scientific poll and see what people say. But in your knee-jerk criticism you fail to consider one thing here, I am not a member of the journalistic community. This blog does not profess to be a news organization. I am not held to the same standards, I do not charge money for anything here. Read the statement under the blog title and let me emphasize something:

Balanced Political COMMENTARY For Political Centrists

It wouldn't be so bad if this were the only example of irresponsible journalism. But add that to the long list of stories that are designed to add sensationalism, scandal, and profiteering at the expense of another, all throughout the course of journalism history. Look at the secret CIA prisons story or the financial surveillance story. There have been others by other agencies, too.

I know you probably do not think they amount to a hill of beans. But I do. I understand the nature of warfare, I understand the nature of intelligence and its value, and I understand the nature of politics. Yet, I do not share all that I know about those things either. I only share the things that I want you to know that I know. Nothing more.

Just because I don't run in their circles doesn't mean that I haven't had to deal with them. And in my opinion, a lot of them are arrogant jerks that have become consumed with their own over-inflated, yet, meager existences.

Look at the whole post there, Gene. The whole post, not just the part you do not like. Because if you look hard enough, you can parse any post and dissect it up. Anyone can do that, Gene, But, not everyone can understand the broader aspects of things.

superfrenchie said...

When you live in Washington, everybody knows where people live.

An example would actually be Rumsfeld. It was widely reported in 2003 that he refused a personal invitation to dinner from his neighbor, the French Ambassador (quite a diplomat, Rumsfeld!). Anyway, since I know where the Ambassador's residence is, I also happen to know whare Rumsfeld live. And if I can figure it out, I'm sure so can many other people.

When John Poindexter was the National Security Advisor for Reagan, he was almost my neighbor. And now, every other day I have to deal with the phone calls of Alan Keyes' kid, who want to talk to my son.

I have never heard people in Washington complain about a security risk because everybody knows where they live.

A.C. said...

The article didn't mention the GPS coordinates for Cheney or Rumsfeld's houses. Don't know where a.c got that from.

Technically correct, but by giving streets and a map it would be possible to obtain them via web applications.

The point here is why. Gene, don't you find it a tad strange that after Keller took incredible heat from the administration for publishing the Swift story we see a 'puff piece' the following Sunday giving locations of Cheney and Rummy's vacation homes? I do.

Gene said...

When I referred to the "out of control" entities I wasn't referring to you--I was speaking more about Malkin and Hindraker and people like that. But if you're going to use them as a starting point for what you write about, you should consider the source and take what they say with a huge grain of salt.

I mean, there's no way you can read the Times piece, and then Malkin's post, and not think that she's deranged. But that's how she makes her money, by printing garbage and getting attention for it. I guess some people are content to make a living that way.

I don't mind you writing opinions I disagree with. Hell, that's what blogs are for (and that whole Freedom of Speech thing). But I can't help responding when I read things that are easily shown to be based on false information or flat-out lies. The facts are the facts. Whether you're a blogger or the New York Times. Both have a responsibility to get them right.

If you think the Times really want to destroy America, you go right ahead. No skin off my nose, even if I disagree with you. But if you're going to use Michelle Malkin and other crazys to back up your claims...well, that alone should give you pause. You need to be able to defend your argument, and this latest brouhaha shows how many of these far-right bloggers are content to ignore the facts, don't check sources, don't ask questions, don't look into the story--they just throw gasoline on whatever fire is at hand and hope there's a big explosion. What do they care what gets blown up, so long as it isn't them?

Aaron X said...

This post is nothing more than a thinly disguised endorsement of censorship.

I have little patience for this kind of moronic tripe, or those who would try censoring the media simpler because it keeps revealing the Bush administration's high treason and entrenched culture of corruption.

If this administration is the best that the right wingers have to offer, the conservative revolution is over.

If you're interested in hobbling the Free Press, why don't you move to place like Russia or Iran.

Nuke the Messenger

Gene said...

To answer a.c.--I don't find the timing of the piece strange at all. Probably the Travel story was written or approved before the Times went with the story about the financial tracking program. I doubt Keller would've thought there would be any controversy at all about this story, because it's not in the least bit controversial.

And my point wasn't "technically" correct. It was plain old correct correct. There were no GPS coordinates given. Giving a street address or the name of the house isn't the same as the GPS coordinates.

And since the location of Rumsfeld and Cheney's homes were public knowledge beforehand, it seems a bit odd to think THIS is the way the Times would retaliate. You could more easily say that this piece was a ploy on the Times to make nice-nice with the Administration, to publish an article showing that Cheney and Rumsfeld are human beings who like to get away from D.C. and have some quiet time in a small town with their families.

L'Amerloque said...

Hello LASunsett !

/*/Hello sir, how was your non-holiday weekend? ;)/*/

Slow. (sigh) Today, Tuesday, Amerloque and the family are firing up the barbecue. (smile)

* * * * *

Hi Always On Watch !

/*/Carlyle had some flaws, …/*/

Oh, yes. (sigh) He went off track on quite a few things, Amerloque feels; some of his views and writings, seen in contemporary terms, are quite anachronistic and even inacceptable today.

However, his comments about the Fourth Estate resonate down through the ages … (smile)

* * * * *

Best,
L'Amerloque

L'Amerloque said...

Hello LASunsett !

/*/Hello sir, how was your non-holiday weekend? ;)/*/

Slow. (sigh) Today, Tuesday, Amerloque and the family are firing up the barbecue. (smile)

* * * * *

Hi Always On Watch !

/*/Carlyle had some flaws, …/*/

Oh, yes. (sigh) He went off track on quite a few things, Amerloque feels; some of his views and writings, seen in contemporary terms, are quite anachronistic and even unacceptable today.

However, his comments about the Fourth Estate resonate down through the ages … (smile)

* * * * *

Best,
L'Amerloque

LASunsett said...

Aaron,

I have little patience for this kind of moronic tripe, or those who would try censoring the media simpler because it keeps revealing the Bush administration's high treason and entrenched culture of corruption.

1. I wasn't cesoring anything, I was CRITICIZING it. Thre is a distinct difference.

2. If you don't like what I write, then don't read it. I won't lose any sleep, trust me.

3. The Daily Kos and MoveOn.Org would love to have you, go find them and chant your talking your points.

superfrenchie said...

I must say I am always flabbergasted when I hear all that criticism of the NY Times. It is by far one of the finest papers in the world, along with the Washington Post, and is much respected abroad.

Does it make mistakes every now and then? Sure. The WMD thing is quite an example. As a matter of fact, I think a case could be made that war would not have happened had they done their jobs a little better and debunked the administration's fallacies, intead of behaving as cheerleaders. But overall, they just offer unsurpassed coverage of events throughout the world.

If you want to go after some bad media, go after Fox News. They have the biggest liars in existence today, many of them in Prime Time. Take Bill O'Reilly for example: a guy that invents statistics, facts and even publications on a nightly basis in front of several millions spectators.

Or take Mike Jerrick who just last week said that Bill Clinton left a 236 billion deficit to Bush. Come on! You call that a journalist?

Even with its glaring WMD mistakes, I'll take the NY Times any day over the Fox News liars.

And I agree with Gene, it sometimes looks like that criticism is really a disguised call for censorship. There's already an awful lot the American media doesn't show in the name of self-censorship (watch European media to see how much that is true!), there's no need to add more.

A.C. said...

You could more easily say that this piece was a ploy on the Times to make nice-nice with the Administration, to publish an article showing that Cheney and Rumsfeld are human beings who like to get away from D.C. and have some quiet time in a small town with their families.

It's hard to imagine how the widespread publication of the exact locations of the vacation homes of two very controversial public figures would help the relationship.

BTW, the story didn't refrain from making a few political statements towards the end, and made mention of how Cheney's SUV caravans blocked thoroughfares in the area.

But all this flak about the vacation home story is probably just a convenient way to distract away from the embarrassing publication of the banking story. Have we heard from Murtha yet?

superfrenchie said...

One newspaper I forgot to mention when talking about America's great ones is the Wall Street Journal. Their editorial pages are toxic, but the reporting is absolutely first-class.

superfrenchie said...

Oh, and Michelle Malkin is a big-time racist who just can't stand Muslims or Mexicans.

She's at the same time pretty good looking and positively disgusting! That's hard to do!

LASunsett said...

SF,

Their editorial pages are toxic, but the reporting is absolutely first-class.

Maybe the reason you think they are so toxic is because you don't agree with them.

Yes? No? Maybe so?

superfrenchie said...

La:

Well, when they start saying that torture is fine and dandy, that's where I draw the line. They talk like they still live in the Middle Ages.

As well, their absolute obsession with putting down Europeans in general and the French in particular frankly seems to border on repressed neurosis.

OK, an American might make more money than a European. So what? If you feel like working 50 hours a week with 9 vacation days and 3 sick days a year until you're 70 so you can afford a big truck with big wheels and impress your neighbor, fine. To each their own enjoyment. I'll take my 35-hour a week, 8-week vacation schedule and a smaller car any day, thank you very much!

L'Amerloque said...

Hi SF !

/*/ I must say I am always flabbergasted when I hear all that criticism of the NY Times. It is by far one of the finest papers in the world, along with the Washington Post, and is much respected abroad …/… But overall, they just offer unsurpassed coverage of events throughout the world. /*/

(smile) This is another point on which Amerloque and SuperFrenchie will have to agree to disagree. (re-smile).

In Amerloque's view, the New York Times' reporting about both America and international events is biased. It's designed for a New York audience, with New York referentials. (Amerloque, not from New York, refuses to fall into the "liberal" vs "conservative" debate …). For many, many years its reporting about the Western part of the United States has been egregiously inadequate, while its shrill one-way reporting on the Middle East events contibutes to keeping the conflict alive, not to resolving it, Amerloque feels.

Bringing things closer to home (at least to France, where Ameloque resides …-smile - ): the NYT took over the International Herald Tribune several years ago.

In that paper, in Amerloque's view, the tone of articles about France has changed markedly, and now reflects, day after day, the NY Times' institutional hate of the country, the people and the language. Time after time, its reporting about France can be shown to be partial, unfair and untrue. Facts are distorted or otherwise manipulated – or simply expurgated – to show France in an unfavorable light. The reporters covering France, notably Sciolino and Bennhold (and the commentator Vinocur), have their own agendas (whether purely self-imposed or 100% imposed from above is another issue entirely, of course, since the NYT "party line" might change along the way …) and, in Amerloque's humble opinion, fair and impartial coverage is not part of them.

Amerloque knows a tremendous amount about France. He follows developments in France avidly: he lives there. He family is Franco-American. He pays taxes here (one of the big; big reasons to follow developments, in his view. –grin-). He knows, absolutely beyond the shadow of a possibility of a doubt, when the NYT/IHT is wrong and/or biased about France.

Now, when Amerloque reads a NYT/IHT article about the European Union, about which he knows a bit less, what credence should he give to it, since he know exactly what the NYT/IHT is does when referring to France ? The NYT/IHT seems to think that the EU is another USA, full stop. That Brussels is like Washington, DC. That a US state is like a European country. Its reporting about Europe is, in two words, a) inadequate, because it does not take into account many, many things about Europe and b) pernicious, since it is giving the reader a distorted, simplistic view of European reality.

Furthermore, when Amerloque reads in the NYT/IHT about the political situation in Kyrgyzstan, say, or the incidence of road construction on the flora and fauna in Cappadocia, about which he knows very, very little, what credence should he give to it, given what the NYT/IHT does to France, and to the European Union ?

How can he give any credence to the NYT/IHT at all, as a matter of fact, as a serious news organ ? Well, fortunately for Amerloque, he has the interest, time, energy and mental equipment to sort the wheat (if any, on a given day) from the chaff. Some people simply don't have one or more of those, which is why it can be said that the NYT/IHT is not a good paper and is not doing its job.

Obviously, quite a bit of the media is like the NYT/IHT: it's a difference of degree and, perhaps, of political orientation. Amerloque doesn't really see the moral difference between a lie put out by Fox News and one put out by the NYT/IHT. They both have their places. One might argue, of course, as to which is the most noxious … and Amerloque would probably come down on the same side of the fence as SuperFrenchie … (smile)

Best
L'Amerloque

superfrenchie said...

Well, I don't really disagree with what l'Amerloque is saying:

1. He is absolutely right about the NYT's lies and distortions about France. See people like Friedman with his idiotic statements that France is America's enemy, or French-basher David Brooks, who call us "chipmunks in retreat". It's just that living here, I have to make abstraction of that to judge a media outlet. Or there would not be a single media to like, as French-bashing has become so routine and prevalent among absolutely all of them (but some still worse than others...)

2. I don't read the IHT often enough to have an opinion. I only read what it says about France. Indeed, it's not exactly balanced. However, despite the fact that it's owned by the NYT, I would hesitate to link the 2. Do they share reporters, a board, editorialists? I think they can be bad on their own.