Lock Up the Fourth Estate

Downing Street MinutesIt’s time Americans hold its news sources accountable. Legally.

Over the years we’ve borne witness to dangerous levels of misdirection from the mainstream media. Important stories are buried in favor of tabloid sensationalism while the federal government involves itself in illegal wars and policy-making to a chorus of praise from journalism’s elite. This apparent mandate to avoid reporting anything of substance explains how average citizens know more about Anna Ayala and Jennifer Wilbanks than about the steep decline of real wages taking place across the United States.

This is hardly a revelation; print and broadcast media are in the business of making money, and scaring off advertisers doesn’t keep the payroll coffers filled or profits up (the greatest example of which is NBC’s hilariously ironic Conspiracy Theory Rock). I don’t begrudge earning a dollar by providing a service, but if that service is disseminating relevant and accurate news, I don’t want that news censored by murky corporate politics.

We all want our respective governments scrutinized with fair and judicious reporting — anything less is irrelevant propaganda. So what do we do when the media is complicit in the lies? Who watches the watchers?

I do. And I want criminal charges filed against any news agency that knowingly misleads the public, regardless of the topic.

Case in point: the Downing Street “memo.” Far from the hazy verbal sneezings a word like memo suggests, this official document — verified by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair no less — outlines U.S. steps to cook intelligence data for a “justified” Iraq invasion. Back in the summer of 2002. Making all overtures of President Bush’s attempts to avert war diplomatically meaningless and empty.

Here is hard proof the president conspired with Great Britain to manipulate both countries into ousting Saddam Hussein. The British government does not refute the authenticity of the minutes of Blair’s talks with Bush. Why, then, is America so silent on the issue?

Because few Americans even know of the document’s existence. While the explosive testimony has made its way onto the front page of countless foreign news sources, American mainstream media has completely ducked the issue in favor of Michael Jackson coverage, freeway shootings, and Terry Schiavo. Eighty-nine members of Congress wrote President Bush demanding elaboration on the document in early May, but why report that when Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes can share another photo opportunity?

Practically any news coming from the bobbleheads at 1600 Pennsylvania should bring bile to the tip of your tongue — and it might if it were adequately reported. Would John Bolton still be in consideration for a position at the United Nations if reliable reports he treated subordinates like serfs were splashed across the A-block of the 11 o’clock news? Would America still think the capture of Abu Faraj al-Libbi was of any importance if papers printed a page-one retraction admitting he was less than nothing on the terrorist stage?

The press plays fast and loose with its ethics, hoping the goldfish-like attention span of the average American won’t cost them advertising revenue. Lie after lie is reported with quicksilver speed without any concern over obvious contradiction. Report something truthful and then recant because the government doesn’t like the repercussions? Why not? It’s not like people place any faith or trust in either organization.

And what happens, pray tell, if a lie is exposed? Perpetuate it in the face of all sanity, as FOX News did when they continued to hype al-Libbi days after his relevance was made known? For bonus points, perhaps sacrifice one of your own on the altar of pointless errors before congratulating yourselves on rigorous adherence to “standards?”

It’s how President Bush can press Congress to invade Iraq on WMD charges in March of 2003 and then turn around two years later and state it was always about regime change (an admission which is also illegal, by the way).

There is no law specifically compelling a news organization to accuracy. Quite the contrary; thanks to our court system (Wilson & Akre v. Fox Television), media organizations are within their rights to fire someone who refuses to lie in news packages! If reporters can be fired for reporting the truth about bovine growth hormones, how can we believe anything they say or print, particularl when our national elections are tabulated by the television networks?

As much as I like turning to alternative media for real issues that concern the world, I want the same quality of news available to all Americans. Bush lied — even rigged polls cannot deny the disapproval the President faces from his constituents at the moment. People want to know these things. It is not the place of the media to quash items of note because it may rattle a few empty heads. As sagging circulation and ratings numbers prove, people are tuning out of conventional press because the companies are fighting so hard against telling the truth.

So take away the fight. Make news agencies report the news. Strip them of that title if they do not (the way most televised news is nowadays, that’d hardly be an insult). Protect people who tell the truth, especially if their job is in jeopardy for providing the public service they were hired to perform. Most important, if they lie, force a full-fledged admission of such and then file suit. It’s slanderous to the integrity of the nation to let them continually peddle a steady stream of falsehoods as spun gold, and nothing hurts worse than being hit in the pocketbook. Who knows? It might not just help repair the tattered image of the American free press, it might also make a fair amount of money.

The truth often does.