In the absence of any pressing news these days—other than Iran’s nuclear weapons development crisis, the election of Hamas terrorists in Palestine, ongoing worldwide Muslim riots and killing in reaction to cartoons, Al Gore’s near sedition while speaking in Saudi Arabia, the turning over of our East Coast ports to be managed by a United Arab Emirates firm, the criminal leaking of vital NSA secrets to The New York Times, Mexican military incursions across our southern border, the Iraqi crisis, Congress’ refusal to deal with the developing financial collapse of Social Security and Medicare, inter alia—the White House press corps has exploded in righteous fury over the question of the vice president’s little shooting party last weekend.
As I understand the profound concern of the ever-alert White House reporters, they smell a constitutional crisis because the shooting party failed to alert the media of the accidental shooting down in Corpus Christi, Texas. Well, actually, they did alert the Corpus Christi media—but that didn’t count. Unless the exalted ones have been formally informed by an official government press secretary, no public communication has technically occurred.
I checked the bylaws of the White House press corps, and they are right. It seems that the bylaws refer to Article XXIII of the U.S. Constitution, which expressly designates that White House reporters with a minimum annual income of $375,000 (plus minimum stock options equal to not less than two-thirds their yearly salary, plus use of driver and long sedan during business hours, of which hours must include post-deadline dinner engagements of a semi-social nature) are the exclusive recipients of all government information.
If information isn’t hand-delivered in gilt-edged paper to them while they are reclined on their chaise lounges, it hasn’t been released to the public. And if they don’t report a fact, it hasn’t happened. This provision is vital to a vigorous and independent free press. (I should note, my copy of the Constitution must be outdated, because it doesn’t have an Article XXIII.)
Of course, this provision technically makes the White House press corps not reporters, but receivers—sort of glorified shipping clerks, but with the prerogative to rewrite and re-package the material before they deliver it to the public.
When an out-of-town newspaper got the scoop, the dignity of the White House press corps’ members had been impeached, so they threw a public temper tantrum. As that has worked for many of them since their early childhood, they obviously expect it to work while on the job—to use the term loosely.
To add to their indignity, the reporter for the Washington Post went on MSNBC dressed up in a hunting costume to ridicule the vice president. (It is said that the enfeebled and debased French dauphin, Charles VII, dressed in women’s clothing to hide from Joan of Arc, who was trying to save France.)
I suppose most of us, as we rise in life, develop a sense of entitlement and pompous dignity. Doubtless we all think we are more important than we are. As Charles de Gaulle once sardonically observed, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”
But the Washington press corps, and particularly the White House press corps, has developed, as an institution, a grossly dilated view of itself. Most of us can tolerate arrogance if it is accompanied by extraordinary capacity and virtuosity. The brilliant scientist, the war-winning general, the great artists are entitled to their pride. But the hallmark of the Washington press corps these days is mediocrity, groupthink, a lack of curiosity and rampant careerism. These attributes were all on show in the shooting party incident. But this is just a trivial incident—except for the poor, shot gentleman who suffered a heart attack, may he recover fully and quickly.
We live at a moment of revolutionary change in the international order. The rise and violence of radical, possibly caliphate-forming Islam and the huge, culture-changing, unexamined consequences of rampant globalization make the present one of the least predictable moments to be alive.
Both government officials and citizens are in desperate need of a national press corps that is alive to the change and digging to find factual hints of the near future. We need the kind of future-oriented intellectual vigor, curiosity and genuine iconoclasm that typified American reporters in the first half of the last century.
Instead, as the shooting party incident exemplified, we have in the White House at the most elite level of American journalism, self-absorbed, self-important men and women who stand on their prerogatives even over marginal and inconsequential matters.
Should they ever have a truly daring, creative, productive, hard-researched idea about what is going on in this dangerous world, they should alert the media.
Tony Blankley is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. To find out more about Tony Blankley and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate