A Capital Full of Shih Tzu Reporters
AUSTIN, Texas — As I occasionally survey the pack of sycophantic Shih Tzus* in the Washington press corps, wriggling on their bellies to kiss the feet of those in power, I feel plumb discouraged about the future of journalism.
It’s like a cross between Versailles under Louis XIV and high school: obsequious courtiers flattering their way to favor, plus the silly cliques of the “in crowd” and “out crowd.” On the other hand, I am greatly cheered by the young journalists in the blogosphere who have now whelped a perfect litter of books worth paying attention to.
For my marbles and chalk, the pick is David Sirota’s “Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government — and How We Take It Back.” Sirota is a new-generation populist who instinctively understands that the only real questions are “Who’s getting screwed?” and “Who’s doing the screwing?”
The extent to which corporate power has taken over the country and is running the table cannot be exaggerated and must not be ignored. Sirota has not only collected much new and useful information, he has put it into a package that provides handy weapons to fight back. Si, se puede.
Eric Boehlert, who writes for the online magazine Salon, has taken on the MSM (mainstream media) and dipped it for ticks in his book, “Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush.”
He recounts some breathtaking journalistic malfeasance — ignoring the Downing Street memos, the Valerie Plame case and many others. As usual, sins of omission dominate. The Washington press corps (which I think should be separated from “normal” parts of the press) is breathtakingly craven. In the face of intimidation and the lure of official approval, it has shown neither courage nor enterprise.
I don’t know how to account for this pitiable performance. One hears terrifying tales of when the press corps “turns,” when it rips and attacks like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Darn, not a shark in sight. The president’s approval ratings are at 31%, and not a single Shih Tzu will yap at him.
Sometimes misunderstandings between bloggers and the MSM are the result of simple ignorance. For example, there was the recent volley of disapproval from bloggers about the MSM’s failure to pay attention to comedian Stephen Colbert’s brilliant riff at the White House Correspondents Dinner. They weren’t ignoring Colbert — as I understand it, Colbert was the final speaker, and no paper can get much in after 10 p.m. on Saturday night. Stories have to be written, edited and printed, the presses roll and then the trucks roll. It’s old media, kids — we do not just punch a button at our shops.
It seems to me both MSM and the blogosphere could benefit from reading the new biography of Izzy Stone by Myra MacPherson, out in August. Because Izzy was pretty much the perfect journalist, we can all learn from “All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone.” What a pleasure! What a joy to read about the old dog on the hunt. Surprising, too. While Stone famously broke story after story by actually reading government documents instead of taking what the press was spoon-fed, MacPherson reminds us he was also a shoe-leather reporter, who went out to interviews, press conferences and the daily bash, where he occasionally harassed spokesmen.
Today, the bloggers seem to me to be breaking more toward opinion than journalism, which I think is a shame.
A noble exception is Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, which is completely on top of its chosen topics. Of course, Stone practiced opinion journalism, as do I, but with him the hard reporting always came first.
I have no objections to anyone breaking into the guild of journalism without the credentials of journalism school or experience on a print daily (though I highly recommend especially the latter). I do object to those who jump from political hackery to flackery and expect respect. Truly, if you can’t cover a five-car pileup on Route 128, you should not be covering a presidential campaign.
The danger of the blogosphere is reading only those you agree with. While there are right-wing blogs that are entertaining freak shows, it’s hard to find substantial journalism there. I hate to list bloggers I like because I’m bound to leave out so many, but here goes: Daily Kos, Eschaton, Altercation, Political Animal and Media Matters.
* With apologies to those Shih Tzus with the hearts of lions.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and see works by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate’s Web page at www.creators.com.