Yesterday on “Meet the Press,” a bunch of journalists rued the new landscape created by Patrick Fitzgerald and his star witness Judith Miller. Tim Russert, Gwen Ifill, Howard Kurtz—they all feared damage to professionalism, that the public might see the press as in bed with powerful officials. (Aren’t they?) Even as they complained, the journalists seemed to fear their own loss of privilege. Kurtz talked about professionalism in an entitled manner. Gwen Ifill said that only a crowd inside the Beltway really cares about what Scooter Libby said or didn’t say to Judith Miller.
These journalists are out of touch. They don’t understand the seismic consequences of the Iraq war, which is slowly transforming our politics (beginning with the Congress). Journalists failed us in that war; Judy Miller disgraced the New York Times by carrying the water for Richard Cheney and thereby misleading a society, with the gravest consequences. In fact, you might say that Judy Miller’s testimony is her most honest reporting yet about the way the Iraq war was engineered. Thank you, Judy and Scooter; now I know why the VP’s tragic/literary chief of staff routinely took hours of out of his days to talk to reporters.
This trial has demonstrated the corruption of “access journalism,” which these journalists like to style as “professional.” The crisis of leadership that Iraq represents is also theirs. In the Information Age, they failed us by pushing this war on the basis of false information about WMD and no information about the hidden agendas. It turns out that the less access you had, the more clearthinking you were about what a bad idea it was to invade Iraq. Why does Barack Obama look so good right now? He wasn’t in the Senate, that’s why; he wasn’t compromised. I.F. Stone and Noam Chomsky always said, it’s more important to read than to go to a cocktail party.
The professional bloodletting that is happening in the Libby trial, the destruction of all those promises journalists made to the White House—this can only serve journalism right now by restoring traditional virtues of the writing business: a sense of vocation that has nothing to do with corporate salary, a sense of citizenship that has nothing to do with Meritocratic Election, and a sense of detachment that wants nothing to do with imperialistic misadventures that are bound to cause untold suffering in another part of the world.