This has become painfully evident in the run up and sad aftermath of the Iraq War. Reporters like Judy Miller, who became an acolyte of the charlatan Ahmed Chalabi, gave cover to Bush Administration propaganda about winnebagoes of death and Niger yellowcake.
Then there was the Valerie Plame outing. Countless books will be written on this topic, but an important contribution was published today by Max Frankel in the New York Times Magazine, a media elite during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Mr. Frankel does two things in the article - he provides an insightful analysis of just what transpired - starting with Ambassador Wilson's fateful trip to Niger and concluding with Scooter Libby's conviction.
In addition, Mr. Frankel makes the case why we need to maintain the system of making secret official information available to the public through official leaking to the press. Mr. Frankel is particularly excised by prosecutors coercing reporters to give up their secrets - such as in the case of Judy Miller who spent time in the big house protecting her source, Scooter Libby. Mr. Frankel also spends time comparing whistle blower leaks made in the public interest from the abusive leaks made by Mr. Libby and Vice President Cheney, et al, to discredit Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson. Mr. Frankel concludes:
It may sound cynical to conclude that tolerating abusive leaks by government is the price that society has to pay for the benefit of receiving essential leaks about government. But that awkward condition has long served to protect the most vital secrets while dislodging the many the public deserves to know.
As Justice Potter Stewart wrote after studying the unending contest between the government and the press during the cold war:
So far as the Constitution goes ... the press is free to do battle against secrecy and deception in government. But the press cannot expect from the Constitution any guarantee that it will succeed. ... The Constitution itself is neither a Freedom of Information Act nor an Official Secrets Act. The Constitution, in other words, establishes the contest, not its resolution. ... For the rest, we must rely, as so often in our system we must, on the tug and pull of the political forces in American society.
In loose translation: Prosecutors of the realm, let this back-alley market flourish. Attorneys general and others armed with subpoena power, please leave well enough alone. Back off. Butt out.
Mr. Frankel, you cynical bastard. What you might call reporting, I call stenography to power. I have no more use for you than I do with the lying, cheating Bush Administration's running of the Iraq War. Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, knew full well the sour game the administration was playing to discredit Plame and Wilson. Yet, Woodward did nothing until prosecutor Fitzgerald came on the scene and busted up the endless martini lunch reporters were having with the administration. Media Matters quotes Woodward before it was even common knowledge that he was privy to the administration's mendacity:
On the July 11 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, Woodward claimed Fitzgerald's investigation was "just running like a chain saw right through the lifeline that reporters have to sources who will tell you the truth, what's really going on," and was "undermining the core function in journalism." He also warned: "We better wake up to what's going on in the seriousness on the assault on the First Amendment that's taking place right before our eyes." On the July 17 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, Woodward said, "[T]he idea of the government and special prosecutors monkeying around with the relationship that reporters have with sources is a very, very bad thing."
Mr. Frankel, Mr. Woodward, "monkeying around with that special relationship" isn't the problem - you collectively, the media elites, are the the problem. If you had done your duty - reported, investigated, spoke truth to power - the Iraq War may have never occurred. Or if it did still occur, the public certainly would have had a far greater understanding of just what was happening in the run up to the war.
You would rather maintain a flawed principle at the price of war? Surely you have lost your soul during one of those martini lunches.