30. June 2006 · Comments Off on The Fine Old Art of Shark-Jumping · Categories: General, GWOT, Media Matters Not, Pajama Game

Seriously, I really think the NY Times has done it this time. The Times, and a fair number of other old-style media have been puttering around in the lagoon, testing the engine, measuring the angle, paying out the tow rope, contemplating the shark… and with this compromise of the Swift program…The good old Times has taken a dead set at that puppy, roared up the ramp and gone sailing into the air, to come down again who knows where, although I personally think they are still tumbling in free-fall. The last couple of days have reminded me rather of the dissection of the infamous 60 Minutes-Bush-AWOL-Memo story, only in slow-mo. People who knew about typefaces, and how Reserve units operated back then and what official documents look like took a long, hard look, and got angrier and angrier about how a clumsy and nakedly political hit piece was perpetrated by an ostensibly respectable, big-name media showboat.

And now, personnel who have worked with classified materiel and operations, who know anything about classified, who deeply care about classified are becoming angrier and angrier about the revelation of a legal, useful and productive effort was blown by the newspaper of record— another big-name media showboat, the so-called “newspaper of record”— for nothing more rewarding than affording the “newspaper of record” an opportunity to preen themselves ostentatiously on their wonderful “scoop”. The NY Times response to criticism for doing so appears to throw gasoline on a smoldering fire, for the sheer lordly arrogance of deciding extravagantly that the “public” just had to know all the details of a war-time effort to prevent terrorists from transferring funds… the funds that buy enormously loud explosions in a variety of public places, explosions that potentially turn an assortment of random human beings into so much bloody mush.

I can only assume that the editors of the NY Times are operating in the happy confidence that none of those potentially and so suddenly transformed will be those known personally to the grandees of the “newspaper of record”. It must be marvelous to live on such an elevated plane, to be totally removed from consequences. Now, I am not so far gone in brutal cynicism as this gentleman to assume that this whole thing was done out of a particularly ugly fit of pique— “You stupid red-state proles had better vote as we tell you to vote, or we’ll blow the gaff on every secret plan we can find until you do, and damn the consequences!”… but I am of a sick enough humor to think that spilling the details of the Swift project is a win-win for the NY Times, all the way around. It means Pulitzers for all, and the fawning adoration of the usual suspects for their courage in speaking truth to power, or at least biting it in the ankle. The odds are increased that they will be able to cover the next terrorist atrocity in really splendid, breathlessly late-breaking-development style, milk a couple of tears for the resultant obituaries, and get at least three or four hard-hitting exposes of the various government departments or persons who “allowed (insert meaningful date or place name here) to happen”… which will result in at least two more rounds of Pulitzers. Think of the New York Times as the gift that keeps on giving.

I try never to attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity… or at least, a horrible sort of tone-deafness on the part of the major media, first articulated by James Fallows in “Breaking the News” (And here I am again, plugging his ten-year old polemic… honestly, the man ought to be giving me a commission.) His point then, and one which I have come to see validated over the last four or five years, is that that the elite media seem to increasingly see themselves as some sort of aristocracy, floating serenely above the vulgar hurly-burly, and dispensing their magisterial pronouncements from on high, with little care for how they may affect— and sometimes they do affect, markedly and even horribly— and it matters not to our aristocracy of the media, for they float imperiously away, on to the next big story, the next big scoop, and the next breathlessly-detailed horror of the moment.

Mr. Fallows intuited that the discriminating news-consumers were on to the media grandees, and felt considerable contempt for them, based on how they were increasingly portrayed as buffoons on movies, and in television. Reporters were once portrayed as rough-hewn heroes, competent, well meaning, and worthy of respect— but even as Woodward and Bernstein were still respected as selfless heroes of the newspaper reporter profession, we were laughing at the chipmunk-brained Ted Baxter, on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Over the next decade, the lake of contempt has deepened and broadened; perhaps television, books and movies have caught on to something, in advance of our so-sensitive news media. Reporters are more like to be portrayed as a Ron Burgundy clown than a hard-working and ethical Edward R. Murrow, or an Ernie Pyle type.
This is not to say that all major media reporters have sunk to such a sad state— those who hold to the old standards are perhaps as much distressed as I am about the spectacle of a major newspaper trading the security of their fellow citizens for a mess of Pulitzer pottage. But this whole Swift thing does not reflect well on the NY Times, and their pretensions of being the major American paper of record.

It does not, and they are richly deserving of all the contempt and cancelled subscriptions thrown in their way.

Comments closed.