The failures of my profession

As I’ve mentioned at times before, there are really two reasons I decided to leave the safe harbor of “objective”, mainstream journalism and begin to actively explore and support the progressive movement.

One, I was horrified at the direction the conservative movement took the nation under the Bush administration. I felt I had to stand up as a citizen.

Second, I was shocked at the horrible performance of the people at the so-called peak of my profession during the lead up to the Iraq War – and since then, too.

To better explain that second reason, I’m going to turn to Eric Boehlert over at Media Matters. Today, he addresses current campaign and presidential coverage, but he sets it in the context of recent journalistic history, too.

I would urge you to check out his longer article from 2006 in Salon, as well.

My hypothesis: Fear, fear, fear

I have one hypothesis to add to all of the analysis of the performance of the national, East Coast media.

I think the terrorists won – at least for a while.

I think they managed to instill deep, profound terror in the elite classes of Washington, D.C., and New York for several years. You see, these are people who are used to being on the top of the heap or darn near to it. They’re in charge. They’re in power.

And then, on 9/11, they were just as vulnerable as everyone else.

And that fear of even more attacks hounded them straight through their coverage and analysis of the Iraq War, leading to uncritical support.

See, I would argue that folks like me – in the Great Lakes region; anywhere away from the sites of the attacks – could get some emotional distance by the time the big Iraq War push came. But folks living in the D.C.-New York regions just couldn’t get that emotional space, for quite sensible reasons. And in the case of the press and pundit corps, it seeped into and then dominated their reporting and writing.

By the way, I would say all of this was aided and abetted by an administration that promoted fear as a tactic for getting its way. I always knew that FDR’s famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” was meaningful. But thanks to the Bush administration’s blatant manipulation of fear, it has since become one of the most inspirational statements I’ve ever heard uttered by a leader.

I won’t let the national press corps off the hook for giving into the fear that surrounded and penetrated them at the time. They’re the top of the profession, right? They should have figured out a way to conquer it.

But I also think it helps explain what happened. And points a way to avoiding the same mistakes in the future.

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