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Day of Shame commemoration -- Gwen Ifill and the MSM: still shameless after all these years

vastleft's picture

This is the second of my two posts that commemorate the Day of Shame, the sixth anniversary of Colin Powell's UN presentation and the media's chorus of approval for same.

Please share your own recollections and analyses of (what should be) an unforgettably sorry day in American history. If there are other contributions around the Internets, I'll post round-ups here and at dayofshame.com.

Please also read the posts from previous years. Last year, the fifth anniversary, saw many substantial posts around the blogosphere, and the previous year (the first for the Day of Shame blog), this typist hammered out a cluster of posts on the import of the day.

Thanks for your memories!

* * *

Last June, pbs.com offered visitors the opportunity to ask "Five Good Questions" of media fixture Gwen Ifill.

I replied with the following question, under the title "Iraq War reporting":

The media all-but-unanimously pronounced Colin Powell's fact-challenged Feb. 2003 UN presentation "compelling."

As a direct result, the public supported a disastrous and unnecessary war.

What has changed in Beltway reporting as a result of this deadly fiasco?

Mine was one of the five selected questions, though in Ifill's response, my query had been re-written. Whether this was done before or after the question was posed to her, I do not know, as my complaint to PBS's ombudsman about the rewording and Ifill's thoughtless response received no reply.

As rephrased, "my" question now read:

Many people believe the press failed to do its job in the run up to the Iraq war. Has Beltway reporting changed as a result?

So, the world's most noble news organization eviscerated my quote and falsely attributed it back to me. 40 honest words good, 25 misquoted and dumbed-down words better.

The neutered version, in which "many people" merely "believe" there was a failure — and the context of senseless death and the applause for Powell's pathetic presentation are cleansed entirely — was still an affront to Ms. Ifill, who responded thusly:

I am not sure what you mean by "Beltway reporting."

Do you mean the New York Times reporting that exposed the Justice Department's wireless wiretapping?

The Washington Post reporting that exposed the poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center?

Or do you mean the reporting done by Pentagon reporters from the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan?

I continue to maintain that, on balance, reporters tell us more than we would otherwise know, and that the breadth and importance of the stories we break, easily outnumber the ones we miss.

Best defense ever: if you take good pictures of your own crime scene, you're not a murderer, you're an artist!

In response, I wrote:

Gwen, thank heavens the media didn't give us more than a few scraps of honest reporting during the run-up to the war! Otherwise, those Pentagon reporters wouldn't have been able to file all that historic Iraq War correspondence (no war = no new Stone Phillipses)! There wouldn't be all those kids with their faces and limbs blown off to add color and heft to your Walter Reed reporting (empty hospital beds = no story)! And if it weren't for the debased media coverage of the Clinton years and 2000 campaign, we wouldn't have had the heroic president who ordered that "wireless wiretapping" (damn you, 802.11g)!

Please forgive me for undervaluing your profession's Serious work: reporting on the damage it's been so instrumental in facilitating!

No doubt you covered many stories broader and more important than the lies and corruption that have pushed our nation to the brink of ruin — with a Constitution in tatters and an economy spiraling out of control — and into the role of a pariah state whose baseless preemptive war destabilized the most volatile part of our planet. And you helped install an incompetent and valueless president and vice president dripping in petroleum while the global environment was ravaged, perhaps beyond repair.

Oh, and God bless you all for protecting America from a candidate with an unacceptably expensive haircut. Thanks to y'all, we dodged a bullet on that one, eh? And probably without a well-earned word of thanks from an ungrateful public.

You're not sure which media I mean, Gwen? I mean this media. And this one. And this one.

I'm sorry I asked you such a trivial and wrongheaded question. If I can get a mulligan, please try this one instead: "What was it like tossing back PBRs with Tim Russert?" Inquiring minds want to know.

A comment posted on pbs.com by Correntewire's own Lambert Strether exposes further flaws in the examples Ifill trots out to celebrate the accomplishments of the modern news media:

Bush's warrantless surveillance program

Ifill's rhetorical question on Bush's surveillance program is riddled with errors; let's unpack them. She says:

Do you mean the New York Times reporting that exposed the Justice Department's wireless wiretapping?

1. The program was not the "Justice Department's," but Bush's. In fact, portions of the still-secret program were so nefarious that John Ashcroft refused to sign off on them from his hospital bed, when then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales tried to force him to.

2. Worse, the shorthand for the program is "warrantless wiretapping," not "wireless wiretapping surveillance*." That Ifill gets this wrong is doubly unfortunate; first, because the illegal and unconstitutional nature of the program comes precisely because it is "warrantless"; second, because "wireless wiretapping," considered technically, makes it sound like the program is about tapping telephone lines, when, as we have come to understand, the program is about capturing all Internet data, including email.

3. Even worse, the Times story is an example of complete journalistic malfeasance, since Bill Keller, as then ombudsman Bryan Calame pointed out, suppressed the story until after George Bush had been safely elected, yet another example of the press picking our president for us.

4. And even worse, with presumptive nominee Barack Obama's support of the FISA reform bill, which includes a provision that grants the telcos retroactive immunity for their participation in the program, "warrantless surveillance" has now become an issue in the Presidential campaign. How can Ifill be expected to cover this story if she's ignorant of basic facts on the issues? Wait, wait, don't tell me: The same way our famously free press covers ALL the issues. I knew that....

The Times, the Post, and the networks (private and public) aren't a changin' — because they don't think they've done anything wrong.

How much more blood and fortune will be lost because "the watchers" have gone corrupt and arrogant at the switch?

Naturally, I don't expect Beltway courtiers to be particular troubled about that. I just wish more of my fellow citizens were asking "a few good questions" about it, exposing the Gwen Ifills as the joke and menace that they are.

NOTE * Dammit, even I get this wrong. --lambert, 2012-08-24

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vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

FYI, for those who'd read my original Ifill "Brush with Greatness" post, my purpose here is to:

* Include the story in the mix of Day of Shame content, since the impetus for my question to Ms. Ifill came particularly from the media's faulty umpiring that day (though, of course, it's reflective of the overall crap reporting in the run-up to the war)
* Provide a version without the bad words that might send the pearl-clutchers to the fainting couch

connecticut man1's picture
Submitted by connecticut man1 on

Now they get anonymous sources to corroborate the information. Of course, the anon sources are from the same party, group or criminal enterprise that is feeding you the fact challenged info to begin with. But you will never know that info because those fantastic sources are always given the benefit of the doubt from Mr(s). Reporter.