HE WHO LAUGHS LAST, LAUGHS BEST
Brian Williams thinks itâ€™s funny.
â€œPresident Bush is enjoying the rest of the Thanksgiving holiday at his family ranch in Crawford. As far as we know, that is,â€ he chuckled as he uttered that last line.
White House press corps has no idea what President Bush is up to, ha ha ha. We reported completely false stories all Thanksgiving morning, heee heee. What a chuckle.
The only joke is the modern-day media.
I donâ€™t have a problem with the President and his staffâ€™s cloak and dagger routine so that the President could safely travel to Iraq. Thatâ€™s their job. Keep the President safe, keep the troops upbeat and get good footage for the 2004 campaign trail.
However, for the media (in my case the Good Morning America broadcast) to report, as fact, that the President was having dinner in Crawfordâ€¦. Indeed, periodically updating me on the particular course being enjoyed by Bush at that very moment — when in fact, no such meal was taking place — is nothing short of disgraceful. Have our national reporters gotten so lazy that reading press releases from a teleprompter, passes for reporting?
If Woodward and Bernstein were dead, theyâ€™d roll over in their grave.
The press has such an important role to play in safeguarding our democracy. We would never have known about the Pentagon papers or the atrocities happening to the Civil Rights Freedom Riders without the unyielding persistence of the journalistâ€™s pen and camera.
In this age of non-stop spin â€“ the press is supposed to ask the hard questions, then do the grunt work and research to find answers. Itâ€™s not enough to sit still while Rumsfeld manhandles you at press conferences — asking and then, answering, his own questions. No doubt, itâ€™s hard and people in power are not going to be happy. But you have a public trust, not one that you were elected to, but one you voluntarily accepted.
Reporting fictional events is not just humiliating, (Dewey Defeats Truman) itâ€™s appalling. What happened to the basic who, what, where when? Heads roll when reporters like Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass fabricate sources and invent details to add color to the fiction that they try to pass as fact, but what happens when every station, paper and newsmagazine report the same fantastical tale? Do we let them off with a wink and nod as we laugh off their culpability?
I donâ€™t think so.
Nothing changes policy like shining the bright light of public opinion behind the closed doors of decision-making. But the people holding the flashlights have to be curious, bold and honorable. They have to be willing to work.
And if they arenâ€™t, there are journalism schools filled to the brim with students eager to do the job.
Hopefully, the press corps has learned a valuable lesson from eating Thanksgiving Day crow and will now take their responsibility to the viewing public far more seriously.
Because right now, the White House isnâ€™t laughing with you, itâ€™s most definitely laughing at you.