Sunday, February 20, 2005

A Culture of Secrecy, Lying, and Fear

Since we're on the case of media fellating the lying White House and our accelerating slide into Buscism, here's an article by Charles Lewis of The Center for Public Integrity that you really ought to read and print for reference.
"Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." – George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Sometimes the persuasion becomes less subtle. For example, when the Center for Public Integrity obtained and prepared to publish online the secret, proposed draft sequel to the USA Patriot Act, known as "Patriot II," we got calls from the U.S. Justice Department beseeching us not to publish.

Over the years, those unhappy with my investigations have tried just about everything to discourage our work. They have issued subpoenas, stalked my hotel room, escorted me off military bases, threatened physical arrest, suggested I leave via a second-story window, made a death threat personally communicated by concerned state troopers who asked that we leave the area immediately (we didn't), hired public relations people to infiltrate my news conferences and pose as "reporters" to ask distracting questions, attempted to pressure the Center's donors, and even brought expensive, frivolous libel litigation that takes years and costs millions of dollars to defend.

Over the years, I have investigated and interviewed members of Congress, presidential candidates, judges, captains of industry, government spooks, labor union presidents, crooks and terrorists, FBI agents and Ku Klux Klansmen, billionaires and the homeless, brilliant thinkers and the mentally deranged. And it is fair to say that I have been lied to by people in virtually every part of the United States, in swank marble buildings, smoky bars and dusty local jails, eyeball-to-eyeball and by phone, fax, email and hand-delivered letter, in all kinds of imaginative ways, almost always with a straight face.

The line between truth and falsehood – between the facts and a veneer of verisimilitude – has become so blurred as to be indistinguishable. Increasingly, what the powers that be say has become the publicly perceived reality, simply because they say it is so.

At a time in America's history when discerning the truth is more elusive-and more essential-than ever, the mainstream news media seem increasingly incapable of playing their traditional watchdog role and digging out lies and inaccuracies.

The world of journalism is in a crisis that goes well beyond the spate of recent, highly-publicized scandals involving fraudulent or poorly reported stories. The country has witnessed Sumner Redstone, the chief executive officer of Viacom, home of CBS News and its hallowed legacy of journalistic excellence dating back to Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, publicly endorse an incumbent president on the eve of a national election-something once considered unimaginable. Over the years CBS and many news organizations have become hollow shells of their former selves, letting go of hundreds of newsroom people and positions in order to achieve ever higher profits and corporate consolidation. The result? Less investigative reporting, reduced scrutiny of those in power and, ultimately, a more easily bamboozled populace.

What does it all mean? For the most part, there is little appetite for investigative journalism. For the "suits" who control what we read, see and hear, besides potentially alienating the political power structure against their own company or industry, thereby possibly jeopardizing millions of dollars in future profits, this edgy enterprise journalism is not efficient or cost-effective. It simply takes too much time, requires too much money and incurs too many legal and other risks. Forget whether or not this is fair or accurate, or relevant given the civic obligation broadcasters and publishers have to the communities they ostensibly serve. It simply is, and it helps to explain why today we have so little independent, critical reporting and why instead we are mostly fed a steady diet of pap from morning to night.

That seismic date in our history, Sept. 11, 2001, enabled those in power to strengthen the prerogatives of the Presidency in the name of national security, giving rise to a new politics of fear which has severely diminished what the public can know about its government. The Bush administration came to power already overtly hostile to openness and the public's right to know. In its first months, for example, it unsuccessfully attempted to ensconce George W. Bush's gubernatorial documents in his father's presidential library, outside the state's sunshine disclosure laws. The White House has tenaciously and more successfully kept from the American people information about public policy meetings on public property between energy company executives and top federal officials. A respected reporter's home telephone records were secretly seized in order to ascertain his next story and his confidential sources.

Since 9/11, the country has seen a historic, regressive shift in public accountability. Open-records laws nationwide have been rolled back more than 300 times-all in the name of national security. For the first time in U.S. history, the personal papers of past presidents now may only be released with White House approval. A Justice Department "leak" investigation of the White House regarding an Iraq war-related news story has degenerated into a full-fledged witch-hunt against the news media and the First Amendment, with reporters facing imprisonment if they don't reveal their sources.

I think the piece is a good overview for reference purposes and background.