I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Journalists as groupies

by Glenn Greenwald

One of the few redeeming features of Chris Matthews is that he lacks the normal faculties of self-restraint which most journalists possess. As a result, he frequently says things which most of them would know better than to admit, but which nonetheless reveal how so many of them think.

Like most journalists this week, Matthews "reported" on the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by expressing breathless admiration for the President and his heroic conquest. But Matthews, as he so often does, went much further. On his show on Thursday, he announced that we would learn the true implications of the death of Zarqawi by listening to Matthews' interview with James Jeffrey, the senior advisor to Condoleezza Rice. For the next ten minutes, Jeffrey dutifully recited the administration's talking points -- Zarqawi's death was a profound blow to Al-Qaeda, a vital step for freedom, a likely turning point in the war, etc. Matthews challenged nothing and excitedly agreed with virtually everything Jeffrey said. All of that is just garden-variety journalistic meekness, and not really worth noting.

But then, at the end of the interview, Matthews said this:

MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you very much. James Jeffrey, assistant to Condoleezza Rice. We‘re huge fans—bring her back with you next time.

For a variety of reasons, I watch cable news shows very rarely, so perhaps I'm finding a relatively common event to be remarkable. But the idea that a "journalist" would openly declare himself to be a "huge fan" of particular administration officials is unbelievable by any measure. How can Chris Matthews possibly report in any meaningful way on the actions of people of whom he is a "huge fan"? That's just obvious. That this sort of sentiment can be openly expressed on a major news network and not even be noticed is a very potent indication of the state of journalism today.

Journalists, of course, are supposed to be the opposite of "fans" of political leaders. They are intended to be watchdogs over them, skeptical of their statements, and eager to expose their ineptitude and corruption. The principal reason the Bush administration has been able to get away with their extremist and law-breaking actions is because journalists became "huge fans" of the President and his top aides in the wake of 9/11 and most have never given up their adolescent adoration. Matthews' comment is an excellent reminder of the true sentiments of most national journalists.

I had the opportunity this weekend to speak with Eric Boehlert at YearlyKos about the provocative title and cover of his book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, the cover of which shows a picture of President Bush's dog walking behind him. Eric recounted that several people had said that they thought the title and cover were too inflammatory, but that he nonetheless insisted on it because it accurately reflects the state of national journalism as he sees it. As one listens to Chris Matthews proclaim himself on MSNBC to be a "huge fan" of administration officials, who could contest Boehlert's view?

Chris Matthews is less repressed and less restrained than most of his fellow national journalists, which is what causes him unwittingly to admit things which they work hard to conceal. But while such undignified candor might be rare among most national journalists, there is nothing unusual about the sentiment Matthews expressed. Journalists have long been the biggest fans of the President. Although the administration's recent failures and unpopularity have caused them to temper their reverence, the Zarqawi killing this week, and the journalistic veneration which it triggered, made clear that this journalism fan club has not gone anywhere.


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