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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, February 11, 2007

Terry Moran, Michael Gordon and The Mark Halperin Syndrome

(updated below)

One of the critical issues which that disgraceful Michael Gordon article in yesterday's New York Times raises is the extent to which so many national journalists are so eager to prove to right-wing fanatics that they are sympathetic to their agenda. Years of being attacked by the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys and Bill O'Reillys as being part of the dreaded "liberal media" has created an obsequious need among many journalists to curry favor -- through reporting which echoes right-wing narratives and/or by attacking the "liberal bias" of their fellow journalists -- all in order to avoid being criticized by the right-wing noise machine. That is the defining symptom of The Mark Halperin Syndrome.

Within hours of publication of Gordon's article in the Times yesterday, there was (and still is) an item on the Drudge Report in screaming red ink that reads: "Deadliest Bombs in Iraq 'made in Iran,'" with a link to the NYT article. War-on-Iran fanatics immediately -- and very predictably -- seized on Gordon's article as proof of the allegedly grave threat Iran poses. The Times published a transparently one-sided, journalistically irresponsible article with no effect -- and seemingly no purpose -- other than to fuel the pro-Bush right's hunger for war with Iran.

The most illustrative case of the Mark Halperin Syndrome -- whereby journalists seek to please the most radical extremists on the right -- is, of course, Halperin's own pleas on Hugh Hewitt's radio show for Hewitt to recognize that Halperin shares most of the Right's views. But Halperin's ABC News colleague, Terry Moran -- former White House correspondent and current Nightline host -- is a virtual carbon copy of Halperin.

Moran revealed himself this week to be all but an appendage of the right-wing blogosphere by mindlessly echoing their efforts to fuel the frivolous Edwards "controversy." But none of that is new. In May, 2005, Moran was also interviewed by Hewitt, and just as desperately as Halperin did, Moran sought Hewitt's approval by lending credence to the most baseless and extreme right-wing smears against journalists. This was one exchange they had:

HH: My brother called me a journalist once during a conversation about this blog. I was offended. That is a general impression among the American military about the media, Terry. Where does that come from?

TM: It comes from, I think, a huge gulf of misunderstanding, for which I lay plenty of blame on the media itself. There is, Hugh, I agree with you, a deep anti-military bias in the media. One that begins from the premise that the military must be lying, and that American projection of power around the world must be wrong. I think that that is a hangover from Vietnam, and I think it's very dangerous.

Moran's depiction of his own profession as "deep[ly] anti-military" and reflexively opposed to American military force is so persuasive. After all, if there is one lesson that we learned in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, it is that the American media is so very, very hostile to the military and reflexively opposed to all assertions of U.S. military force.

That was why they unquestioningly printed on their front pages and recited on their news broadcasts every single claim that emanated from the Pentagon, and it is also why they cheered on as loudly and enthusiastically as anyone else the President's glorious march to war. How eager must Moran be to win the Right's approval if -- in 2005 -- he could make the transparently ludicrous claim that his fellow journalists hate the military and hate the use of U.S. military force?

Manifestly, Moran -- just like Halperin -- is eager to show that he is pro-military and was desperate to convince Hewitt that he is not one of those dirty anti-American subversive liberals. To achieve that goal, Moran paraded in front of Hewitt and smeared his fellow journalists as being "deep[ly] anti-military" and claimed that they have a "dangerous" hostility to "American projection of power around the world." Identically, Halperin begged Hewitt not to"lump [him] in with people in [his] business who are liberally biased and don’t seem to care about it."

It stands to reason that this glaring need of Moran's to please the Hugh Hewitts of the world and to distinguish himself from the leftist, military-hating radicals who dominate the American media will affect the news coverage choices he makes. Echoing the most strident and biased scandal-mongering of the right-wing blogosphere -- as Moran did this week -- is consistent with that personal agenda. By joining in the right-wing lynch mob this week (Does John Edwards Condone Hate Speech?), Moran got what he obviously craves -- a pat on the head from Michelle Malkin and universal praise from the right-wing fanatics driving that story.

In the same interview, Hewitt also asked Moran if he reads blogs, and Moran immediately declared: "I always start out at Instapundit." I bet he does. Next came: "I take a look at LGF." He then tacked on Daily Kos and Josh Marshall as blogs he "looks at," and then proudly added: "My brother has a blog, Right Wing Nut House." Most revealing of all was this exchange:

HH: What's your guess about the percentage of the White House Press Corps that voted for Kerry?

TM: Oh, very high. Very, very high. . . .

HH: Who'd you vote for?

TM: Well, that's a secret ballot, isn't it?

HH: Well, it is. I'm just asking, though.

TM: I'd prefer not to answer that.

HH: I know you would, but...

TM: It might surprise you, but I'd prefer not to.

So, after first assuring Hewitt that the vast majority of White House journalists were voting for Kerry, Moran coyly slips in that while he won't expressly say for whom he voted, "it might surprise you." Gee, I really wonder what he was trying to convey to Hewitt with that answer? (The Hewitt interview was nothing new; Ron Brynaert previously examined why Moran was long the Bush administration's most favored White House correspondent, with a history of questions that made Jeff Gannon look like a tough White House interrogator).

What Moran did with Hewitt is exactly the same thing Halperin did -- Halperin also refused to expressly say whether he was a conservative or not, but kept sending transparent signals that, by design, left no doubt (Halperin: "Acknowledging the liberal bias that exists in the Old Media -- as John Harris and I do in The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 doesn't necessarily prove that I am not liberal, but I would think you would be open to giving me the benefit of the doubt" and "As for your repeated insistence that you could reach no other conclusion but one that says that I am 'very liberal,' I'm sure if you think it over, you will reconsider").

The influence of The Mark Halperin Syndrome on our media cannot be overstated. There is a pervasive desire on the part of many national journalists to prove to the right-wing noise machine that they are not like their horrible, leftist, America-hating, anti-military journalistic colleagues which the Right has so successfully demonized.

That syndrome was unquestionably a significant factor influencing the pre-Iraq-war parade of "liberal" pundits and journalists putting on such a public display of how serious and thoughtful and patriotic and pro-military they were by lending support to the President's war claims, or -- as in the case of the Joe Kleins -- suppressing their reservations due to a fear of being depicted as one of the anti-military subversives in the press (and, of course, some of them simply subscribe to the neoconservative ideological agenda).

Most troublingly, one sees this same dynamic over and over -- not quite as universally but still pervasively -- when it comes to Iran. The Michael Gordon article from yesterday is so alarming because it stems from this same dangerous and sickly dynamic -- journalists eager to prove to Rush Limbaugh and Hugh Hewitt and Bill Kristol that they are on the Right Side by mindlessly accepting any claims from the military and refusing to examine the urgent questions raised by our increasingly war-seeking posture towards Iran -- such as who are the people pushing for this war, how long have they advocated it, what are their motives, and why are war-preventing measures, such as diplomacy, being so vigilantly avoided?

Those are questions which would be asked only by those journalists plagued by -- to use Terry Moran's words -- "a deep anti-military bias" and the "dangerous" belief "that American projection of power around the world must be wrong." By contrast, The Mark Halperins and Terry Morans and Michael Gordons show what good, patriotic boys and girls they are by dutifully passing along what they are told by the Military and the President and the Government without questioning any of it.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reports today: "The U.S. military has detected a significant increase in the number of sophisticated roadside bombs in Iraq and believes that orders to send components for them came from the 'highest levels' of the Iranian government, a senior intelligence officer said Sunday."

I don't understand the basis for the somewhat widespread doubt about the fact that the administration is seeking military confrontation with Iran. That seems beyond dispute at this point, and a significant factor determining the outcome of those efforts will be how the American press reports on the claims about Iran coming from the administration and its war-hungry allies.

UPDATE II: Cernig documents the fundamental deficiencies in the "case" made by an anonymous military official today that the Iranian government, "at the highest levels," is ordering that Shiite militias be supplied with sophisticated weaponry for use against U.S. forces.

Also, what possible justification is there for according anonymity to the Bush officials who are making these claims? The Associated Press report says that the official "brief[ed] reporters on condition (sic) that he not be further identified." That is a "condition" that the media ought not accept. These claims are not from whistle blowers or ones which otherwise require anonymity. They are nothing more than the official assertions of the Bush administration to justify its antagonistic posture towards Iran.

There is no simply justification for printing articles like this (a) that grant anonymity to the officials disseminating official government claims and (b) without including the ample evidence undermining those claims. Have the media learned absolutely nothing from Iraq? It really seems that way.

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