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.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What happened to the media's love of sex scandals?

(updated below - and again)

I have no idea whether Porter Goss is involved at all in the Duke Cunningham/prostitution corruption scandal, and I also have no idea whether that had anything to do with his highly unusual, unexpected and abrupt resignation. And neither does the national media know one way or the other if it does. Nonetheless, as Laura Rozen points out in an excellent post, the media (consistent with its tragically typical practice) has reported Goss' resignation primarily by mindlessly and uncritically passing on the White House's (highly suspect) version of what happened as though it is unchallengeable fact:

So, the verdict is in. According to the WP, the NYT, the LAT, Time, etc. Goss was forced out yesterday after months of tension between him and John Negroponte over the CIA's reduced turf, and that President Bush lost confidence in Goss "almost from the beginning" (WP).

As Laura points out, Goss appeared this entire time to be an administration loyalist, and there was nary a peep of complaint from administration supporters about him. Quite the contrary; especially with his aggressive obsession with weeding out whistle-blowers (as opposed to enhancing our intelligence capabilities), he was the toast of the hardest-core Bush followers. This notion that is now being peddled that he was somehow on the outs from the beginning and that his resignation was therefore just some sort of inevitable outcome of those tensions is very difficult to believe. But the White House says it is so, and so, the national media -- as usual -- recites it as fact, even though they know there are multiple other possibilities, some of which are quite tawdry and embarrassing, as to why Goss might have resigned.

I was in a bookstore this morning and sitting on top of a row of books was what appeared to be a used copy of a book entitled The Starr Report -- along with Commentary from the Staff of The Washington Post. I picked it up and opened it to a random page, and the first passage I saw was a two-paragraph, higly clinical description of how Monica Lewinksy arrived at the White House at some exact time on some date, saw President Clinton, told him that she had smoked her first cigar and gave him one as a present, and then proceeded to perform oral sex on him. But he didn't ejaculate, because, he told her, he did not know her well enough yet. She then left. That was the entire passage. I put the book down after reading that.

Things of that nature -- Henry Cisneros' mistress, Vince Foster's murder, Bill Clinton's oral sex practices -- were the crux of our "national news" for years during the Clinton administration. The national media reveled in it. They couldn't get enough of it. They were simultaneously titillated by it and excited at the opportunity to show how morally offended they were by all of it. The filthmonger Matt Drudge, along with sewer elves like George Conway, his then-girlfriend Laura Ingraham, and his current wife Kellyanne Conway -- complete with the Matt-George online AOL chats about penile spots and other pressing matters -- were the ones driving the news; they were the journalistic standard-bearers.

Mysteriously, all of that has come to a startling halt under the Bush administration. Republicans under this administration have been caught up in all sorts of scurrilous and embarrassing scandals, as Digby partially chronicles here and here. Those scandals have received little attention, and the media still treats this administration as though they are beacons of moral rectitude.

Indeed, the media thinks this administration deserves such intense respect that criticisms of the President are deemed rude and cowardly, and any stories that are too dirty and humiliating should, out of a sense of basic decorum and decency, be ignored. Then again, 9/11 changed everything, we are a Nation at War, and anything that harms the Commander-in-Chief harms the United States of America and helps Our Enemies. So the drastic changes in journalistic practices all make perfect sense.

UPDATE: This new article from CNN is a perfect example of this journalistic failure. Amazingly, the article quotes Goss himself as describing his resignation as "just one of those mysteries," but CNN then proceeds to report -- based exclusively on anonymous administration sources -- that there is nothing mysterious about the resignation at all. It is merely exactly what the White House said - a personnel change brought about by bureaucratic infighting.

Thus, we are told things like this:

Intelligence sources have told CNN that Goss' resignation on Friday was triggered by differences with National Intelligence Director John Negroponte over plans to move staff, including analysts from the CIA's counterterrorism center, to other intelligence agencies.

And this:

A senior administration official said Goss' resignation was based on a "mutual understanding" between Bush, Goss and Negroponte.

"When you ask somebody to do very difficult things during a period of transition, it often makes sense to hand off the reins to somebody else to take the agency forward," the senior administration official said.

Why is CNN allowing "senior administration officials" to pass along the official White House version of events while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity? All that does is enable the White House to use CNN as a venue to voice its propaganda while casting the appearance that it is the by-product of investigative journalism and therefore bestowed with credibility (as in: "CNN learned this from its secret leaking sources so it must be true"). The whole article does nothing but repeat White House spin as though it is established fact, relying exclusively on White House sources to do so, and never once even suggests, let alone details, that there are other possibilities to explain the resignation aside from the one the White House is giving.

By definition, that is not journalism. That is stenography. And the affinity which our national media has for the latter, and their equally intense aversion to the former, is so pervasive that it is hard to hold out hope that this will change.

UPDATE II: Some research undertaken by Kevin Drum casts further substantial doubt about the White House's explanation that Goss' resignation was due to a turf war with John Negraponte.

For those in the Comments section who misunderstood the point of this post, allow me to make it again. The point is not that we know that Goss' resignation was due to a connection to the Cunningham scandal rather than because of the turf war claimed by the White House. The point is precisely that the media does not know why Goss resigned, and therefore should not be reporting the White House's explanation as though it is clearly true, particuarly given that the media knows there are other possibilities, which they are keeping from their readers/viewers.

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