It was good to see reports in the national media, including the New York Times and my own local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, on an effort by the town council in Brattleboro, VT, to have the town’s district attorney draw up a war crimes indictment against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
A few weeks ago, three members of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all senior, respected members of Congress, wrote an op-ed calling for an immediate start of hearings into possible impeachable crimes against the Constitution by Cheney. All of the major publications to which they offered this important article (which reported on their plans to call on the Judiciary Committee to act), including the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer and other leading publications—all of them—turned it down.
Wexler went one further, setting up a website on which people could sign their names calling for a start to impeachment hearings. In one week, over 100,000 had signed it (there are 160,000 signatures now).
So far, there has been no news report in the corporate media about this campaign. Nor does that broader impeachment movement, which has seen over 100 towns and cities across the country, as well as the Vermont state senate, pass resolutions calling for impeachment, rate much or any coverage in print or in the electronic news media.
Yet editors do clearly know they are playing dirty games with us. When readers made a concerted effort to hold editors to a professional standard, as many did in Miami and Philadelphia, deluging editors with protests over the rejection of the Wexler/Gutierrez/Baldwin opinion article, the Herald and the Inquirer both relented and ran it.
Only the Miami Herald, however, ran a news story about the impeachment drive as well as the opinion piece (the Miami Herald, which actually is in Wexler’s congressional district, chopped his column down significantly). The Inquirer just ran the editorial, with no news report.
How to explain this seeming dichotomy, in which a small town’s quixotic attempt to indict a president on war crimes is news, while a serious national campaign to initiate impeachment proceedings in the House in accordance with the steps laid out in the Constitution in response to clear abuses of power by the current administration is not?
I would guess that editors feel that the Brattleboro city council effort is a kind of “man bites dog” story—offbeat enough to warrant publication as a curiosity. The impeachment campaign story, though, which gets at a fundamental crisis in governance that raises questions about whether our entire political system has been undermined by powerful forces bent on undoing the Constitution, is simply much too serious a story to be allowed a public airing.
Several decades ago, when I still toiled as a producer of surplus value in the vineyards of the corporate media (as chief of the county government bureau of the Los Angeles Daily News), I had occasion to write what was called an “enterprise journalism” piece about how much of the Los Angeles County workers’ pension fund was invested in companies that were on the apartheid boycott list—an issue at the time because at that moment students in the UC system were occupying campus buildings across the state to protest similar holdings by their colleges’ endowment funds. My editor spiked the piece. When I asked why, he initially told me he wanted, instead of an article that led with the facts, a “reaction” lead, featuring a local county legislator complaining about the investments. In other words, he was afraid of having the newspaper appear to be crusading on the issue, and wanted it to appear instead as if the story had been generated not by an enterprising reporter but by an irate politician—in this case Kenny Hahn, a white politician who represented the largely African-American Watts area of the county. Grudgingly, I went to Hahn’s office, elicited the requisite outraged quote, and wrote the new lead. The next day, there was still no story in the paper. Inquiring again to find out what happened, I was told by the story was “too anti-business.” It simply would not run, regardless of how it was written. The editors, who worked for a big chain, the Chicago Tribune Company, had lost the courage to be real journalists.
The experience convinced me that corporate journalism was a job for whores, and I left to work as a freelancer, where at least one gets to chose one’s pimps.
We now see the results, most recently in the censoring of the impeachment story (not to mention the shameful parroting of the administration line on how the “surge” is “working” in Iraq).
It lifts one’s spirits to see that a concerted campaign to awaken some sense of shame among editors in those corporate media whorehouses can have an effect, as it did at the Miami Herald and the Philadelphia Inquirer this month, but no one should be fooled by such isolated successes. For the most part, we are being lied to and “protected” from the truth in so many ways that no media campaign, however robust, short perhaps of a mass boycott, could force these compromised companies to let the truth out.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based investigative journalist and columnist. His latest book, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net