The White House Correspondents’ Association must cancel its April 21 dinner if it’s serious about atoning for its complicity in the American tragedy in Iraq. Guest-of-honor George W. Bush does not deserve such moral support as this dinner bestows upon him. And our democracy can’t survive the media-government cronyism that this event signifies.
It’s been increasingly disheartening to observe the country’s richest journalists, the ones closest to centers of power, cavorting gleefully with Bush and his minions at this annual black-tie event. In the wake of the media’s capitulation to Bush’s lawless policies, this dinner every year looks more like a Skull and Bones ritual of elitist bonding than harmless conviviality at a roasting of stuffed shirts.
So Bush is still the U.S. media’s overlord. Who cares if he and many members of his administration end up in jail for war crimes? Laughing uproariously at the master’s jokes at a drunken soiree is a pleasant enough way to ritualize subservience. Hail to the Chieftain! All line up for this year’s laying on of the armored glove, a discipline to be sensually administered under cover of Rich Little’s comic impersonations.
The only hitch is this: During the breathless exhibitionism of this dinner, at the very pitch of its jocularity, tens of thousands of Iraqis are recoiling in the overwhelming pain of their U.S.-induced plight. A little cosmic imagination might see a few smoldering gods and goddesses building up a head of wrath, ready to scorch us with an impersonation of Pompeii.
Let’s get personal and address the association’s members directly. Will history decide that you’ve been collaborators with an illegitimate and criminal regime? Could such a judgment by the people be rendered long before you die? Are you blind to your fraternization? Please report back to us honestly concerning your thoughts and (especially) your feelings about attending next month’s laugh-fest. Presumably, you’re answerable to us under the provision in the U.S. Constitution that enshrines freedom of the press. If you think not, we’ll know from your silence.
Media correspondents can be forgiven their lack of cosmic imagination. It’s hard enough to write the first draft of history under the grind of daily deadlines. But aren’t you supposed to help shape our historic destiny, rather than producing a Hollywood script for “Apocalypse Now II”?
Several recent books have chronicled your failing performance, including “Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush,” by Erik Boehlert and “Watchdogs of Democracy?” by veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas. The reasons these authors give for your abdication of responsibility include self-censorship to protect sources, fear of being denied access to sources, passive support for the belief systems of the powerful, fear of your corporate masters, fear of being called unpatriotic, and laziness. A prime suspect for your dereliction of duty has to be, in Boehlert’s words, your “shrieking timidity.”
Journalist Gilbert Cranberg wrote recently in the Neiman Foundation’s online newsletter that the media have traditionally been shamefully silent at times of national stress, as when Japanese-Americans were incarcerated in the 1940s, when Joe McCarthy violated the constitutional rights of Americans in the 1950s, and when the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in the 1960s raised the ante in Vietnam. As Cranberg notes, the press has “an underlying and ongoing reluctance to dissent from authority and prevailing opinion when emotions run high, especially on matters of war and peace, when the country most needs a questioning and vigorous press.”
The country’s current crisis may be worse than any of the above. It’s reasonable to say that our militaristic misadventures have produced a nightmare of depravity and horror. Congressman Charles B. Rangel of New York says the immorality of the war “goes even beyond the brutality of slavery and the lynchings.” When at an emotional level we assimilate the extent of this evil, we feel whatever goodness we possess imploring us to rise against it. However, if we see this evil and turn our back on it, our cowardice is apparent even to ourselves. Obviously, some journalists cannot face this level of truth.
White House correspondent—you can redeem yourself. You have to become less fearful, which means you have to grow as a person. You learn to believe more in your authority as our representative, which requires that you become more established in your own individual authority. Canceling the April 21 dinner would be an expression of your autonomy and independence.
Go ahead and make yourselves more unpopular with this administration—and thereby more popular with us. It would be crass to say you’re either with us or against us. Let’s just say that your passionate belief in (and heroic support of) the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights would be greatly appreciated.