Bob, Judy and a broken camel: A moment in journalism

I started dating American media in the fall of 2003. We became serious in early 2004 as she started kibitzing about the lack of restraint shown by a former Democratic governor and presidential candidate who, she said, blew up in front of an Iowa crowd — yelling as if the whole world had fallen in a deep slumber and needed to be roused to take up arms against imminent danger.

It was her passion for moments devout of meaning — such as the scream that deafened Iowans — that hooked me. After more than a year of being suffocated by her presence, I find myself more neurotic than a Woody Allen character and more forgiving than a rock star’s significant other. She has disappointed me, cheated on me, and lied to me; all while promising to look out for my best interest as we navigated the twists and turns of the American reality.

Now, a good editor would tell me that the metaphor of media as a lover needs to serve a purpose and further the cause of the article. But in a world of journalism where too many people believe there is always a right answer, I’ll politely dissent from the good editor on this occasion.

Bob Woodward is the white Bedouin that broke my camel’s back. He just had to show off — he did handstands on the hump, did “look mommy, no hands” bits with his eyes closed, and rode aggressively. My camel is a stand in for the patience I have for my lover, the American media.

When Woodward revealed he learned about the CIA agent Valerie Plame before everyone else, I wanted to call the Washington Post and tell them, politely, to throw my subscription information in the same thrash bin they threw their credibility into. As an idealistic reader, I still believe in the notion that the media should be god damn glad I exist. Because if I didn’t exist, neither would they! I am their boss, their main reason for being and they are “my spies” in the corridors of power.

As someone employed by the Washington Post (the newspaper I subscribe to), Bob should worry about what I need to know, and about what he needs to tell me so I have all the elements to make informed decisions. I know it’s advertising and not me that pays his salary, but that’s the way the system has always worked. Advertising pays Bob to serve me.

Bob sits gleefully up on top of a lot of problems facing journalism (read this nice apocalyptic Q&A on the topic by the AP). Forget for a second the debates about the death of newspapers (here is one more), the rise of citizen-journalism (and the visuals citizens produce), and the successful business model of a Web-driven media. Journalists, as a wise man said recently (I promised confidentiality to this anonymous source) risk of becoming obsolete. There might not be a business to save if the practitioners themselves become irrelevant.

We have been so caught up in saving journalism that we forgot to save the crew. Not only are we on a sinking ship, we’re on a sinking ship with a crew running amok. Judy Miller promised to identify “Scooter” Libby as a “former Hill staffer,” but claims she would have never used it. She only wanted to hear the information. Under that logic, she would have accepted to identify Libby as “Sandman,” “Mickey Mouse’s roadie,” or “a wrestler turned sober gym teacher.”

Why do I, the poor reader care about this information-gathering game? I’m probably stuck in an outhouse in Kansas trying to decipher the intellectual intricacies of Time magazine trying to serve me what I want (or what they think I want): desperate housewives, the latest in God and top 25 home-made weapons to fight avian flu! I volunteer to write the latter.

Judy works for me, doesn’t she? I should trust her and plug her site at the same time. After all, she spent 85 days in jail for a source whose name she forgot. That’s how dedicated these reporters are — they will go to jail for people they don’t know!

Journalists — mostly the East Coast celebrities that staff behemoths like the Post or the Times –forgot they are working for the reader. Len Downie has said that Woodward’s mistake was not keeping readers in the dark, but keeping the editor in the dark. An editor who in turn would probably have made the same decision: keep readers in the dark. After all, there are so many things, Downie said, that we don’t publish.

Downie suggests he knows what’s best for me, but won’t ask if I agree with him or not. Me, the reader doesn’t matter anymore. Haven’t I understood how hard it must be down there in Washington? Haven’t I understood that my state-school educated behind should feel privileged to be protected by martyrs of the first-amendment like Judy, makers of history like Bob, or horrible spellers like Matt Cooper?

I guess I can’t find the word to express my gratitude. I am privileged to have an affair with such a lover, one that is willing to protect me from the noise that would — god forbid — make a better citizen. After all, why do I even need to be a better citizen as long as Survivor is still running, Martha Stewart is still cooking and 50 Cent keeps getting rich or dies tryin’?

One Response to “Bob, Judy and a broken camel: A moment in journalism”

  1. Wow. Didn’t know about the Bob Woodward thing until reading this. That really pisses me off.

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