Saturday, July 7, 2007

When Journalists Do Their Jobs

Imagine a world, for just a moment, in which journalists actually do their jobs. Imagine a nation where not 70% or 60% or 40%, but 0% of Americans ever believed that Saddam and Osama were partners in conspiracy making nuclear weapons in a cave; imagine a world where the carnage in Darfur trumps Anna Nicole's rotting corpse and Paris' prison; where Coulter is a skeletal nobody on the Internet on a site made in Netscape Composer 4, whose monthly visitors would all fit comfortably into a toilet stall. Imagine a media whose guiding principle is the search for truth; whose primary instruments are questions and energy; whose representatives are defined by their willingness to search the past and the dark corners of power, and not stop until truth emerges, naked and blinking under the light of journalistic effort.

This week, I found evidence of three such seekers. There are more of them out there, working every day. You'll rarely see them on TV, and you'll have to go to the inner sections of the newspaper or the less-trafficked corners of the Internet to find them. But they are out there. To find them, you just have to be like them and dig a little.

Bob Herbert is probably the most responsible, grittiest journalist in New York City. He's an op-ed writer, fer Chrissake, and he does more shoe-leather investigative journalism in a week than the combination of the rest of the mainstream media does in a year. This week, he effectively exposed the rankest, foulest corruption imaginable within the NYC Police Dept., and presented the story and his evidence. Then he challenged Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly to get busy and fix the department's rotten members, and take the shields off the racists and perverts in the NYPD.

Ladies and gentlemen, you can scour every newsroom in the country and you won't find a journalist more worthy of the name than Bob Herbert. If you don't subscribe to Times Select yet, he's worth the annual $50 all by himself.

Eric Alterman is a different kind of journalist. He's a blogger with an academic pedigree and a talent for research and writing that has made his four books all bestsellers. He's researching another one now, and found this old speech from George McGovern—he recommends that you replace the word "Vietnam" with "Iraq," and the number 50,000 with 3,500 and you'll get the idea of how important it is for us to read this now:

Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land -- young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes.

There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes.

And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.

So before we vote, let us ponder the admonition of Edmund Burke, the great parliamentarian of an earlier day: "A contentious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood."

Finally, there's the man in that video, Keith Olbermann, who on national television called for the resignations of Bush and Cheney. How does this guy keep his job, you ask? Olbermann's show is one of the top-rated newscasts on cable; he keeps fat advertising dollars flowing into MSNBC's bank account, that's how. But he manages that by actually doing his job, which is to scratch the surface of power with a razor-honed pickaxe. Olbermann knows that if you truly, as the old saying goes, comfort the afflicted with an unbending search for truth, then the comfortable who may be afflicted by that search will pay anyway.

None of these guys is some socialist crazy trying to pull down the pillars of American government, or a shrill Medusa psychotic like Coulter; nor is any of them some P.T. Barnum showman like Bill O'Reilly. Nope, they're just three journalists, trying to do their jobs as well as they can.

Like I said, there are more of them, and all we have to do to honor them is to find them, and listen, regularly and often.

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