Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Enemies of freedom

Why liberty demands an adversarial press

Although I was not pleased by the results of the 2000 presidential election, I think we can at least be thankful that we aren’t now faced with what might have emerged had it gone the other way: President Joe Lieberman.

Sen. Joe Lieberman: poster child for neofascism

Sen. Joe Lieberman: poster child for neofascism?
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For all the official blather about the US’ “robust free press,” the reaction of Lieberman and other cryptototalitarians in positions of authority to WikiLeaks and particularly to its release of the diplomatic cables now reddening so many faces among the powerful is less consistent with such a tradition than with the overt censorship prevalent in China and Saudi Arabia. This is chilling because it tells us precisely how supine a media, how sycophantic a press corps, our government has come to expect.

As with Amazon.com, US mass media are all owned by gigantic corporations that maintain a professional cordiality with government officials in order to retain access to them. This has now been taken so far that prominent journalists have been caught passing on known falsehoods from the White House, essentially copying government press releases directly onto the front pages of respected newspapers, and thereby passing on spin in lieu of news; in consequence, we now have a new verb: to "Judith Miller," referring to this practice.

If we would keep our government honest, we need exactly what Lieberman and company most loathe: an adversarial press that assumes that government pronouncements and quotes from “senior administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity” are designed to persuade rather than to inform. Such a press would never merely take the word of someone “important”; it would investigate, and, if the someone turned out to be wrong, or lying, it would disclose that fact. Had this been done in 2003, we might not now be mired in Iraq.

This is where WikiLeaks comes in: Its role is to fill the adversarial “watchdog” role that the mainstream media have abdicated.

Where once there was a Washington Post that cracked a crime and revealed a scandal to end the hubristic abuses of the Nixon administration, and a New York Times that published Daniel Ellsberg’s leaked Pentagon Papers to help end an immoral and unwinnable war in Vietnam, we have today a New York Times that has lent itself through Judith Miller’s front-page repackaging of talking points to the Bush administration’s efforts to justify an immoral and unwinnable war in Iraq, and a Washington Post that has editorialized for the destruction of WikiLeaks. And most other major media outlets have been as bad or worse.

In short: At the highest levels of power and prestige, there is no free press in the United States.

To its credit, the New York Times is now printing the latest releases from WikiLeaks, and so are a few other media outlets. But WikiLeaks would not be necessary had these media been acting as watchdogs on the government rather than lapdogs for it.

Originally published as a review of a salon.com article on Joseph Lieberman’s quest
to silence WikiLeaks.

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