After highlighting one of his quotes on Tuesday night, I didn't write any more about Scott McClellan and the furor over his memoirs yesterday. Although the news was initially titilating because of the source of the criticism of Iraq, Karl Rove and the so-called "liberal media," the actual slams themselves were spectacularily un-new. The failure of journalism in the run-up to the war, for example, has been the subject of several excellent books, including this one and this one.
Now, however, it seems that McClellan's slam on the timidity of the White House press corps has shaken something loose, although it's still getting buried in the more predictable, and less interesting, parade of current and former Bush aides and allies blasting the former press secretary.
This probably won't lead the evening news, especially not on ABC, But it should. This is Jessica Yellin, (shown at top) who was a reporter for MSNBC during the pre-war run-up (later ABC News from 2003 to 2007 -- see "UPDATE" at bottom) , talking last night on her new employer, CNN:
"The press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war presented in way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president's high approval ratings," Yellin said.
"And my own experience at the White House was that the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives--and I was not at this network at the time--but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president, I think over time...."
But then a shocked Cooper jumped in, asking, "You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?"
"Not in that exact.... They wouldn't say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces," Yellin said. "They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical, and try to put on pieces that were more positive. Yes, that was my experience."
NBC's Brian Williams also hinted at a time he called "extraordinary":
In Katrina the evidence was right next to us. Sadly we saw fellow Americans, in some cases, floating past, face down. We knew what had just happened. We weren't allowed to that kind of proximity with the weapons inspectors. I was in Kuwait for the build up of the war and yes we heard from the Pentagon, on my cell phone, the minute they heard us report something that they didn't like. The tone of that time was quite extraordinary.
These are stunning revelations -- they cut to the core of how a corporate media, even with all the freedom of press this country affords through the First Amendment, can throw the solemn responsibilities that come hand-in-hand with those rights down the toilet in chasing higher ratings, profits and good favor with government regulators. When the president doesn't live up to his Constitutional obligations, he can be impeached. Not so the media.
How ironic that the media is our ultimate watchdog, because we already know the media's response to one of the biggest scandals of the decade. Nothing -- because the scandal is about itself. Earlier this year, the New York Times did something highly admirable and printed an expose revealing the hidden ties between the Pentagon and the supposedly neutral military analysts, and how those connections helped drive public opinion before invading Iraq. The response? The next story about this on NBC, ABC or CBS -- which normally take their cues from the front page of the New York Times -- will be the first.
The brief flurry of comments from Yellin, Williams and a few others are likely all that you're going to see on the matter. For a hard-hitting takedown on the flaws of "the liberal media," you need to go a blog like Glenn Greenwald's place.
Amazing. We've spent 232 years trying to perfect a system where the government is not above the law, and it's the media that's untouchable. Oh sure, Congress can have some hearings about media consolidation -- which would probably be as successful as its hearings on steroids -- and they should look into the issues there, but that wouldn't cut to the core of the problem. Nor does anyone want too much government meddling in journalism, anyway -- isn't that how this problem got started in the first place? We have a Bill of Rights to keep people from preventing journalists from doing their job, but nothing can force us to do our jobs when we won't.
It does help that the Internet and blogs are here as a kind of a counterbalance to big media, but the reality is that for every blog reader you know, there's still two or three people out there getting their information from Charlie Gibson, bracketed by arthritis medicine ads. It's just hard to reach those folks any other way.
Who will expose the mass manipulation of the American people in the early 2000s?
And then it will be too late.
UPDATE: Some earlier stories suggested that Yellin was referring to ABC News, but apparently her remarks pertain more to MSNBC and she'll be clarifying shortly on her own blog -- I'll link it when that happens.