For the past week, the media has been obsessing over one reporter who, due to her refusal to give up one confidential source, has been sent to jail for one week. Over and over we've been hearing the same thing:...
For the past week, the media has been obsessing over one reporter who, due to her refusal to give up one confidential source, has been sent to jail for one week. Over and over we've been hearing the same thing: "Judith miller sent to jail!" "Freedom of the press gone!" "The end of independent journalism is upon us!" "Send the kinds home from school!" "Lower the flags to half mast!"
Unfortunately, the media is stuck in the wrong story. Or rather, they have been distracted by one detail of a much, much larger story.
This larger story is so big that it worries the entire country--everyone who watches the news and reads the newspaper and listens to the radio and reads the Internet. We are all biting our nails, waiting for the media to start focusing on the big story instead of the sideshow about a reporter forced to spend one week in prison for standing up for her principles.
Here is the larger story as it might appear in a newspaper:
WHITE HOUSE BREAKS LAW TO SILENCE POLITICAL OPPONENT
by Jeffrey Feldman
Washington, July 7 - In a scandal reminiscent of the Watergate break-in that led to the resignation of President Nixon, it has come to light that a Bush White House official broke the law to silence a political opponent who spoke out against the invasion of Iraq. The incident, in which a White House official gave top secret U.S. intelligence to a reporter, took place in mid-2003 or just prior to President Bush's re-election. It has not been confirmed who committed this crime against the American people. Many signs point to special White House adviser Karl Rove, who has just been directed by his lawyers to remain silent on the matter. As this scandal unfolds, Americans have begun to ask if President Bush himself was involved. Did the President break the law? Americans wait anxiously for answers.
I can understand why the White House might want the American public to be talking about Judith Miller instead of the larger story about someone in the White House breaking the law to crush a political opponent. But I do not understand why the media prefers to talk about Judith Miller over what appears to be the first wave of a Watergate type scandal.
Actually, I don't think those are the reasons. What we are seeing in this total silence from the press on a scandal of Watergate proportions, is the Dan Rather Effect on the media.
We all remember that Dan Rather broke the story of a crime that President Bush committed while serving in the Texas Air National Guard. That crime consisted of dereliction of duty and quid-pro-quo favoritism in the Vietnam draft process. In response to Dan Rather reporting these crimes, someone in the White House wielded their power to silence him. As a result, Dan Rather was forced to resign.
The great danger to journalism is not that one reporter has been forced to go to jail for standing up to her principles. It is unfortunate for Judith Miller, but I think she will survive. And millions of young Americans will admire her for her resolve.
The real danger is that investigative journalists are silencing themselves for fear of being fired as a result of the Bush White House wielding its power. Once the White House has succeeded in using its power to crush a leading journalist, the result is silence in the press. And that is a very serious loss indeed because, as the Watergate period demonstrates, the press plays a tremendously important role in our democracy. It is the press that serves as crucial part of our system of checks and balances.
So important is that role of the press, that our Constitution names it and protects it.
What is the real story that lays behind all these Judith Miller articles?
"White House Commits Crime. Journalists Silent On Story, Fear Losing Their Jobs."
I respect the concern of America's investigative journalists. They have been brutalized by the Bush White House without end.
But Americans stand with their journalists. And we beg you: please, break this story. Please come back to the table. The system needs you.
© 2005 Jeffrey Feldman