pick of the day

Once in a while, even the nation’s most deliberately mediocre paper can successfully defend the public interest, and with the disclosures linked below, USA Today has done just that, whether by accident or as a harbinger of a major format change remains to be seen.

Though it is almost an aside, what adds a man-bites-dog dimension to this whole story -- or more precisely, the story behind the story -- is that USA Today is generally regarded as the very antithesis of serious journalism, a national-circulation version of the typically mercenary Gannett local daily. I knew several people who worked for Gannett papers, and based on their (fairly constant) complaints, Gannett editorial personnel are routinely either singled out for fast promotion to the business-side of management or reduced to the operational status of clerks: they were hired as journalists, to be sure, and they were maybe once proud of their talents and achievements, but unless they have the desire and aptitude to become bottom-line types, they are soon forced by the economic realities of the Age of Monopoly Media to accept defacto demotion to the singularly unfulfilling role of information-industry production-line workers, demoralized men and women whose uninspiring duty is merely to pack the spaces around the day’s advertisements with copy crafted to retain the patronage of the advertisers. The costs of this MBA-ruled approach – the cost to an informed public and especially to truth itself – are obviously ruinous. But Gannett is not alone in this sad malfeasance; it is more-or-less evident at most U.S. newspapers today, and it is gravely intensified in the many newsrooms oppressed by word or story quotas. The recent journalistic scandals – Jayson Blair et al – are merely one of its predictable consequences. The hate-America bias of so many of today’s reporters and editors, inflamed by newsroom working conditions and encouraged by upper management as part of a devil’s bargain to minimize labor costs, is another. The most glaring result, however, is the steady deterioration in both the quality of reporting and the significance of the reports – a deliberate decline in which Gannett has surely been one of the leaders.

In any case it thus came as a huge surprise to me to discover, courtesy of the always-reliable Lucianne.com (see link in "News Sites," below), a USA Today story that is not only of major significance, but could actually be pivotal in shaping U.S. foreign policy. Moreover, it centers on a decidedly troublesome and potentially infuriating revelation: the fact that merely because of one antagonistic essay written by a lone Brookings Institution academic who is hostile to America’s survival and therefore terrified of American power, the Senate is now making plans to shackle the U.S. military’s special operations capabilities with the same crippling chains that already bind the nation’s intelligence apparatus – the lessons of 9/11 be damned. USA Today’s report is available here. A summary of the academic’s manifesto is available here, while this links to her professional biography. Let us hope the major media – especially the conservative media – grow this story the legs it deserves.

posted by on April 16, 2004 02:38 PM