Watching the watchdogs

Is There a Constituency for Liberty in the U.S. Media?

by William L. Anderson

When I was a journalism student at the University of Tennessee 35 years ago, one thing we were told over and over again was that journalism served a “watchdog” role in keeping tabs on government. I had assumed (naïvely, of course) that the term “watchdog” meant serving as a counterforce against the predations of the state.

Alas, what I have found that it really means is that modern journalists and their mainstream organs like the New York Times, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Time and Newsweek, not to mention a gaggle of numerous smaller wannabe publications, are making sure that the state is using all of its powers and then some to push people into line. As a college professor who works on a faculty that is overwhelmingly left-liberal, the one thing I hear time and again from my colleagues is that people need a tough, “kick-ass” government to make them behave.

The modern mantra of journalists is “comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable,” and we see that theme pursued time and again. This leads to situations that tell me that the press sees itself as the entity that will ensure that the government keeps all of us in line, as we cannot be trusted with anything as individuals. And Lord help someone who really thinks that the Bill of Rights was a restriction against the powers of the state against individuals; such thinking is “so 18th Century” or worse.

Take the Martha Stewart case, for example. According to the Usual Pundits on both the right and the left, the conviction and imprisonment (albeit rather brief) of Stewart represented a triumphant moment in which we once again affirmed the Principle that No One is Above the Law. Actually, it demonstrated a more fundamental condition fully supported by the mainstream media (or MSM): the state and its prosecutors are above the law, and the press will make sure of that.

Why do I make such a charge? There was no way the feds could charge Stewart with insider trading, and they knew it. Thus, they hatched a plan with the NYT and Wall Street Journal being complicit in lawbreaking: prosecutors fed secret grand jury information to those papers that was designed to damage the stock price of Martha Stewart Living and compel Stewart to meet with prosecutors and investigators in order to stop the bleeding. (In fact, Stewart was convicted of lying to investigators during that fateful meeting.)

It is a felony to leak grand jury information and is punishable by up to five years in prison. Yet, the feds did it and no one – no one – in the media complained about this episode of lawbreaking which was done in order to trick someone into committing a “crime” so that the press could have its Big Story and the prosecutors could indict and convict its Big Fish.

So, who is above the law here? The “watchdog” media assured federal prosecutors and their minions that both they and the media could do what they darned well please, and the law be damned. (After all, the law only is for “little people,” not for Important People like prosecutors and reporters for the NYT.) There was no mention of this situation on any editorial pages of our “prestigious” newspapers; instead, we saw only the self-congratulation that happens when the media allies itself with dishonest prosecutors to railroad “chosen” people into prison.

Lest anyone think I am simply “defending the rich” (which, apparently, is a crime in and of itself in this present time), I also look at the behavior of prosecutors across the country who regularly violate the law and certainly the U.S. Constitution, all with the blessings of the media, both right and left. It is very rare that any news organization calls for any sanctions to be placed on prosecutors who are exposed as lawbreakers.

Tom Kirkendall, a Houston attorney who actually cares about the Bill of Rights, has written many posts on his blog about the prosecutorial wrongdoing in the Enron case and the prosecution of R. Allen Stanford. (The only thing the feds have not done in the Stanford case is to declare him an “enemy combatant” and hold him in the same conditions they held José Padilla.)

Yet, there is no outrage in the media. Ironically, Stanford’s treatment is not much different than the treatment given in Russia to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a businessman who apparently angered Vladimir Putin. However, the NYT had a lengthy article condemning Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment, but apparently believes that denying bail to an American businessman and holding him in conditions reserved for those on death row is perfectly acceptable.

As one who was involved in the infamous Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault case, I can tell you that the MSM will swallow just about anything from prosecutors, providing it fits the anti-capitalist and anti-Bill of Rights narrative that dominates the American media today. Even though most journalists think of themselves as being far superior in intelligence than most Americans, the leaders of the “Newspaper of Record” were True Believers in the “Magic Towel” that allegedly appeared in the Duke case, a towel that managed to make the DNA of Crystal Mangum appear while not wiping away the DNA of anyone else.

Yes, the same journalists who want us to believe that simple cotton towels have magical properties also want us to believe that it is OK for government-funded “scientists” to fake data and engage in outright fraud just to save us from the fate of “climate change.” Oh, and these are the same people who believe that Al Gore is a genius, an “intellectual’s intellectual.” (Actually, I had some dealings with Gore when I worked in Tennessee and can tell readers that the guy was just another fat, scripted politician who enjoys average intelligence at best.)

Indeed, the MSM is no “watchdog” of government. Journalists are lapdogs of the state, and little more than that. As for the constituency of liberty, I do find it telling that the one politician who does speak out for real liberty, Ron Paul, is derided in the MSM as a “kook” and a “nutcase.” Somehow, that makes sense to me, given what I have seen in the media. From Sean Insanity at Fox News to Rachel Mad Dog at MSNBC, we see that the media loves dictators, “take-charge” people who throw around their weight. As for liberty, well, that is passé at best and dangerous at worst.

December 29, 2009

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit his blog.

Copyright © 2009 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.