The merger of journalists and government officials

Posted: January 1, 2011 in Politics

By Glenn Greenwald

The video of the CNN debate I did last night about WikiLeaks with former Bush Homeland Security Adviser (and CNN contributor) Fran Townsend and CNN anchor Jessica Yellin is posted below. The way it proceeded was quite instructive to me and I want to make four observations about the discussion:

(1) Over the last month, I’ve done many television and radio segments about WikiLeaks and what always strikes me is how indistinguishable — identical — are the political figures and the journalists. There’s just no difference in how they think, what their values and priorities are, how completely they’ve ingested and how eagerly they recite the same anti-WikiLeaks, “Assange = Saddam” script. So absolute is the WikiLeaks-is-Evil bipartisan orthodoxy among the Beltway political and media class (forever cemented by the joint Biden/McConnell decree that Assange is a “high-tech Terrorist,”) that you’re viewed as being from another planet if you don’t spout it. It’s the equivalent of questioning Saddam’s WMD stockpile in early 2003.

It’s not news that establishment journalists identify with, are merged into, serve as spokespeople for, the political class: that’s what makes them establishment journalists. But even knowing that, it’s just amazing, to me at least, how so many of these “debates” I’ve done involving one anti-WikiLeaks political figure and one ostensibly “neutral” journalist — on MSNBC with The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart and former GOP Congresswoman Susan Molinari, on NPR with The New York Times’ John Burns and former Clinton State Department official James Rubin, and last night on CNN with Yellin and Townsend — entail no daylight at all between the “journalists” and the political figures. They don’t even bother any longer with the pretense that they’re distinct or play different assigned roles. I’m not complaining here — Yellin was perfectly fair and gave me ample time — but merely observing how inseparable are most American journalists from the political officials they “cover.”

(2) From the start of the WikiLeaks controversy, the most striking aspect for me has been that the ones who are leading the crusade against the transparency brought about by WikiLeaks — the ones most enraged about the leaks and the subversion of government secrecy — have been . . . America’s intrepid Watchdog journalists. What illustrates how warped our political and media culture is as potently as that? It just never seems to dawn on them — even when you explain it — that the transparency and undermining of the secrecy regime against which they are angrily railing is supposed to be . . . what they do.

What an astounding feat to train a nation’s journalist class to despise above all else those who shine a light on what the most powerful factions do in the dark and who expose their corruption and deceit, and to have journalists — of all people — lead the way in calling for the head of anyone who exposes the secrets of the powerful. Most ruling classes — from all eras and all cultures — could only fantasize about having a journalist class that thinks that way, but most political leaders would have to dismiss that fantasy as too extreme, too implausible, to pursue. After all, how could you ever get journalists — of all people — to loathe those who bring about transparency and disclosure of secrets? But, with a few noble exceptions, that’s exactly the journalist class we have.

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