Jack Shafer has a suggestion for journalists complaining about the Bush administration’s “war on the press”:
Yesterday, I entertained and then rejected the notion that’s popular among many journalists that the Bush administration has declared war on the press. Do the Bushies disrespect the press? Give them the runaround when they ask questions of the White House press office? Has the administration sown disinformation, overclassified, reclassified the previously declassified, tightened FOIA, and paid pundits to carry its water?
A million times yes.
Yet stonewalling, investigating the sources of leaks, intimidating reporters with visits from FBI agents, and otherwise making reporters’ lives miserable aren’t tantamount to a Bush war on the press. Instead of backing the combat metaphor, I subscribe to Jay Rosen’s more modest diagnosis of an ongoing administration strategy to “decertify” the press from its role as purveyor of news and information. By attacking the press corps’ credibility and legitimacy, the Bush administration expects to frame the national debate—make that “eliminate the national debate.”
So, what can journalists do to fight back? A little less whining in the face of tin-horn presidential oppression would seem to be in order.
Shafer suggests that, instead of whining, reporters should go out and find some more leakers to dish dirt on the administration’s policies:
The best journalists practice judo, using their foes’ brute force against them. Every time the Bush administration cracks down on openness, it creates new sources for journalists inside the bureaucracies. Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, says the strategy of decertifying the press works only if you can block the press from obtaining alternative sources of information. That’s something the administration hasn’t been able to do, says Blanton, citing the blockbuster stories about the Bush’s secret prisons, secret torture programs, secret rendition operation, warrantless wiretaps, and so on.
But a look at those “alternative sources of information” isn’t exactly inspiring. Tuesday I wrote about two of the publicly identified sources connected to the NSA and CIA stories. One is an alleged paranoid who was fired from the NSA; the other a partisan Democrat with ties to vocal administration critics.
Shafer quotes another journalist who warns that reporters should be “mindful of why leakers are leaking to them, and what agendas are being served before rushing the information into print.” But the warning is in reference to the Valerie Plame leak — a leak in which administration officials were providing the public with accurate information to rebut a critic from the bureaucracy who was spreading lies. Shafer also seems to say that journalists should be allowed to decide which national security programs should remain classified and which ones are okay to expose.
Shafer’s argument appears to be that, even though the Bush administration is not waging a war on the press, the press should be assisting some disgruntled elements of the bureaucracy wage their war on the administration.