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After Moyers Iraq Documentary, DC Reporters in Damage-Control Mode

In the lead up to and wake of Bill Moyers' much-anticipated mega-dunk on the Washington press corps this week, we are seeing the ugliest side of Beltway culture -- sophistry and damage control.
 
 
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In the lead up to and wake of Bill Moyers' much-anticipated mega-dunk on the Washington press corps this week, we are seeing the ugliest side of Beltway culture -- the meltdown, damage-control freak out. Only what's new is that instead of politicians melting down, it's reporters themselves. And never underestimate the desperation that comes when Establishment Washington unifies to try to defend itself.

Over here we have professional power-worshiper Chris "It Doesn't Matter Where Political Money Comes From" Cillizza attempting to defend Tim Russert, and in the process insulting the recently deceased journalistic hero David Halberstam.

Yes, Cillizza -- clearly begging for an invite on a Meet the Press panel -- is out there saying that "modern journalists are doing their very best to emulate that sort of reporting" that came from Halberstam, and that "Tim Russert is one of the best examples of that kind of accountability journalism." I guess turning over NBC's airwaves to a Vice President spewing lies, ignoring the solid reporting of Knight Ridder that debunked those lies, and having panel discussions laughing hysterically with fellow pundit friends over predictions for when the war would start is, under Cillizza's warped Beltway definition, "accountability journalism" from Russert (who, I'm sure, Cillizza would also have us believe is just a "blue collar guy from Buffalo," despite Russert's multi-million-dollar salary and quaint Nantucket summers).

Over at CBS, White House reporter Mark Knoller's acrobatic attempts at defense make Rodney Dangerfield's "Triple Lindy" from "Back to School" look like a simple somersault. Knoller actually claims that the now-famous pre-war press conference where reporters fell all over themselves to compliment the president for his leadership was actually a scene of journalistic bravery. Atrios does the takedown of Knoller, showing the full transcript of that press conference, but if you don't want to read that, please just remember what New York Times White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller said to defend the media's behavior at the event:

"We were very deferential becauseÖit's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."

Moyers piece is important not just because it has exposed the entire sham that was pre-war Beltway journalism, but also because he has finally exacted a price -- in this case, humiliation -- from the reporters whose power-worshiping, must-stay-on-the-cocktail-party-circuit tendencies led them to aggressively push this country into war. And we can hope that fear of future humiliation will help prevent another gross abdication of responsibility next time around.

 
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