SOLOMON: Let us Now Praise "Unfamous" Journalists

Some disturbing patterns seem to dominate American journalism: Candor loses out to caution, integrity drowns in expediency and independence falls as income rises. At the peak of the news profession, the most lauded reporters often rely on official sources and defer to powerful institutions.As Sam Donaldson commented a dozen years ago: "I preach a good line, but I practice what most people in my profession practice. Once in a while, I like to think that I get a little bit further down the road, but so do other reporters. As a rule, we are, if not handmaidens of the establishment, at least blood brothers to the establishment."The veteran ABC news correspondent added: "We end up the day usually having some version of what the White House ... has suggested as a story."Grinding their teeth or shouting at the TV set, a lot of news consumers may feel that aversion to media spin is only a modern phenomenon. But that's not the case. "Journalism justifies its own existence by the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the vulgarist," said the 19th century writer Oscar Wilde. For good measure, he quipped: "Instead of monopolizing the seat of judgment, journalism should be apologizing in the dock."And yet, while skepticism is essential, we should avoid cynicism about the lofty goals of authentic journalism. Against the odds, many reporters strive to do good work and sometimes succeed. Few of them gain fame or fortune. On the contrary, decisions to put principles over convenience are apt to hinder progress up career ladders.Despite all the disincentives, a significant number of journalists prefer the pursuit of truth and democratic discourse. Many continue to resist the constraining pressures of corporate ownership and advertising.While mainstream news organizations generally take the path of least resistance, quite a few people within those institutions keep fighting the good fight. And thousands of media workers outside such institutions are struggling to create new ways of reaching the public with hard-hitting journalism.So, let us now praise the "unfamous" men and women who are working today to uplift the news media of America.Hundreds of them deserve our admiration and support. Here I'll mention just two.In late April, at a glitzy hotel in New York, the Overseas Press Club held its annual awards dinner. For the journalists who show up -- and particularly for those being honored -- the event is usually perceived as an opportunity to preen and be seen.But this time around, two independent-minded journalists -- Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill of Pacifica Radio -- chose to take advantage of a different sort of opportunity. They were at the banquet to receive a citation for a radio documentary, "Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria's Oil Dictatorship." But rather than bask in the limelight, they decided to speak out for human rights and journalistic integrity.From the podium, an official of the Overseas Press Club had praised Indonesia's government for pledging to improve its treatment of journalists. But -- as Goodman pointed out when announcing that she and Scahill would not accept the club's citation -- reporters are still being beaten and threatened in East Timor, which remains under brutal Indonesian occupation.The dinner's keynote speaker, special U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, received a warm welcome from the assembled journalists. A major architect of U.S. policies in the Balkans, Holbrooke praised American media coverage of NATO's war on Yugoslavia.But to the evident annoyance of Tom Brokaw (the awards presenter), Scahill stuck his neck out by trying to ask Holbrooke an important question that America's mainstream media had failed to raise for more than a month: Why haven't U.S. officials acknowledged that the Rambouillet Accords -- cited as the reason NATO began bombing when Slobodan Milosevic refused to sign -- actually provided for NATO to occupy not just Kosovo but all of Yugoslavia?Scahill had it right. The Rambouillet text's Appendix B allowed for NATO troops to occupy the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -- declaring, for instance, that "NATO personnel shall enjoy ... free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters."Ambassador Holbrooke never answered the impertinent question from the unfamous journalist. But the media luminaries in the room didn't seem to mind.Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."


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