Vive Le Canada

Thoughts around the downfall of a really good journalist
Date: Monday, October 17 2005

In a remarkable article entitled Judy Miller and the neocons, the excellent Juan Cole writes: "Arrogance, poor editing, and getting too close to her sources -- not ideology -- led to her fall."

Cole's article is on the gradual demise of Judy Miller and not just on the Plame Affair. He deals mainly with her coverage of the Bush administration's buildup to the war in Iraq. His main argument is that Judy Miller, contrary to what many think, is not a neocon. An honest, rigorous journalist, she was enticed into joining the neocon pro-war cabal. In the process, she lost her integrity and professionalism and started reporting events according to them rather than as investigated by her. Things turned sour though and eventually, as we know, she was jailed for refusing to reveal a source. Whether or not that was a good thing for the freedom of the press in a democracy, opinions are divided but that is not the issue here.

I am reading this article and I am thinking that this is about one journalist. Yet how many more are out there who, deliberately or unknowingly, are using their trade to foster a particular ideology or to promote a particular agenda?

What I find particular interesting with the 'Judy Miller' case, as covered by Juan Cole, is that it is a good example of how good decent journalists, who are in a sense the guardians of our democracy, are subjected to very strong and persuasive forces that despite all their moral fortitude and integrity, can get better of them. When they fail us, where does that leave us? Whom do we turn to for information and insights? Who will tell us what we need to know in order to make the right political decisions?

A case in point: in an article published last year in The Tyee, Barbara McLintock wrote the following:

Those of us in the journalism business like to think we're pretty smart in figuring out when we're being "spun" - when some "communications officer" or "public relations officer" or ministerial aide is trying to persuade us to write a story that reflects a view that will benefit their political or business cause. We like to think we're particularly careful in such cases to ensure that we are actually being given the full information available and to make every effort to reflect also the other side of the story, whatever that may be. [...]

All those of us who harbour such self-beliefs, whether we be writers or readers, will be most distressed to read a detailed academic study published in this month's American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study shows, without any doubt, that many of us were badly deluded in examining what might considered one of the primary public health topics of the past couple of decades - the health consequences of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. The inevitable conclusion from the researchers' work, in fact, is that tobacco giant Philip Morris went to a huge amount of trouble to influence journalists to present the tobacco industry's viewpoint on the issue - and met with remarkable success in return.

Cancerous Journalism

There is an election coming soon. Knowing the enormous pressures to which our journalists are subjected, I wonder whether the complexities of our political landscape will be presented to us in the media in a fair and honest way, or will they be processed and presented to us in black & white propositions, more divisive than cohesive.

Is it already too late to wish that our journalists in the mainstream media will be up to the trust that we generally have in them? Or have too many of them already joined the ranks* of the useful idiots?


* Links to these articles by Robin Mathews around this topic of the press & the ‘useful idiots’ are worth reproducing here.

"Canadians cannot say to themselves enough times: 'Canada does not have a free press.' That fact – created by the fewer and fewer owners of major press and media – is real. Commissions of Inquiry over some decades have repeatedly recorded the fact of growing media concentration, warning of danger."

The Press vs. The People

"Talk continues about the democracy-destroying action of media concentration. Here’s how it goes".


Cross-blogged at freethought. Thanks to blogger Huffy whose comment allowed me to expand on the original post.

October 22nd is Media Democracy Day

[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on October 17, 2005]

Judy Miller and the neo... opinions are divided very strong and persuas... The Tyee Cancerous Journalism more divisive than cohe... the useful idiots warning of danger The Press vs. The People Here’s how it goes freethought October 22nd is Media D...

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