With the passing of Walter Cronkite, Mr. Brokaw is considered perhaps the new “dean” of journalism. As such the former NBC News anchor is periodically summoned forth to assess the current world, an occasion that presented itself recently on the venerable NBC Sunday newser Meet the Press.
Sitting cheek by jowl with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, Brokaw joined him to riff on the Internet and the state of journalism today, an opportunity occasioned by the resignation of Van Jones, he of the Truther brigades (and much more) and the Obama White House. Mr. Jones’ resignation was prompted by a virtual parade of videos and documents in which Jones, in his own words and deeds, presented himself as an overripe Marxist with a tendency to the nutty paranoia of the extreme left. This material was discovered by Fox commentator Glenn Beck, doubtless with an assist from citizens who had scanned the Internet, easily unearthing Jones’ ravings. One in particular was Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit.
The Meet the Press conversation with moderator David Gregory included the section below (from the transcript of the broadcast). It was prompted by the discussion of Mr. Jones’ resignation:
MR. BROKAW: Well, I’ve — one of the things I’ve been saying to audiences is this question comes up a lot, and a lot of people will repeat back to me and take it as face value something that they read on the Internet. And my line to them is you have to vet information. You have to test it the same way you do when you buy an automobile or when you go and buy a new flat-screen television. You read the Consumer Reports, you have an idea of what it’s worth and what the lasting value of it is. You have to do the same thing with information because there is so much disinformation out there that it’s frightening, frankly, in a free society that depends on information to make informed decisions. And this is across the board, by the way. It’s not just one side of the political spectrum or the other. It is across the board, David, and it’s something that we all have to address and it requires society and political and cultural leaders to stand up and say, “this is crazy.” We just can’t function that way.
Now, this is remarkable. Truly.
How to address the substance here? Perhaps a “letter to Tom Brokaw” format is most appropriate.
Dear Mr. Brokaw:
Recently you appeared on Meet the Press, discussing the issues of the day along with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.
May I be candid?
You said that it was critical for people to “vet information… because there is so much disinformation out there that it’s frightening, frankly, in a free society that depends on information to make informed decisions.” Mr. Friedman then chimed in that the Internet is “an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information.”
With respect, I’d like to recount some history — old and new — with what is called these days the “Old Media,” which is to say the three networks of ABC, CBS and your own home, NBC, and newspapers such as Mr. Friedman’s, the New York Times (and the Washington Post, the newsmagazines etc) The stories below, while notable, are only the tip of this particular iceberg. They address the issue you have raised, that a free society “depends on information to make informed decisions.”
* The President of the United States is known by the press who covers him — but not the public – to be, how shall I say, a womanizer. He is having, among his flings, a toss with a woman who is also the mistress of Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana. This at the same time the president’s brother, his former campaign manager, is Attorney General of the United States. Which is to say the head of the department of the executive branch charged with investigating the Mafia. Reporting from the Old Media? Zero. Zip. Mum’s the word. Not an ounce of curiosity about anything or anybody that would lead to a mindboggling tangle of scandal, conflict-of-interest and serious misjudgment by the two most prominent government officials of the day.. The American people are in fact never informed of any of this until all but the mistress are long dead, in spite of the fact that the President’s interests and his family’s Chicago connections were well known by those who covered him. How and why could such a gross violation of basic journalism happen? As the late Teddy White, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Making of the President series, put it, JFK’s “cultivation of the press colored all the reporting that came from the Kennedy campaign.” Not to mention the Kennedy presidency that followed.
* In 1963 CBS executive Fred Friendly and CBS commentator Eric Sevareid convince Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater to sit for a two-hour interview for a proposed CBS documentary called “The Conservative Revival.” Goldwater, wary that CBS was possessed of something he called “liberal bias,” hesitated. But persuaded that Friendly and Sevareid were, in Goldwater’s words, “gentlemen and men of their word,” he went ahead with the interview. The result? A show called “Thunder on the Right,” which focused on the John Birch Society, the Minutemen and, as Goldwater later delicately noted, other “far-right activists.” Which is to say, crazies. A thoughtful profile of the likes of William F. Buckley, Jr. this show was not. Goldwater appeared on screen only briefly, just long enough to link him with the Birchers, a group with which he had not only no connection but had actively opposed. Said a burned Goldwater afterwards: “In view of their conduct, I would never again accept the word of Friendly or Sevareid.”
* The year after JFK’s murder, a beautiful young woman named Mary Meyer, the wife separated from CIA official Cord Meyer, is found shot to death along a canal towpath in Georgetown. She is the sister-in-law of JFK’s close friend Ben Bradlee, then the Washington bureau chief of Newsweek, later famous as the executive editor of the Washington Post during Watergate. In the middle of this tragedy, Mr. Bradlee discovers an official from the CIA in his murdered sister-in-law’s home rummaging through her belongings. It happens a second time. Then Mr. Bradlee discovers the object sought by the CIA — Ms. Meyer’s secret diary. The diary tells the startling tale of 20-30 get-togethers for sex with Bradlee’s friend President Kennedy, where the two had occasion to smoke marijuana in between trysts. In the White House. Mr. Bradlee is stunned his buddy the president was sleeping with his own sister-in-law. He had no idea. Fair enough. But his reaction once he knew? To do his best to see that this explosive news story never sees the light of day, with the diary destroyed. In fact, the story does surface — years later when a source who had seen the diary tips off the National Enquirer — the National Enquirer! — and Mr. Bradlee ‘fesses up, very disturbed the story is out. He admits that, well, yes — the story is true. Every word of it. Coverage at the time any of this actually happened — which is to say the eve of the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater election? A point, you surely would agree, when Americans needed information to make what, in your words, would have been an “informed decision” on the Kennedy-Johnson administration record and also that of the Democratic candidate for Senator from New York — Robert Kennedy. Zero. Why? The story was in Bradlee’s hands — the hands of the Washington bureau chief for one of the most influential newsmagazines of the day — and, said he later: “I never for a minute considered reporting the discovery of the diary and its contents.
* On the verge of being nominated for president on the Republican ticket, Senator Barry Goldwater is, says CBS journalist Daniel Schorr, heading to Germany for a vacation after the GOP Convention. Germany? Why Germany? The trip was, said reporter Schorr, “a move by Senator Goldwater to link up” with the far right-wing of German politics. Meaning, of course, the Nazis. Goldwater would not only be consorting with these Nazis, he was scheduled to stay at Berchtesgaden, the infamous country estate of Adolf Hitler. In fact, Goldwater had no such plans. None. Zero. Zip. But it was a vivid story that successfully added a few brush strokes to the portrait the media and his opponents sought to create (as in the CBS “Thunder on the Right” documentary) that Barry Goldwater was a far-right wing extremist, a nut case. Said a still angry Goldwater decades later of the attempt to paint him as a Hitler-loving Nazi-sympathizer (Goldwater was a Major General in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and a World War Two veteran): “The CBS broadcast was false, and Schorr’s was the most irresponsible reporting I’ve witnessed in my life. The New York Times followed with an untrue account of its own.”
These events, Mr. Brokaw, are obviously “old news.” So let’s become a bit more current.
* President Clinton is discovered to be having an affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. Newsweek has the story but declines to run it. Just as Ben Bradlee declined to reveal the news of Mary Meyer’s relationship with JFK. This time, the Internet comes into play, and the Drudge Report releases the story. All hell breaks loose. The President is impeached but not convicted.
* Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards runs for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He receives wide praise as the husband standing by his cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth, a story line that is repeated in the Old Media from start to finish throughout his campaign. In reality, Edwards is conducting an affair with a videographer on his campaign staff named Rielle Hunter. She is pregnant. None of this is investigated by the Old Media — but instead by the National Enquirer, which breaks the story in October, 2007, while Edwards is viewed as a serious candidate for the nomination rivaling Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Edwards and Ms. Hunter issue staunch denials, even as the Internet begins to pick up on the story. The Old Media ignores the story, with CBS’s Bob Schieffer saying: “I believe that’s a story that we will be avoiding, because it appears to me that there’s absolutely nothing to it…This seems to be just sort of a staple of modern campaigns, that you got through at least one love child which turns out not to be a love child. And I think we can all do better than this one.” By July of 2008, Edwards is out of the presidential race, but viewed as a serious candidate to be Attorney General of the United States in an Obama administration. The Enquirer updates the news, with a vivid story of confronting Edwards in a Los Angeles hotel as he paid a midnight visit to Ms. Hunter and her baby. Fox News pursues the story. The Drudge Report and the blogosphere is filled with the story. Glenn Beck suggests on his then-CNN show that Edwards sue the Enquirer if the story is false. Edwards denies all as “lies.” By August of 2008, Edwards confesses, after six Fox News reports and multiple Internet stories, but denies he is the father of the child. The Old Media finally informs its audience of the truth, with Edwards giving an interview to ABC’s Nightline. Recently, stories have surfaced from a Raleigh television station that Ms. Hunter is being moved to the Raleigh area and that Edwards will admit paternity. Mr. Edwards was so disgraced he didn’t bother to attend the Democratic National Convention. Someone else is Attorney General in the Obama Administration.
* Van Jones is appointed the White House “Green Czar.” As Kyle Smith of the New York Post has noted, Jones was profiled lovingly in the New Yorker, hailed as a “legendary figure” in the environmental movement by the Washington Post — and none other than Mr. Friedman devoted four flattering pages to him in Friedman’s book Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Yet suddenly Mr. Jones was ignored by the Old Media as the New Media uncovered his videotaped speeches and a paper trail proclaiming his Marxist sympathies, his support of a radical cop killer and his support of the nutty “Truther” movement that claims President Bush had a role in the 9/11 attacks. Not only does none of this make NBC — your network — or Mr. Friedman’s New York Times — even after Fox News, Mr. Beck and all manner of Internet sites are on the trail — the story surfaces only when Mr. Jones has announced his resignation. A few minutes after midnight on Labor Day weekend Sunday. The story, as Mr. Smith points out, was purposely ignored, hoping it would go away. It didn’t.
* Talk radio host Mark Levin authors Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. The book takes off, riding the New York Times bestseller list at the number one spot for 12 weeks, and is still on the list for a 23rd week. At no time does your network — or CBS or ABC — call on Mr. Levin for the usual author’s interview on network morning shows that one would expect for such a prominently selling book that issues a clarion political call. To this moment, the only Old Media institution to contact Mark Levin is the Philadelphia Inquirer — the paper from the author’s home area.
* Freelance film maker Jim O’Keefe and a young aspiring journalist named Hannah Giles, suspicious of the activities of ACORN, a controversial left-wing community organizing group under investigation in various states for voter fraud, set up a visit in the style of reporting pioneered by CBS’s 60 Minutes. They return with considerable video that shows ACORN employees in Baltimore, Washington and Brooklyn scheming with the “prostitute” and “pimp” (the young journalists) to provide assistance in setting up a brothel, avoid federal taxes and employ underage girls from El Salvador in what amounts to sex slavery. Since ACORN has received millions of federal tax dollars over the years, and has been connected to President Obama in terms of his rise to prominence in Illinois politics, not to mention election activities while he was running for president, one would think this a major news story. Not for the Old Media. As reported by Glenn Beck a full two days after the story broke on Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, here’s the record of reports on this story:
Fox News — 19
CNN — 3
MSNBC — 0
ABC — 0
CBS – 0
NBC — 0
New York Times — 1 (an AP story)
Washington Post — 1 (an AP story)
As a result of the O’Keefe, Giles, Breitbart, Beck, Hannity and Fox reporting, the U.S. Bureau of the Census has now severed its connection with ACORN, and four ACORN employees have been fired.
So let’s go back to your remarks, Mr. Brokaw, and those of Mr. Friedman.
Americans have learned the hard way that there was and is a serious effort by some of the most powerful figures in American journalism to quite deliberately keep Americans from making “informed decisions” by denying them accurate information. By ignoring major news stories. By not reporting stories that were or are at variance with liberal politics, as if, like Mary Meyer’s diary or John Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter or Van Jones’ speeches or ACORN’s scandals or Mark Levin’s book they simply didn’t exist.
Or, if the subject was someone like a Goldwater, not simpatico with the journalist’s personal political beliefs, sticking it to the target with the editor’s scissors. Thus, when it came to stories like the Goldwater/Nazi story or the Goldwater/Bircher story — presto! — these false stories are, to use your term of art, “vetted” to deliberately mis-portray their subject..
What’s particularly interesting is that the stories not reported about JFK were in the early 1960s, the effort to not report the story about President Clinton was in 1998, the story on John Edwards was hushed through the time it counted most, in the election cycle of 2008 when he was a serious presidential candidate, and the decision not to report on Van Jones was — well — two weeks ago, and ACORN but last week. Which is to say, September of 2009.
In other words, across five decades of American journalistic history, the instinct of many Old Media institutions — specifically including NBC and the New York Times — has been to deliberately withhold the truth. To quite deliberately use their journalism skills and tools to misrepresent those whose politics they do not favor.
Were this, say, the field of medicine, practitioners of this kind of thing would lose their license to practice, sued for and surely convicted of malpractice. As it is, the examples listed here are what might be termed “media malpractice,” evidencing a clear and convincing pattern of deceit.
Yet all through this period, a curious fact keeps surfacing. In 1951, a young man named William F. Buckley, Jr. burst on the national scene with a book called God and Man at Yale. The book took on a serious topic — the institutional mores of Yale University, Buckley’s alma mater — and challenged them head on. In what was then groundbreaking work, Buckley highlighted what today would be called the secularization of a college supposedly devoted to the religious and capitalistic principles of its founders.
The reaction from liberals of the day was utter fury. Young Mr. Buckley was excoriated as a fascist and would-be Nazi. Yet the book sold like hotcakes, flashing onto the bestseller lists of the day and catapulting Buckley, at 25, to political and intellectual celebrity, setting him on a course for his remarkable life.
In 1961, Senator Goldwater penned a book called The Conscience of a Conservative. This time, unlike the outraged treatment of the Buckley book, the Goldwater book would just be ignored by those who, in Goldwater’s later words, “had long held a monopoly on the information flowing to the American people.” Yet just as with Buckley’s book, and this time without the publicity, a book that had a first printing of ten thousand copies eventually soared to four million copies sold. The book, now considered a classic, is still in print today.
Let’s focus for a moment on Mark Levin and his mysterious lack of welcome at your network and the rest. Without so much as a nod from the Old Media, Mr. Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny, a “pro-conservative” book vigorously positive in tone like those of Buckley and Goldwater before him, soars onto the bestseller list and just stays there. Like the Buckley and Goldwater books, the Levin book is a seminal work on conservatism itself that stands out from the conservative crowd, a classic and deeply serious look at political philosophy as expressed in the politics of our day. It is not a romance novel, not a Grisham or Dan Brown thriller, which makes its popularity (currently a stunning 1.2 million books in print — almost four times that of other bestselling conservative-themed books combined) and that of the book’s author an extraordinary story at any time, most particularly in the Age of Obama. As the Culture and Media Institute notes, Levin’s book was number one on the bestseller list of Mr. Friedman’s paper for 12 weeks. It is now in its 23rd week on the list. Yet just as with Goldwater’s 1961 book or with 1960s JFK stories, or a 1990s Clinton story or an Edwards or Van Jones or ACORN story from 2008 and 2009 — the established media does its best to bury the whole unpleasantness to liberals that is Levin’s book and its huge popularity, precisely because it is such a potent challenge to their world view.
Mr. Friedman’s own book managed the number one spot on the list for a mere two weeks — not even close to Levin – yet Friedman had the media red carpet rolled out for him. Elizabeth Edwards managed only one week atop the Times list, but she too got the media red carpet treatment. As the CMI story also points out, this media blackout applies to other conservative authors as well, although when prodded by Drudge and reports that Ann Coulter has been banned from the Today Show, she appears. Challenged, of course, in a fashion liberal authors never face, a problem faced as well by bestselling conservative authors like Dick Morris. “Stirring” was one of Matt Lauer’s comments to Elizabeth Edwards when she appeared to promote her book — and that was only about one paragraph. Ann Coulter gets complaints about her “tone.” One gets the feeling Lauer is simply too intimidated by either the subject matter or the author to question Levin.
Mr. Brokaw, all of this history, old and new, is now frankly irrelevant. What’s done is done. What once was a considerable reservoir of trust and respect has been drained bone dry.
The real point here is that by the grace of the hard work of a number of people, the world has changed in regard to this kind of thing. Specifically this includes people like Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes of Fox News, along with their stars like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Greta Van Susteren and Neil Cavuto, to cite but five of a long roster. Not for nothing Rush Limbaugh’s description of himself as “America’s Real Anchorman,” a description with which millions agree — with considerable reason. So too are other talk radio stars Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham and their local and regional counterparts filling this news void. Add in the late Mr. Buckley and his National Review, R. Emmett Tyrrell and Alfred Regnery of The American Spectator, Regnery’s late father Henry, who founded the influential Regnery Publishing, and Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes over at the Weekly Standard. And others, such as the indefatigable columnist-blogger (HotAir.com)-author Michelle Malkin, whose book Culture of Corruption is now itself atop the Times list. A list where Dick Morris’s Catastrophe sits as well as does Bill O’Reilly’s Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity — the latter now for 44 weeks. Surely irritating at the moment is Beck’s Common Sense, number one on the paperback NYT list.
But most importantly of all, perhaps, there is the growing number of citizen journalists like Matt Drudge, the godfather of this field with his Drudge Report. Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit, who surfaced some of the Van Jones story. John Hinderaker, Scott Johnson and Paul Mirengoff at Power Line, where Dan Rather’s Bush National Guard story was exposed as a phony. The ACORN story is courtesy of Andrew Breitbart and his new site BigGovernment.com, and as mentioned young filmmaker Jim O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, who did the investigating grunt work. There are now countless Americans with access to the Internet of which you are so wary, any number of whom are doing a better job at informing Americans than NBC News or the New York Times.
It is because of these people and their institutions that stories about President Clinton, John Edwards, Van Jones and ACORN have had considerably different endings then they surely would have had if the country had to depend on your Old Media. Why? Because the Old Media is not about the “news,” it is about promoting liberalism, using access to ink and air time to convince Americans that “that’s the way it is,” to borrow the late Mr. Cronkite’s famous phrase. When in fact the news as delivered — or should I say undelivered — by the establishment media was and still is really about the personal political agenda of its liberal journalists. The Old Media has lost all pretension to being the umpire. It is the batter — and the pitcher, infield and outfield players as well.
The Internet, talk radio and Fox have collectively if independently wound up as the battering ram that has smashed through the castle gates of Big Liberal Media.
As a result, the media world in which you played such an important role is imploding before our eyes.
Like the last reel of a James Bond movie, the good guys are swarming the bad guy’s lair and rigging it with explosives. Explosives called “the facts” or, better yet, “the truth.”
The real vetting in the Van Jones incident was not done to Van Jones, Mr. Brokaw. The real vetting was of your establishment colleagues. It is they who have been collectively vetted in this latest incident, and one more time Americans have concluded, to quote you, “this is crazy.” The news media they and you represent simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth.
The investigation of Mr. Jones — a government official no less — is but one example of the competition your colleagues now must face every minute of every day. The investigation into the corruption in ACORN is still one more. So too with the Bush National Guard story. Not to mention the real details of the President’s health care plans. The response to Mark Levin’s book — and the importance of that response, in spite of a virtual blackout from your peers — is, in its quite distinctive fashion, yet another.
In truth? Either you really don’t get all this — or you do, and simply can’t bring yourself to admit the fact. Much less do anything about it.
What do I think? I think you’re a really smart guy, and so are your colleagues.
Which is exactly what troubles.
Thanks for your time.