This week, Wolf Blitzer interviewed Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT). I watched dumbfounded as Hatch lied, and Blitzer obediently chose not to challenge the Senator. It's the same lapdog reporting that enabled Bush & Co. to marshal public support for war in Iraq, to torture and spy, and allows politicians to continue to lie with impunity. Tough luck if you thought the last eight years would give guys like Blitzer a backbone.
Hatch: "... the president has finally recognized that what really has caused this (mortgage crisis) wasn't the Bush administration, it was Wall Street, it was Fannie and Freddie."
Most Americans are not political junkies. They rely on Blitzer to use his knowledge and position to cut through the bull and tell the real story. But Blitzer is not a reporter; he is a news reader who ignores facts and sticks to the next scripted question: "Will Utah accept stimulus money?"
Here's what Wolf needed to ask: "On what basis are you claiming, Senator Hatch, that President Barack Obama believes that the Bush administration is free of blame for the subprime crisis? And on what basis do you assert that the Bush administration is free of blame for the crisis considering that Bush's Securities and Exchange Commission quietly passed an exemption to a regulation in 2004 that limited the amount of debt that investment banks could take on?" These are the same banks that have received billions in taxpayer money - one of them was Goldman Sachs, led by Henry Paulson until he took over Bush's Treasury Department two years later.
Blitzer would probably say that his job is to present news, give members of each major party equal airtime, and let the public decide. But when you conduct an interview without another guest to provide counterpoint, it is the host's responsibility to cite facts and expose spin. And don't give me the "we had members of both parties on the show" myth. Both parties are awash in cash from corporate lobbyists that compromises their integrity. Yet they continue to get most of the airtime while real experts like economists and public interest advocates are largely ignored. Just look at the bank bailout if you need proof.
Blitzer-style lapdog reporting and the 10-second soundbyte-ification of important news by commercial television - with a few notable exceptions - is the biggest reason that the American public continues to be fundamentally misinformed, and led time and again to support policies and politicians that hurt - rather than help - the public interest. The media's failure to hold the powerful accountable is, along with the corrupting influence of money in politics, the biggest threat to the future of our democracy and our nation.
Those on the far end of the spectrum on both the left and right have their go-to news outlets. But self-identified moderates go for their news to channels like CNN, where unchallenged lies become truth in the mind of a public deprived of skepticism, watchdogging and tough questioning. The danger of an unquestioning press is exacerbated as newspapers continue their financial freefall, laying off reporters by the thousands, and atrophying the most reliable source of investigative journalism.
Blitzer: "If it (bank bailout) requires more than the total $700 billion, are you with the administration on that?"
Hatch: "Some of the big problems with this so-called fiscal stimulus bill, number one, it was totally partisan. The first two bills out of the shot, the chip bill and the so-called stimulus bill were purely partisan bills. We were willing to work with them."
Now I'm not here to defend Democrats, but there are several major stimulus concessions that President Obama and his congressional allies made in an effort to gain Republican support. Those included reduced total spending, increased tax credits, and reductions in family planning and Medicaid spending. Hatch's rhetoric, combined with remarkable Republican unity opposing the stimulus is obviously (even to Blitzer) a smart gamble by the GOP to abdicate their duty to lead the nation out of crisis, and place responsibility for reviving the economy squarely on Obama's shoulders. Expect inflation and higher taxes down the road, and tee up a "we told you so" when they make their bid to regain power.
Without fearless, vigilant questioning, spin masters like Hatch will turn Bush's financial crisis into Obama's financial crisis in a few months rather than a few years. Without tough reporting from the people who are our eyes and ears in Washington, Americans will remain mired in an ignorance that will force us to repeat history by way of more unnecessary wars, more government corruption, and more elections of politicians who legislate against our interests.
As goes critical journalism, so goes our democracy.