Wednesday morning, June 7, KGO’s Ronn Owens show had Tim Russert from Meet the Press on as a guest. One of the callers asked Mr. Russert about the quality of the investigative journalism done by the mainstream news-media during the run up to the Iraq war, specifically comparing today’s press to the Watergate investigation done by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Russert, unwittingly, detailed precisely what the primary problem is with the press today.
Russert described an interview with Dick Cheney before the war where he asked Cheney some very tough questions concerning the likely outcome of invading Iraq. For example, “will the Sunnis and Shiites fight each other after Saddam falls?” To which Cheney gave predictable, and as it turns out, completely wrong answers. Next, Russert explained that the opposing view was largely nonexistent, (from the Democrats presumably, because there were plenty of other people opposing the war), implying, I guess, that there must not have been much to say on the subject. So in other words, Russert (and the media in general) think that objective journalism consists only of giving both the Republicans and Democrats a shot at their spin on an issue and nothing more. Woodward and Bernstein did not simply ask the Democrats and Republicans for their spin on the break in; they investigated in depth and found the truth behind the break in. Russert’s approach may be objective, but it’s not journalism.
Cheney’s answers proved to be completely wrong. Whether you believe he was lying, incompetent or a combination of both, in the end, the administration’s spin was useless to the American people. The nonexistent response from the Democrats (in large part due to their cowardice), was equally useless to the American people facing a monumental decision; Do we need to put our people in harms way? Do we really need to commit such a huge part of our national treasury to this cause? The American people needed real answers to these questions not useless spin from politicians and this is where Russert and his colleagues failed so completely.
We’ll never know now, exactly what might have been revealed had the news-media done their jobs, but we can be certain it would have been more useful than what we ended up with. Finding the truth is never easy and there’s no guarantee of success, but if you’re not even trying you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail. Russert could learn much from Woodward and Bernstein, what it means to be a journalist.