Leave it to the New York Times to pronounce something “corrupt” and then wholeheartedly embrace it as “crucial”.
This week’s Sunday magazine piece by Max Frankel is the most recent and stunning example of the Times’ weird worldview. In a cover story, the paper’s former executive editor concludes that “the real lesson” of the recent Scooter Libby trial is that Washington’s “black market in information” – which the Times defines as “the messy and at times illicit traffic in secrets carried out among Washington officials and those who report on their doings” – is an evil necessary for democracy. “Leaks, backgrounders, favors, masked attribution: For decades, journalists and government officials have…manipulated one another and, to some extent, readers too,” the magazine noted. “It’s not pretty – as the Libby trial revealed. But it’s crucial.”
True, the trial provided a rare public glimpse at the corrupt nexus of Big Politics and Big Media – of which the Times is of course a charter member. While Frankel’s assessment that “it’s not pretty” is certainly sound, the rest of his analysis is unsurprisingly skewed. “Favors and masked attribution” do sound journalistically ugly and corrupt – as does “manipulating readers” – but the Washington back channel is certainly not crucial for anyone except perhaps the privileged players who participate in it. Moreover, it’s demonstrably bad for our democracy. (Witness the ongoing carnage in Iraq, which the Times manipulated many of its readers into supporting!) Only charter members of the Big Media club, which performed so shamefully during the run-up to both the war and the Libby trial, could conclude otherwise.