Sunday, October 02, 2005

Information Warfare--footnote

While I am essentially taking the week off, today's New York Times includes a story about the Tom Delay controversy that illustrates the other terrible weakness of contemporary journalism. It can be read at http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/02/weekinreview/02kornblut.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5094&en=eba153bd93c71571&hp&ex=1128312000&partner=homepage .

Something about Tom Delay undoubtedly belonged in the Week in Review, where this appears. Thirty or forty years ago, I suspect, the story would have begun with a detailed description of what he has been indicted for, with perhaps some mention of earlier ethics accusations against him as well. But this one contents itself with the briefest mention of what he has been indicted for--reproduced below--and doesn't mention that the conspiracy of which he accused was one of the more successful political coups d'etat in American history. The money he raised and, according to the indictment, illegaly distributed secured control of the Texas legislature, which then, in an unprecedented move, unidid a redistricting plan that was only a year or two old in favor of one that added four new Republican Congressmen last year, cementing the leader's majority and opening the way to new cash-for-legislation arrangments. None of that, though, appears in the story.

The story is, instead, simply a survey of the forces that have been unified against Tom Delay for the last few years, a mixture of Democratic organizations and professional watchdog groups. The failure to go into Delay's alleged misdeeds tends to steer the reader away from what strikes me as a relatively natural conclusion; if indeed he has aroused the ire of neutrals as well as Democrats, doesn't that increase the likelihood that he deserved it? But the story, of course, doesn't raise that possibility, merely forcing the watchdog groups to defend themselves on the grounds that they go after anyone in power--actually a pretty good strategy, in my opinoin.

The worst omission in the story, however, comes in a paragraph about Delay's prosecutor Ronnie Earle, to wit:

"Whether the roaring anti-DeLay machine deserves even partial credit - or blame - for his tumble last week is up for debate. Mr. DeLay has painted the veteran Democratic prosecutor in the case, Ronnie Earle, as a partisan fanatic, while Mr. Earle's defenders claim he is an evenhanded seeker of justice. The grand jury Mr. Earle convened brought a count of conspiracy against Mr. DeLay alleging that he funneled illegal corporate contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature in 2002."

Whether Earle is partisan or evenhanded can be documented by looking at his record, which, as many news stories have reported, shows that he has indicted far more Demcratic officials than Republican ones. That's what we call in my profession (some of us still do, anyway) a fact, and it's my understanding that reporters used to stress those as well. Now, however, reporters have become shills--even-handed shills, since they insist on having quotes from both sides, but shills nonetheless--shills who do less than nothing to help Americans figure out what is really happening in their world, much less take the political process seriously. No one involved in this Times story found it appropriate to mention this data. It does seem that other media, led by the internet, will have to take over that role, as I suppose that I, in my own small way, am trying to do. Some months ago a comment pointed out a factual error I had made in a discussion of the history of the filibuster rule. I fixed it within one minute. I encourage other readers to do the same. Establishing the truth is a collaborative effort.

And while we're on the subject. . .two weeks ago I believe I kept at least one thought to myself--that it might have occurred to Karl Rove, among others, that if New Orleans were evacuated and destroyed, much of its population, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, might scatter, and Louisiana might become a reliably Republican state. Well, it seems that thought has occurred to our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso R. Jackson, who told hurricane victims in Houston that New Orleans would not reach its pre-Katrina population of "500,000 people for a long time," and "it's not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." The Washington Times reported it.

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