Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Deja vu all over again

Yesterday I heard it announced--well, proclaimed, actually (CBS News Radio, midmorning)-- that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had, at some time in the past, hired a "Republican" lobbying firm to persuade Congress to protect them from additional regulations. I was already somewhat aware of what the story was about, which was a good thing because not much information followed the initial condemnation.

The story had actually been kicked around some of the "alternative" media sources already, and that is where I came across it. I'm afraid the headline overstated the case a bit; the firm in question was a pretty run-of-the-mill lobbyist who had previously worked on Republican campaigns, but whose party loyalty, if he had any, didn't stop him from taking on anybody who would pay his fee and defending them against his former employers.

The darn thing of it is, the most vociferous resistance to those additional regulations came from within the Democratic party, and the shenanigans of some operatives connected with that party are common enough knowledge to have been fodder for a recent Saturday Night Live skit. Of all this, again, but for alternative sources (and my local paper's shamelessly right-wing editorial board) I would have heard almost nothing.

Events often remind me of seemingly completely unrelated events, and hearing the lobbyist story reported on radio reminded me of Hedrick Smith's The Russians, which I read years ago. That's flaky-sounding, I know, but bear with me for a minute.

Smith, a Moscow correspondent with years of experience, explained both the Soviet people and the Soviet system with uncanny insight in his book. At one point, he explained the Soviet method of dealing with the unpleasant public relations effects of fatal accidents involving the state-run airline.

Standard operating procedure in the wake of an accident was, as I recall, silence. I don't remember how they dealt with next of kin, but the news agencies certainly were kept quiet. Then, after a day or two, a series of detailed reports of recent air crashes--the more carnage, the better--from elsewhere around the world were prominently run by all major state news media. After a few weeks of this, a few paragraphs on the original accident would run, buried well back in the papers where it wouldn't attract undue attention. Smart reporters and ordinary Soviet citizens quickly learned to watch the papers for hints of the latest disaster.

The connection to my newswatching experience lies in the smoke and mirrors employed by both systems to deflect attention from stories they'd rather not emphasize while putting forward those that will enhance the basic premises under which they work. One of these is that conservatism in all its forms must be defeated; therefore stories creating the perception that the Republican party is the source of all corruption in government tend to get high billing.

I don't like conspiracy theories. I really, really don't like being in the position of seriously considering a conspiracy theory as reflecting reality. Thus I'm understandably reluctant to call the patently obvious bias in the mainstream media a conspiracy. Yet there it is, like the old Soviet parade-of-air-disasters, becoming increasingly hard to miss and increasingly absurd. And whether the term "conspiracy" fits or whether it owes merely to an excessive amount of willful ideological myopia in the purveyors of mainstream news, it's unacceptable.

Journalism supposedly has basic standards of integrity. At least, it used to. The job of a reporter is to relentlessly pursue and find the facts of a story--all of them, not just the ones that reinforce a personal preference. To do less than that makes one not a reporter, but a propagandist.

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