July 18, 2005
ABOUT DEEP THROATS
Time Magazineâ€™s decision to hand over the name of a Deep Throat has been one of the
most fatalistic blows to media freedom and a major coup for a political and corporate system determined to
protect itself against scandals and whistleblowers. No matter what justifications and diatribes armchair analysts
invent, the fact remains: The media has caved in. The jailing of Judith Miller may have been an attempted
redemption for Millerâ€™s bogus pro-war reports but no redemption for the media. The sad truth is, and let
no one get this wrong, Timeâ€™s decision, like all corporate decisions these days, was prompted by money,
the fear of a salty fine for failure to reveal the source. The not-so-brave editor-in-chief who called the shot
realized his career was headed for a dead end alley if his decision to hold out caused shareholders financial
harm. So he surrendered.
So whatâ€™s new? This kind of slavery to revenues has been guiding our mass media for
years. Editors and executives have quashed controversial stories, dropped explosive investigations and edited
out galling contentions to ensure as little backlash as possible from powerful lobby groups, advertisers and
political parties. Reports are heavily weighed in favor of the status quo which means in favor of those who can
do harm to oneâ€™s balance sheet. Few editors or executives are willing to jeopardize their cash-gilded future.
Their idealism died with their first promotion. Most of them have long ago sold their souls to Mammon. Now
they are hiding behind a cloak of cynicism, idealistic nihilism and the ready-tailored public excuse of national
security and patriotic duty. In short they are hiding under a load of bullshit.
But editors and executives keep justifying themselves or inventing new moral issues that fall to
their competence. Some are now suggesting we should distinguish between good Deep Throats and bad Deep
Throats. One of them, public editor Don Wycliff (Chicago Tribune) suggested recently that some Deep Throats
are â€˜creepsâ€™ (one could argue some public editors are â€˜creepsâ€™) and do not merit a promise to
keep their name anonymous. This means: Reporters can promise anyone anonymity but if they later qualify that
person as a â€˜creepâ€™ they can break their promise. Ingenious! No?
In turn this translates into a new empowerment for our intrepid reporters. Now they must
adjudicate for themselves (or with the help of public editors) who is a â€˜creepâ€™ and who is not. On the
basis of this judgment depends the anonymity of a Deep Throat.
Wycliffâ€™s qualification of â€˜creepâ€™ pointed to a Deep Throat in the White House, one of
those officials using the gullible media lackeys of the System to discredit critics of the administration. In this case
the victim was ambassador Wilson who had debunked the Bush administrationâ€™s bogus charges Saddam
was buying nuclear material from Nigeria ( another scare crow put up to frighten the public.) The Deep Throatâ
€™s revelation Wilsonâ€™s wife was a CIA operative was of no consequence to the ambassadorâ€™s report
that the administration had either lied or had it wrong. In fact any discerning journalist should have realized Deep
Throatâ€™s â€˜leakâ€™ of the CIA connection was a vindictive attempt to discredit Wilson. What a savvy
publication should have written was this: â€˜Senior White House official commits felony to punish Bush critic.â
€™ This would have safeguarded the informantâ€™s anonymity but turned his information against him, serving
as a warning the media is not a vehicle to settle political scores, nor is it as gullible as certain officials (and a large
segment of the public) believe, or is so desperate as to please its â€˜official sourcesâ€™ (read: manipulators)
with anything they may concoct under the guise of leak.
Sadly this kind of intuitive reporting could only happen in an ideal world in which the media does not
kowtow to the System or lick the boots of its officials.
Now to the problem of who is a â€˜creepâ€™ and who is not. In my book a promise of anonymity
is still a promise, whether it was made to the devious right hand of a President or to a â€˜terroristâ€™ (read: â
€˜freedom fighterâ€™ or â€˜defender of the faithâ€™). Both talked only after my solemn pledge I would not
use their name. To some both may be â€˜creepsâ€™. To others both may be heroes. Some may judge their
information as misleading, others as worth printing.
The point is this: If we want the media to function as it was intended it remains worthwhile to be
jailed for that pledge of anonymity, even to lose oneâ€™s job (as I did). This is definitely not an issue to trifle
with or plop on a scale of worthiness, a scale where the weights favor our own prejudices and indoctrinations.
And it is certainly not a matter for an editor to decide who is worthy and who is a â€˜creepâ€™. It wasnâ€™t
the editor who made the promise in the first place.