July 18, 2005
ABOUT DEEP THROATS
Time Magazine’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 Miller’s bogus pro-war reports but no redemption for the media. The sad truth is, and let no one get this wrong, Time’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 what’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 one’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 ‘creeps’ (one could argue some public editors are ‘creeps’) 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 ‘creep’ 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 ‘creep’ and who is not. On the basis of this judgment depends the anonymity of a Deep Throat.
Wycliff’s qualification of ‘creep’ 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 administration’s bogus charges Saddam was buying nuclear material from Nigeria ( another scare crow put up to frighten the public.) The Deep Throat’s revelation Wilson’s wife was a CIA operative was of no consequence to the ambassador’s report that the administration had either lied or had it wrong. In fact any discerning journalist should have realized Deep Throat’s ‘leak’ of the CIA connection was a vindictive attempt to discredit Wilson. What a savvy publication should have written was this: ‘Senior White House official commits felony to punish Bush critic.’ This would have safeguarded the informant’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 ‘official sources’ (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 ‘creep’ 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 ‘terrorist’ (read: ‘freedom fighter’ or ‘defender of the faith’). Both talked only after my solemn pledge I would not use their name. To some both may be ‘creeps’. 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 one’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 ‘creep’. It wasn’t the editor who made the promise in the first place.