Sunday, May 20, 2007

Who Are the Real Gate Crashers?

In 2006, Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos and Jerome Armstrong of MyDD published Crashing The Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics. Ostensibly, they advocated for taking over the Democratic Party from inside the beltway K-Street corporate elitists who perpetually sell out their constituents for the almighty dollar. To the extent that ordinary citizens through the blogosphere or progressive “netroots” are more plugged into politics and empowered to become activists is all to the good.

Personally, I was an activist before I became a blogger and didn’t need an account with Daily Kos to become one. If the blogosphere ceased to exist tomorrow I would remain involved. I’m sure that’s true for many of us. That said, liberal bloggers have amplified the voice and impact of core progressive values in the ongoing debate-taking place.

Whether this amplified voice has the leverage to facilitate transformational progressive change inside the corridors of power remains to be determined. I hope so. Certainly retaking the congress as well as numerous statehouses in 2006 was an important step and the “netroots” were important to that effort.

I have my doubts though about the long term and believe “crashing the gate” of a political party is not an elixir for our democracy. Indeed, history is replete with examples of “gate crashers” or “revolutionaries” dethroning the previous order only to become corrupted themselves. As Orwell’s classic Animal Farm illustrated, it didn’t take long for the pigs to resemble Farmer Jones. The real gate to be crashed is as information brokers, fact-checkers and investigative reporters free of corporate influence and dedicated to preserving accountability on the citizenry’s behalf.

The foundation for any democratic civil society is truth. Without it a civil society can’t remain civil because the absence of truth translates into a loss of faith in the laws and institutions designed to promote opportunity and justice. Once a citizenry loses faith, either anarchy or oppression isn’t far away. Hence, the importance of a free, independent press doggedly pursuing truth wherever it leads. Truth seekers are gatekeepers of integrity that preserve democracy’s machinery.

For example, Carl Bernstein and his partner Bob Woodward, before he became co-opted by the very insiders he used to expose, relentlessly pursued President Richard Nixon’s diabolical efforts to subvert the Constitution. In so doing they helped preserve our democracy’s checks and balances. Congress initiated impeachment proceedings against Nixon and he resigned. The system worked.

We’re dependent upon truth seekers to scrutinize the fine print and actions of those in power on our behalf. Since we have our own lives, families and jobs to look after -effectively seeking truth ourselves is a Herculean challenge. Most of us don’t have the resources, ability to travel on demand or cultivate sources among the powerful.

Sadly, our country is at best ill served by the so-called free press. When I watched Bill Moyers report how the press covered the lead-up to the Iraq War, I was thunderstruck by their lame justifications for not doing their job. Walter Pincus, a national security reporter for the Washington Post actually admitted to Moyers that since the Reagan Administration,
“We stopped truth squading every sort of press conference, or truth squading. And we left it then-- to the democrats. In other words, it's up to the democrats to catch people, not us.”
And there was this classic exchange between Moyers and Tim Russert from Meet the Press:
BILL MOYERS: What do you make of the fact that of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department?

TIM RUSSERT: It's important that you have a-- an oppos-- opposition party. That's our system of government.

BILL MOYERS: So, it's not news unless there's somebody-

TIM RUSSERT: No, no, no. I didn't say that. But it's important to have an opposition party, your opposit-- opposing views.
How the hell does any reporter justify allowing a political party to interpret the truth? Political parties are not about truth. Political parties are self-serving entities dedicated to obtaining and maintaining power. Since the Democrats were spineless and didn’t provide an alternative dialogue, Pincus and Russert believe they should be excused from doing their jobs? Ridiculous. Yes, Republicans were feculent and irresponsible while Democrats were feckless and cowardly. All the more reason for the press to do their job and relentlessly pursue the truth.

I’m a loyal Democrat and support my party as a means to advance progressive causes I believe in. And Democrats such as Henry Waxman are doing a splendid job of investigating the Bush Administration’s malfeasance now that they have the majority. It was also oversight by the Democratic controlled Senate Judiciary Committee that resulted in former Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s dramatic testimony.

Nevertheless, I don’t want the press to solely cede ground to Democrats about holding the Bush White House accountable. Nor do I want the press to curry favor with powerful Democrats and refrain from reporting on their transgressions.

Of course reporters such as Pincus and Russert merely reflect the will of their corporate bosses who curry favor from the powerful. Some reporters remain dedicated to their craft. James Risen of the New York Times, who first reported about the Bush Administration’s domestic surveillance program in violation of the FISA framework is a fine example. However, the New York Times management didn’t allow the story to surface prior to the 2004 election.

As I see it, the real gate being crashed is what people like Josh Marshall are doing at Talking Points Memo. It was reporting done for that blog that broke the bough on how the dismissal of US Attorney’s were covered and exposed Attorney General Gonazales as a liar. And citizen contributors to Firedoglake were so effective as information repositories for the Scooter Libby trial that even mainstream press reporters relied on them for real time facts. Epluribus Media has also become an effective vehicle for citizen journalism.

Another example on a smaller scale is a good friend of mine who used to work for Kaiser Permanente, a health organization that claims to be a non-profit. She was a whistle blower and they responded by personally trying to destroy her. So she transformed her Corporate Ethics blog into a repository of information regarding Kaiser’s harmful activities against their patients. Kaiser Thrive Permanente Exposed is another weblog devoted to serving the public by exhaustively covering Kaiser in a manner that the corporate media has resisted.

As the blogosphere continues to mature, it is the gate crashing of citizen journalists that has me the most excited. Hopefully citizen journalism from the “reality based community” will become more adept at keeping the corporate media, corporations and politicians honest.

My optimism however is tempered by two concerns. One is that the powerful elites among the corporations, mainstream press and politicians will pass laws that undermine the effectiveness of online citizen journalism. My second fear is that citizen journalists will at some point resemble Farmer Jones.
Sixty Minutes exposed Kaiser Permanente's despicable treatment of homeless patients in their broadcast this evening. Click here to learn about their coverage. It wasn't so long ago that the print and broadcast media simply reinforced Kaiser's propaganda. Credit goes to the friend I referenced above as well as Kaiser Thrive Permanente Exposed for pushing the mainstream media to finally understand what Kaiser is truly about.


Anonymous said...

Right on! I think you hit upon the central point of blogging and other such netroots activities that often gets lost. While blogs are good ways to call people to action, or get them to donate money, political blogging at its hard will be about citizen journalism, and this is where its true power lies.

Nelson said...

I really enjoyed this post.

I would have to add a third fear: that citizen journalists will not have access to the darkest corners of our decisionmaking and therefore always be limited.

Anonymous said...

What corrupts politics is the same thing that corrupts the press (or the media): currency. In our country, straightforwardly enough, currency is money.

I remember I conversation I had with a woman in East Berlin, when it was still East Berlin. She tried to defend her political system (oddly enough) by pointing out that her ostensibly "communist" state was not prone to monetary corruption. But there was another kind of currency at work in that government and in that time, it was ideology. The greater your ideological loyalty, the greater your wealth and standing. The wealthiest, with second homes and Western cars, were those whose ideology had elevated them into the very highest offices of the state.

I don't yet see how bloggers will succumb to the corruption of money. Most, if not all, *genuine* bloggers work for no one and gain little if anything, monetarily. You, for example, couldn't so much as feed a rat on the rewards of your blog.

In the mainstream media, on the other hand, there is no reporter who does not have to answer to the exigencies of money. Why do any reporters still go to the White House Press Briefings? -- knowing full well that these briefings are nothing more than staged propaganda? Because each network reporter (and they have stated this) knows that if they don't show up, the other guy will. It's about the money, not the news.

Bloggers don't blog because because it was the only paying job they could find. They do it for reasons other than monetary gain. This means that some of them are going to be biased and unreliable, but the readership, so far, seems able to distinguish.

I don't know currency might corrupt the blogosphere. The frauds are quickly weeded out. If the Daily Kos, (for monetary reasons) decides to sell its name to CNN, MSNBC, or FOX, I would expect its quality to decline, its independence to diminish, and its readership to thin. Another blog would take its place.

I think the only thing that could destroy the blogosphere would be equally harmful to the Internet as a whole.

It's hardly a mystery why the Chinese Government is terrified of the internet -- as are all such states.