But while lawmakers are checking up on intelligence analysts, who’s fact-checking The Washington Post and The New York Times? If reporters want to run with stories such as the NIE leak, they ought to have to identify their sources, so readers will know whether the United States is really less safe (as the initial story said) or whether some anti-administration bureaucrats are simply leaking selected information they think will hurt the president.
Reporters will insist this is a bad idea, since if they didn’t allow anonymous sources, there would be a “chilling effect.” But it would be better in the long run to have no stories than to have misleading stories such as the NIE reports of Sept. 24.
Alas, like mosquitoes, journalists can cause problems when they inject themselves into a story. The insects can carry the West Nile virus, encephalitis, even malaria. Reporters, meanwhile, can drive a campaign down into the mud.
Consider Republican Sen. George Allen’s campaign for re-election in Virginia. A Sept. 21 Washington Post story announced that “he has been forced to deal publicly with a very private matter,” his religious heritage. Nice use of passive voice there. The reality is that it’s reporters who forced Allen to “deal publicly” with the fact that his mother’s Jewish, and now they’re splashing the story they created on the front page.
After all, it was TV reporter Peggy Fox who asked Allen during a debate, “Could you please tell us whether your forebears include Jews, and if so, at which point Jewish identity might have ended?” When Allen took offense, asking, “why is that relevant?” Fox answered “Honesty, that’s all.”
But that’s sort of like asking a candidate when he stopped beating his wife. There’s no dishonesty to track down here until a reporter asks a question that doesn’t need to be asked in the first place. Buzz buzz.
The real pity here is this is a race that could have been decided on the most important issue of the day: the War in Iraq. George Allen is a staunch “Stay the Course” Bush supporter. His opponent Jim Webb wants to start moving troops out of Iraq, possibly shifting them to Jordan or Kuwait.
Instead, the media are talking about Allen’s religion, whether Webb discriminates against women and whether either man ever used the “N word.” Like a bunch of mosquitoes, journalists have drawn blood from both men. By doing so, they’ve sickened the political process. Bring on the chilling effect -- please.