In silent screen movies a piano provided the sound track that outlined the narrative for the actors on the screen. Its purpose was to focus your attention on the “story.”
Similarly, a nation has a sound track that drives the narrative of a free society. A free and curious press is the orchestra. It plays the music. It sets the tone. The press was considered so essential to the course of freedom that our Founders protected it in the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.
Thomas Jefferson saw this in profound terms. He said, “The only security of all is in a free press.”
For most of our history the press could be counted on to illuminate corruption and incompetence irrespective of its origin.
In World War II reporters gave us an up-close feel for war. Under fire they dove into the same foxholes as the infantry.
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There is a wonderful story about a UPI reporter who jumped into a foxhole to keep his head down. Lying in the mud against the front edge of the ditch he felt a tugging at his trouser cuff. He looked down and found Charles Collingwood pulling at his leg. “Walter. These are the good old days.”
Walter Cronkite and Charles Collingwood survived the good old days and, along with Eric Sevareid, joined Edward R. Morrow as the elite journalists who were the nucleus of CBS, a network that was both respected and trusted. The musical backdrop was provided by the Big Bands.
During and after the war media celebrities graced the elegant dinner parties in Washington, D.C. That increasing familiarity became routine during the presidency of John F. Kennedy who had personal relationships with many in the press.
There was never any love lost between the media and President Lyndon Johnson. They thought he was crude and boorish. He played them like a fiddle and they didn’t like it.
They liked President Richard Nixon even less. They believed that Nixon’s rise as the leader of the anti-communist wing of the Republican Party was contrived. They questioned the authenticity of his 1968 campaign with its staged town hall meetings moderated by Oklahoma football coach, Bud Wilkinson.
In 1972 Watergate was a two-bit burglary of the Democrat campaign office with nothing in it worth stealing. The vast majority of the media treated it that way.
Watergate reporters Carl Bernstein, left, and Bob Woodward sit in the newsroom of the Washington Post, May 7, 1973. (AP File photo)
Its cover-up, however, was a story and two intrepid reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, were so dogged on the story that it could no longer be ignored. The Select Senate Committee uncovered the secret Oval Office tapes and Nixon was toast. A dirge accompanied him into exile at San Clemente.
The next generation of reporters wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein, but they were more interested in the game than the news. Gotcha journalism replaced reporting and news was subsumed by theater. A Pulitzer was awarded for an emotional, but entirely fabricated, story in the Washington Post.
Increasingly, reporters began to insert their political bias into their stories. As news stories became more agenda driven so did news outlets. The clear bias was toward the left.
Two months before the 2004 election, Dan Rather of CBS News did a 60 Minutes story on how a young George W. Bush used his father’s connections to avoid Vietnam. It was based on bogus documents that were exposed by powerlineblog.com.
Rather’s firing began the decline of network news. As network viewership declined, people began to turn to the alternative media for news.
In 2008 the media not only covered the election, they shaped it. They highlighted every slip Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) made in her campaign for the Democrat nomination and they reveled in the mistakes made by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., responds to a warm welcome from the audience as he approaches the microphone during a South Carolina victory party in Columbia, S.C. Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Sen. Barack Obama (D- Ill.) had served in the Senate for four undistinguished years when he ran for president. His rise was aided by some people who should have generated keen reportorial interest. Not this time. Those relationships were aggressively ignored.
The media celebrated the first black president in history. On the strength of absolutely no record or information about his past, he was declared to be the smartest man to ever hold the office. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just one month after his inauguration. A jazz band could be heard in the background playing "How Little We Know."
The media, heralding the passage of President Obama’s signature issue, might have pointed out that major change passed on a party line vote is fraught with danger. They did not.
The problems encountered in the rollout of Obamacare were predicted in the three House committees that marked up the legislation. The substance of those debates was largely ignored.
The media was as surprised as the rest of us at the numbers of policy cancellations, even though it was foreshadowed in a Senate debate in September 2010. They ignored that too.
Attorney General Eric Holder was voted in contempt of Congress for refusing to produce Fast and Furious documents in response to a Congressional subpoena. The press has shown little interest in what is in the documents and why they were withheld.
The Internal Revenue Service scandal will one day be seen as the biggest breakdown of governmental discipline in a century. Nearly 500 days have past without any serious news investigations or coverage. Last Friday we learned that five more IRS employees in the line of the investigation have lost their emails too. No story here. Move along.
On Sept. 11, 2012, just six weeks before the presidential election, an act of war was carried out against an American facility in Benghazi. When Republican candidate Mitt Romney prepared to meet the press the next day reporters were heard on an open microphone conspiring to coordinate their questions so they could keep Romney on the defensive. They were determined to avoid a discussion of dead Americans and to keep the focus on Romney politicizing a foreign crisis.
For the next two weeks the administration lied about the attack to protect the narrative that terrorism was on the run. The mainstream media was not even curious as to where the president or the secretary of state were or what they were doing that night while their staffs were watching the battle on live video feed. Two years later the press remains uncurious.
President Obama and Mitt Romney. (Getty Images)
Then came the presidential debate on October 15 at Hofstra University on Long Island. Romney raised Benghazi and asked why the attack was blamed on a video for two weeks after it was known to have been a planned attack by terrorists.
Moderator Candy Crowley of CNN instructed Romney that the president called it terrorism on the day after the attack while speaking in the Rose Garden. As luck would have it, she had a copy of that text in hand and waved it at Romney.
Romney was thrown off balance by that orchestrated exchange and remained off balance for the remainder of the evening. Crowley later admitted that Romney had been correct but no one heard her. The symphony was on a break.
Three of the CIA contractors who fought the terrorists in Benghazi have just published a book about that night entitled "13 Hours." It was the subject of a one-hour special on Fox News.
When the attack began they wanted to respond immediately, but were told to stand down three times. After 30 minutes they ignored the order and went to the fight. They believe that had they left immediately they would have disrupted the attack enough to save Ambassador Chris Stevens and Sean Smith.
Our government denies that a stand down order was given. An honest media should be interested in that difference.
The statement that the delay prevented them from saving two lives is an explosive accusation. You would think this would be a news story. You would be wrong.
A free press is the orchestra in the opera of a free society. Its music has been inconsistent of late. Sept. 11, 2012 -- the day the music died.
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