Last week Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, I. "Scooter" Libby, was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in an investigation into how the identity of a covert CIA operative was leaked to the press. This scandal comes one year after President Bush was elected to his second term, and it puts us in mind of two things that happened about a year ago this month.
First, it was about this time of year in 2004 that The Clarion-Ledger endorsed George W. Bush for the 2004 Presidential election. Second, it was about that same time that the general manager of a large local business called up our advertising director and cussed him out while canceling his advertising with our newspaper because we endorsed John Kerry.
We're pointing this out a year later for two reasons—due to something we DID see in The Clarion-Ledger this weekend, and one of them is something we DIDN'T see in The Clarion-Ledger last spring.
First, the DID. This weekend, The Clarion-Ledger DID write in an editorial that Ambassador Joseph Wilson "credibly" dismissed a key component in the White House's selling of the Iraq War to the American people. Wilson is the husband of Valerie Plame Wilson, who was outed as a CIA operative when the White House sought to discredit Wilson for criticizing their "evidence" of WMD. Here's the quote in The Clarion-Ledger:
"Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, who credibly dismissed Bush's claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It was speculated that Plame was outed to punish Wilson for telling the truth about Iraq." (Emphasis ours.)
If The Clarion-Ledger feels this is the case as of October 2005—and nothing concrete has changed about Wilson's claims in two years—why didn't their Editorial Board bring it up in fall 2004 when they were busy endorsing Bush to be re-elected?
Here's what the C-L said in its endorsement: "While this newspaper supported the president's decision to go to war in Iraq, it is now apparent that mistakes were made. The president's 'exit strategy' remains sketchy. Americans are frustrated and rightly so. Bush also has not lived up to his rhetoric on fiscal responsibility. An ill-advised tax cut during a time of war is increasing the federal deficit at alarming rates. The president's policies have left big questions."
But then, the editorial ended with, "Despite his shortcomings, President Bush has shown the ability and courage to face the difficult tasks. He should be given a chance to finish what he has begun. The Clarion-Ledger endorses President Bush for re-election."
What seems clear is that The Clarion-Ledger endorses candidates based on whether they think the candidate will win—or perhaps to avoid calls from irate advertisers. Indeed, it's the only way we can explain the convoluted logic that you "send back George Bush" so he can clean up his own problems. Searches of both the Clarion-Ledger's online archives and the Lexis-Nexis database show no indication that the Clarion-Ledger reported to its readers that Wilson had "credibly dismissed" Bush's WMD claims during the 2004 election cycle, although they've said it twice in editorials this year.
Never mind that the angry advertiser—or informed reader and voter—may change his mind after he gets enough information—a task that, presumably, a newspaper should take on with vigor and alacrity. That reader or business owner may, in fact, make better decisions as a voter if the mainstream media in his town is willing to tell him the truth about a candidate and then let the chips fall where they may.
For the media outlet and its reporters, this means pursuing the truth, not simple balance. A journalist's job is not to "balance" the truth with lies or omissions. That's not the definition of "objective."
More recently and closer to home, The Clarion-Ledger has failed us again on the truth-telling front. And their internal crisis is one that hews all too closely to the crisis that the White House now faces over leaked classified information. In this case, our complaint is with the stuff we DIDN'T see the Clarion-Ledger say last spring.
In 2002, Frank Melton, then the head of the MBN, decided to leak an MBN personnel report to a Gannett News Service reporter who was working on a story for The Clarion-Ledger. The accusations of wrongdoing in that personnel report were almost completely proved false and Melton—along with The Clarion-Ledger—has been sued for maligning the reputation of the men in question. Recently, in a strongly worded verdict, a judge ruled that Melton had lied in the case and granted summary judgment against him.
This spring, while covering Melton's run for mayor, the Clarion-Ledger failed to shed light on Melton's legal problems.
Not only that, but the paper reported on Melton and endorsed his candidacy at the same time that they knew he was lying in the case in Meridian. After all, editors at The Clarion-Ledger knew that Melton was their source for the story, and they could see that he was lying about leaking the report during the discovery process.
Don't the voters also have the right to know if a potential mayor has such a track record? And shouldn't the paper of record have a responsibility to report those facts?
During Mr. Melton's campaign, The Clarion-Ledger punted on its Fourth Estate duties—not telling voters about his lies, or the lawsuit, or the role of their editors and writers in the whole mess. But just as the editorial board knew last year that the Bush administration had hyped a war that it didn't have the evidence to support, The Clarion-Ledger also knew some things about Frank Melton, and it endorsed him anyway.
We call upon The Clarion-Ledger to serve all its readers as faithfully as it tries to serve the powerful in our community. To restore its credibility, we recommend that the paper hire a Public Editor who is given a free hand to criticize the publication's ethical lapses and to field concerns from readers. A newspaper with integrity needs to do more than stick its editorial finger in the air and see which way the wind blows.
Nice analysis of media washout.
Like so much of the Mississippi media, I've always thought the Clarion-Ledger was a two-bit rag, piecemealed together, with its perspective on hot topics often seeming like a strange wobbling dance to avoid rocking the boat, or avoiding stepping on eggshells instead of really going for the juggler and revealing the TRUTH.
Over the years the CL seems like its presentation of the news has been bought and paid for by Northeast Jackson antebellum elite, or 'good ol boy' southern Confeds who were willing to throw their support behind a President simply because he likes to wear flight jackets and cowboy hats...
Melton seems like a prop up to me, a bone thrown into the bone-yard to "keep the natives from getting restless," so to speak. I own that as an un-educated, jaded statement, but like Bush and his klan, Melton seems much more concerned about "mere appearances" than on actual results. Empowered, effective political life isn't just about appearances...the proof is in the pudding.
Perhaps there should be a new law passed that future politicians CAN'T wear cowboy hats.
To conclude, I could probably throw a dart at a map of the U.S. and find a more compelling piece of news in some small town newspaper. Hey. I'll try it.
Thwaat! [sound of dart hitting map]
Okay. Ames, Iowa it is.
Ah, ha. I was right. A redirect link from the Ames Tribune
A little piece on Republican
Keep up the good work, JFP.
A little piece on Republican Pat Roberts flip-flopping about WMD's and intelligence.