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MSM's own special interest…
[John Leppard] 8/8/05
By now most
people are aware of the federal media shield law, “The
Free Flow of Information Act,” before Congress, thanks
largely to the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller
and the furor it has caused among the mainstream media. The
bill, which has been rewritten because of its severe flaws,
would shield the media from identifying their sources in criminal
and certain national security cases. Deputy Attorney General
James Comey says the bill is so bad and dangerous that it would “cover
criminal or terrorist organizations that also have media operations,
including many foreign terrorist organizations, such as al
in Media has reported and researched this
story, coming out against the bill for
a variety of reasons
(see www.aim.org for
more information) and referring to it as the “Special Rights for Journalists Act.” While it
might seem obvious that those in the mainstream media would be
anxious to husband some federal protection for their antics,
it is far less clear how far they are willing to go to get it.
But don’t expect to read about it in the Times_or any other
media for that matter.
Mabeus of Capital Eye, a money-in-politics newsletter put out
by the Center for Responsive Politics, has
an illuminating stockpile of information pointing out who has
come down where and who has spent what so far on this issue.
You can read this report at http://www.capitaleye.org/inside.asp?ID=178.
It is titled, appropriately enough, “Keeping Secrets.” But
keeping secrets from whom? The public, of course. This is the
same public that is supposed to have a right to know.
fact that nearly 80 news organizations are supporting the bill,
among them some of the top metropolitan
and television networks, such media companies are apparently
taking the more stealthy approach in their lobbying efforts.
That is, they are concealing this effort from their readers and
viewers. They are obviously aware of the perception that could
develop if the public became aware that major news outlets, who
are charged to report without bias on government and lawmakers,
are at the same time actively lobbying for favorable legislation.
It turns out that news organizations behave just like any other
special interest. The difference is they don’t blow the
whistle on themselves.
Some of their
efforts have been undertaken by groups like the Society of
Professional Journalists (SPJ),
generally politically active, but has nonetheless initiated a
campaign to raise $30,000 in support for the bill.
the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, while not
directly lobbying, has engaged in weekly
to inform and encourage others, like the American Society of
Newspaper Editors (ASNE), to do so. ASNE executive director Scott
Bosley has said that although the group has never been interested
in maintaining a strong direct lobbying force, as “every
newspaper has its own editorial page,” they have gotten
involved anyway. Their attitude seems to be that when it comes
time to getting special protections enshrined in federal law,
they just have to get up off the sidelines.
Yet the crème de la crème
of the movement is the powerful Communications Workers of America
(CWA) union. Boasting
the Newspaper Guild and its more than 34,000 industry members,
they have helped to organize up to 20 rallies outside federal
court houses in protest of the jailing of Judith Miller and in
support of the Special Rights for Journalists Act. Unlike the
other active members of the media lobbying effort however, CWA
is one of the top political donors in any field. They have contributed
more than $23 million since 1989, almost exclusively to liberal
and Democratic organizations and candidates.
In the spirit of full disclosure, however, one would expect
that the news media outlets that have so far come forward in
support of the bill but are still attempting to fairly cover
the story would at least make passing references to their lobbying
efforts. Yet after AIM examined stories from CNN, CBS News, the
New York Times and others, we have found no references at all
to what these organizations have been up to.
isn’t whether such activities are illegal or
wrong; they clearly aren’t. But they have “conflict-of-interest” written
all over them. Even still, a small amount of disclosure could
go a long way to reestablishing the type of credibility the news
media in this country once commanded. But that might be a little
too much to ask for, especially when reporters appear on the
verge of getting federal protection for their much-abused practice
of using “anonymous sources” in criminal and national
security cases. The tragedy is that this rush to judgment, conducted
largely in secret, could have terrible consequences for the global
war on terrorism, enabling terrorists to masquerade as “sources” for
the media when they plot and plan to kill more Americans. tRO
2005 Accuracy in Media