The Fundamental Unreliablity of America's Media

Consider the record of the American media over the last two weeks alone. Justin Elliott of TPM documents
how an absolute falsehood about the attempted Christmas Day airline
bombing -- that Abdulmuttab purchased a "one-way ticket" to the U.S.,
when it was actually a round-trip ticket -- has been repeated far and wide by U.S.

Consider the record of the American media over the last two weeks alone. Justin Elliott of TPM documents
how an absolute falsehood about the attempted Christmas Day airline
bombing -- that Abdulmuttab purchased a "one-way ticket" to the U.S.,
when it was actually a round-trip ticket -- has been repeated far and wide by U.S. media outlets as fact. Two weeks ago, Elliott similarly documented how an equally false claim from ABC News
-- that two of the Al Qaeda leaders behind that airliner attack had
been released from Guantanamo -- became entrenched as fact in media
reports (at most, it is one of them, not two). This week, Dan Froomkin
chronicles how completely discredited claims about Guantanamo recidivism rates continue to be uncritically "reported" by The New York Times and then inserted into our debates as fact.

As I documented two weeks ago,
government claims about which "top Al Qeada fighters" were killed by
our airstrikes turn out to be untrue far more often then true, yet are
always mindlessly featured by our media, ensuring little questioning of
those actions; at least two of the three Top Terrorists claimed to have
been killed by our airstrikes in Yemen -- and possibly all three -- are
quite likelyalive. As Greg Sargent writes,
one of the most provocative and inflammatory claims of the trashy
Halperin/Heilmann gossip book -- that Bill Clinton told Ted Kennedy
that Obama would have been "getting us coffee" just a couple years
earlier -- is not only completely unsourced (like virtually every one
of their sleazy claims), but also "paraphrased."

Aside
from falsity, what do all of these deceitful reports have in
common? They're all the by-product of granting anonymity to people and
then repeating what they claim as fact, protected by their
journalist-guaranteed anonymity from any and all accountability for
their falsehoods. It's exactly the same process that caused our
leading media outlets to tell Americans about Iraq's massive WMD
program and Al Qaeda connections; Jessica Lynch's heroic firefight with inhumane Iraqi devils and her "rescue" by our Marines; Pat Tillman's death at the hands of Al Qaeda monsters; and government tests that "confirmed" the presence of bentonite in the anthrax used to attack the U.S., which meant it was likely that Saddam was behind the attacks.

Unjustified
anonymity -- especially when mindlessly repeating what shielded
government sources claim in secret -- is the single greatest enabler of
false and deceitful "reporting." Despite its unbroken record of
producing lies, it will never stop, because agreeing to it is how
"journalists" end up being selected as favored message-carrying servants for the powerful.
This falsehood-producing method isn't ancillary to American journalism
but central to it; the book which is occupying the attention of
America's political and media class is based exclusively on unattributed, shielded sources, and that seems to bother one of them.

None
of the falsehoods documented here will ever lead to any accountability,
because the identity of the falsehood-producers will be shielded by
their loyal journalist-servants, and the journalists themselves will
simply claim that they wrote what they did because their hidden sources
told them to. That's not only the effect, but the intent, of the
central method of American journalism: to disseminate outright
falsehoods to the American public and ensure that neither the liars nor
their loyal message-carriers ever face any consequences or even
reputational loss. Anonymity is so common that "reporters" barely even
bother any longer to explain why it's justified, notwithstanding numerous policies of media outlets requiring exactly that explanation.
As the use of anonymity has escalated rapidly, so, too, has the
pervasiveness of outright falsehoods and the inherent unreliability of
much of what the American media "reports." Lying is so much easier --
and thus so much more common -- when you get to do it while remaining
hidden.

* * * * *

Two other media points:

(1)
I've been writing frequently of late about the perception disparities
between Americans and the Muslim world due not to their
propaganda-based ignorance but to ours. Here's a somewhat old but
highly illustrative example: in 1996, then-Secretary-of-State
Madeline Albright was asked by 60 Minutes about the fact that
American sanctions on Iraq resulted in the deaths of "half million
children," to which Albright dismissively replied: "We think the price
is worth it." At the time, FAIR documented
that while the number of dead Iraqi children -- as well as Albright's
quote -- was known far and wide in predominantly Muslim countries, it
was almost completely blacked-out in the American press.

(2) Last night, Brian Williams began his NBC News broadcast
by expressing extreme and righteous anger over a truly momentous
scandal: Mark McGwire's steriod use, telling his audience: "Because
this is a family broadcast, we probably can't say what we'd like to
about the news today." If Williams has expressed even a small inkling
of an objection -- let alone righteous outrage -- over things like
torture, lies that led to the Iraq War, chronic surveillance
lawbreaking and the like, I'd be quite surprised. Walter Cronkite
famously and unusually abandoned precepts of journalistic "objectivity"
in order to stand up to the U.S. Government's lies over the Vietnam
War; Brian Williams -- who was embedded in the Iraq War and was a reverent commentator regarding everyone involved
-- does so in order to stand up to a detested, powerless baseball
player. In that contrast one finds a nice illustration of what our
modern press corps is.