What Have Whistleblowers Done for Elite Journalists Lately?

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What Have Whistleblowers Done for Elite Journalists Lately?

David Gregory asks Glenn Greenwald to explain his lack of imprisonment.

To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?

Meet the Press host David Gregory’s question to journalist Glenn Greenwald (6/23/13; FAIR Blog, 6/24/13) sums up much of the elite media’s attitude toward whistleblowers–or what the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius refers to as “malcontents and self-appointed do-gooders who may get security clearances.”

This attitude is documented and questioned in a piece by John Hanrahan, a former Washington Post reporter who later headed the Fund for Investigative Journalism, that appeared on the pro-whistleblower Expose Facts site (3/24/15) and was reposted as “Journalists Who Hate Whistleblowers” by Consortium News (3/25/15).

Near the end of his piece, Hanrahan asks a series of questions:

Why do these stars of the news media so readily brush off concerns about our dangerous warfare/surveillance state revealed by Snowden, Manning and the others? Why do they cheer on the government’s crackdown on unauthorized leaks and tell us surveillance and the diminishment of our civil liberties is really for our own good in a scary world — rather than side with the Bill of Rights and the handful of other journalists and whistleblowers who expose secrets that people in a free society should have the right to know?

Though Hanrahan’s questions  are rhetorical–their point, which I certainly agree with, is that journalists should not brush off concerns about the surveillance state and should side with the Bill of Rights–they do have answers.

The short one is that elite journalists work for elite news outlets that are designed to bolster power rather than challenge it. They are overwhelmingly huge for-profit multinational corporations, whose boards are packed with industrial magnates and whose business model is based on rounding up consumers so that they can be persuaded to buy the products of corporate advertisers. These are hardly institutions that are likely to hire and promote people who are hoping to undermine the system that has enriched them so mightily.

One of the most important things that corporate media do to shore up power is to define “news” as things that people in power want you to know but haven’t told you yet. This sets up information as a kind of currency that the powerful dole out to those who cooperate with them–that is, the elite journalists that Hanrahan is talking about. They make their living by receiving bits of information from the powerful–whether it’s a preview of Barack Obama’s next foreign policy address or details of the upcoming iPhone–and delivering them to you, the audience.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

Whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden upset this economy. They don’t portion out secrets in exchange for favorable coverage–they dump out as much as they can because they believe the public has a right to know what their government is doing. They undermine the whole conceptual structure that makes being a media gatekeeper a prestigious and lucrative position because they make it obvious that most government secrecy has no purpose other than to maintain government power.

Biden watergun party

A whistleblower isn’t going to get you invited to a shindig like this. (From Politico.)

And on the most basic level, what can whistleblowers do for elite journalists? Sure, they can give you a story, or lots of stories, that will inform citizens about what their leaders are up to–but if that was your primary motivation, you wouldn’t have made it to the top of the corporate media pyramid in the first place.

Whistleblowers can’t get you a high-paying lobbying job after you’ve taken a buyout from your newspaper. Whistleblowers can’t invite you to the right kind of party where you’ll mingle with other powerful people.  And whistleblowers won’t ensure that you’ll be treated as one of the Very Serious People–the kind who will never, ever have to explain to David Gregory why they’re not in jail.

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

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