Brad DeLong pens (keyboards?) another one of his great rants about the failures of our modern press corps in the face of mendacity: Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Special Richard Cheney 'Opinions About Shape of Earth Differ' Issue).
Brad's description of the problem — one offered by most serious students of the press who are not actually members of it — is IMHO spot on: there's something wrong when obvious falsehoods get equal time with obvious truths. But is his solution really what we want?
If Bumiller doesn't feel that at this stage she has enough information to (at least privately) conclude that Cheney is either senile or a liar, she needs to get a different job in a different profession. And once she has reached that (private) conclusion, her duty is clear. She needs to include more quotes from different people contradicting Cheney—people like Tenet, Powell, Armitage, Hadley, and other senior administration officials who are already on record praising the work done by Clarke and his centrality to the Bush administration's pre-911 counterterrorism effort. She needs to signal her readers that Cheney is all alone on this: completely off the reservation, making claims that are so false that nobody else will touch them.
So I called Bumiller, and asked her why she had made it into a “she said, he said” article rather than into a Cheney-said-something-so-bizarre-that-nobody-else-will-endorse-it article. Her replies seemed, to put it politely, incoherent. The reasons that she didn't stack five contradictory quotes from five different sources against Cheney—and so make him look like the liar or idiot that he is (as Dana Milbank would probably have done)—appear to be that she “doesn't write opinion,” that “the news was Rice contradicting what Cheney had said to Rush Limbaugh,” and that she “only had 300 words.” My assertion that whether Clarke was out-of-the-loop or was the loop itself is a matter of fact, and that a reporter has a duty to ascertain and to report to her readers such matters of fact, did not meet with a response.
Here's the problem: I don't think I'm going to be happy in a world in which reporters slant their stories to hint real real hard as to who they think is lying. I am OK with a nakedly partisan press in which reporters wear their biases on their sleeves — I like Brad's rants, don't I? — partly because biases (unlike prejudices) can be the reasoned result of thought and education. But I don't want a norm that says reporters should try to manipulate the reader.
It's bad enough having to read the NYT every morning and Kremlinoligize the stories as it is. It used to be you knew that certain reporters were so-and-so's leak, so that if X had a scoop it probably came from State. But now when I read, say, a Judith Milller or a Katherine Seelye story, I have to be on guard for the slant. I don't like that.
In fact, I wonder if what Brad is advocating wouldn't legitimate what Miller and Seelye do. I bet that Miller believed Chalabi. I bet that Seelye believed all those anti-Gore falsehoods she peddled. (See the Daily Howler for chapter and verse). I think I want LESS of that sort or reporting, not more.
So I guess my vote is to allow more editorializing: “Cheney's comments appear to conflict with every known fact on the subject” or something like that….