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What Our Media Taught Me

Once upon a time, I also thought we were in an existential war with radical Islam. For thirty years and more, terrorists have evoked their religion as they tried to blow up, shoot, or behead Westerners. After the mass murders of 9/11, I thought George Bush was wise to adopt things like intercepts, wiretaps, Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, Predator attacks, and taking the fight to both the Taliban and oil-fed murderous Middle East dictators like Saddam Hussein. But then the media established that these were all not only anti-constitutional measures, but quite unnecessary acts as well. Instead, the anti-terrorism protocols and wars abroad were a reflection of an executive branch out of control, one that could only be stopped by popular agitation, the enlightened criticism of Hollywood artisans, law suits, filibusters, and constant press opposition. So while I am inclined to applaud that Barack Obama has trebled the number of Predator missions, kept Guantanamo open, adopted the Bush-Petraeus plan in Iraq, escalated in Afghanistan, kept renditions and all elements of the Patriotic Act, I confess now that all this is very wrong, without utility and a veritable coup on the part of the executive branch to overturn the separation of powers as established in the Constitution. The media, alas, taught me that too.

Nothing is worse that public servants taking money by abusing the public trust or horse-trading in matters of the public interest. Even the incessant narcissism of putting their names on every bridge or building they authorize with public money nauseates me. So I was glad to see all those right-wing crooks and hypocrites from Duke Cunningham to Larry Craig leave in disgrace. Shame on them! The watchdog media reinforced my inclination to give them no quarter.

So while I would like to cut some slack for the memory of the late John Murtha, or a poor harried Chris Dodd, or an elderly Charles Rangel, I simply cannot. All the good that they did surely cannot balance out their serial ethical lapses. If a Timothy Geithner skipped a few taxes, or a Chris Dodd got a break on a loan here and there, then they rightly must descend into the Abramoff inferno with Cunningham and Foley and Craig. I admire an old admiral like Joe Sestak and understand quid pro quo is the mother’s milk of politics, but thanks to the watchdog media during various ethical problematics in the Bush administration — from the federal attorney firings to Halliburton — I now realize that there can be no tolerance for even the appearance of moral ambiguity. So let the tough media inquiries continue.

Somewhere around the millennium, a new style of aggressive, public-interested, and astute reporter began sermonizing in print, advising on the Internet, and lecturing us on television. At the time I mistakenly assumed that reporters were too often partisans who were creating new, almost impossible standards of probity in order to embarrass conservative opponents: they wanted Republican scandal first, news second. But now, I see that they were simply laying nonpartisan new ground rules for the Bush administration so that they could later prove their integrity and professionalism when a member of their own faith would come into the new crucible of public examination. There was never, you see, a hate-Bush media. So we will shortly see that now as they unrelentingly turn their scrutiny on Barack Obama and his legion of ethical and competency lapses.