Scott Horton reminds us that a few years back Stephen Colbert had the balls to do what would make David Gregory blush. Colbert stood at the correspondents dinner in Washington and spoke truth to power in a way rarely, if ever, done:
Over the last five years, you people were so good—over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. … And then you write, Oh, they’re just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!”
In the years that followed the Bush Administration really did prove to be the political equivalent of the Hindenburg. The American public understood, but they had to look past the White House press corps to reach that conclusion. Yet even as the American public turned the page, the Washington press corps’s pampering and sycophantic attitude towards the Bushies has not changed. The most obvious recent example was ABC's Rich Klein lecturing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on his tone toward Dick Cheney, a man who appears to fit the definition of a war criminal: “Wow—we’re talking about the former vice president here” Wow indeed, Rich.
The exchange underscores the continued failure of the press to do its basic job: keep the public informed. There's been a desire within the journalism profession to say that the failings of the press in the run-up to the Iraq War was a low point for the industry. This is wrong. The press has continued to take the low road on its high horse. When Cheney sat down with CNN's John King last weekend, King offered up a variety of banal questions designed merely to present Cheney with the opportunity to dispense his talking points, including the disgusting spin that Obama's decision to outlaw torture made the country less safe. When Cheney did this King failed to do what was painfully obvious: ask a single penetrating follow-up question that noted the recently reported findings of a confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross into what went on in the CIA’s black sites. Here's journalist Mike Danner talking about the findings:
There was no ambiguity in the report on this point. The ICRC professionals who prepared it concluded, and wrote explicitly, that the behavior they catalogued included torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. They were judging the procedures used in the black sites against the Geneva Conventions (in the enforcement of which they play a formal role), the Convention Against Torture, and a number of other international agreements. Whereas in earlier reports the Red Cross used formulations that nuanced the question somewhat (saying, for instance, that Guantánamo practices were “tantamount to torture”), in this report they spoke bluntly and forcefully, saying that the conduct was torture. That of course is a violation of international law. But it is also a violation of domestic law. It is a crime, in fact.
The WaPo responded to the ICRC's findings by writing a story that put "torture" in scare quotes, as though it were some quaint word choice by a fringe organization. And the Bush protectors in the White House press corps acted put out over the tone and tenor of Gibbs comparing Cheney to Limbaugh, while remaining unconscionably silent on the ICRC. This is bewildering. The ICRC, a group with a authoritative voice on the issue of war crimes, found that the Bush administration committed torture. And the press decided to have a Howard Beale moment because Gibbs didn't show proper deference to Cheney.
What's clear is that the Washington press corps has abdicated its duty on the torture reporting. For eight years they failed to ask tough questions of the Bush administration and they have shown every indication that they aren't going to start now, despite overwhelming evidence indicating that the Bush administration committed crimes against humanity. Our Washington press corps has decided to not only look the other way, but also to belittle the findings of the ICRC by not treating itwith the authority such a report deserves. The press is cherry-picking. So it seems we've come full circle, from Iraq evidence to torture evidence.
When pushed on this, a journalist will predictably sputter that the Obama administration wants to move on, as though that has anything to do with it. What I would give for a few more Woodwards and Bernsteins.