Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Wanted: Press Heroes

I've known few heroes. My political heroes were one of the reasons I went to work in politics. Another was a Hungarian that I met at a political consultants conference in Budapest. He and a group of like-minded friends chose the news business as their fight for freedom. He owned and operated a free press, collecting information during the day, printing and distributing at night. On and off – for ten years – they produced and distributed their information… until the fall of the Soviet Empire. During that time he was repeatedly beaten up, jailed often and for long periods of time, and his equipment trashed. Yet he persevered. Then, when Hungary reconstituted itself, he became it’s first Minister of Information.

His primary task was to transform the existing press into a free press. The apparatus was there: TV, radio, newspapers, magazines. But the staffs were not reporters; they were repeaters or as Stephen Colbert would say: they were typists. They gathered, typed and repeated information given them by the state for fear of reprisals from the state. The new Minister of Information had to retrain them to investigate and report – a not so easy task. But in looking at Hungary today, just 15 years later, as a new member of the EU, with a booming economy, one can see the difference in the press and be proud of his work.

He was one of many admirable people – heroes really – from the press. We have ours here in America. Certainly Woodward and Bernstein fit that category, and many of the Pulitzer winners in the investigative, explanatory, editorial cartoon and international reporting categories. I love the cartoons – particularly Nick Anderson and Mike Luckovich’s – because they make me think and smile.

But the news biz is large and the number of heroes few. Remember what Stephen Colbert said at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner:
I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president's side, and the vice president's side.

But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished.

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. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!

It’s time for people in the business of reporting to become more courageous and not be so intimidated: to uncover secrets people would rather keep quiet and dig deep into cases that may involve important topical issues.

One story idea I have is to show how manipulative Carl Rove is and how wrong it is for him to be doing what he does on the public payroll. Any takers?