Reporters In Glass Houses
Monday, April 17, 2006
They traffic in whispered gossip, charming the big shots, working the party circuit. They gravitate toward boldface names who make good copy. They reward sources who cooperate and can be rougher on those who don't play the game.
Seedy scribes for the New York Post's Page Six?
Couldn't the same description fit Washington's elite journalists?
No one is suggesting that a Beltway reporter would ask a source for $220,000 to keep bad stories out of the paper, as the Post's suspended gossip writer, Jared Paul Stern, was caught doing on videotape in conversations with Beverly Hills billionaire Ron Burkle. Not only that, while Stern was seeking money for his own punk-preppy clothing line, many Washington reporters are decidedly wardrobe-challenged.
But despite its loftier reputation, the Washington press corps hasn't exactly been drawing rave reviews in recent years. Its members stand accused of the following:
· Acting as a conduit for bad information from high-level sources, such as in Judith Miller's stories on Iraq's WMDs, which, as it turned out, were nonexistent.
· Getting too cozy with administration sources and retailing their version of history, a charge sometimes leveled at Bob Woodward.
· Pulling their punches with the White House because of concerns about losing access.
· Meeting secretly with the president while taking a vow of silence about the off-the-record chats.
Now, some of these complaints are overdone -- there's not much access to lose at the White House, where even favored reporters don't get many leaks (unless President Bush is secretly doing the declassifying) -- but, well, gosh, perhaps there's a grain of truth here.
As Burkle wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "This source game is not only played on Page Six. It is also played for high stakes on Wall Street and in Washington."
Don't most journalists try to seduce sources into sharing secrets, with an implied bargain of fair-to- really fair treatment? Don't most journalists tell reluctant sources that it would be a shame if they refused to cooperate and their side wasn't told? Haven't a few Washington journalists favorably profiled an official who might be useful on their beat?