Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Army of Martha Mitchells

Some bloggers just don't understand how journalism works. Back in mid-January TPM Muckraker an offshoot of Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo began writing that U. S. attorneys were being fired by the Bush Administration and tried to make a big deal out of it. Although most journalists paid no attention to the hysteria the bloggers were trying to whip up about what Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez would later call an "overblown personnel matter," Time magazine's Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Jay Carney took time out of his busy day to patiently mock Marshall.

"Of course! It all makes perfect conspiratorial sense!" Carney wrote. "Except for one thing: in this case some liberals are seeing broad partisan conspiracies where none likely exist." Though Carney admitted, "It's all very suspicious sounding," he pointed out that Marshall had no proof. Marshall was basing his claims on the complaints of one disgruntled district attorney, Carol Lam, who claimed her firing jeopardized investigations into the Duke Cunningham scandal, and the vague charges of Senator Dianne Feinstein who is clearly a partisan. Besides nothing about the story had appeared in the Drudge Report and journalists are bound by the rules of journalistic ethics to ignore rumors unless they appear there first.

Of course, journalists don't have the time or resources to investigate every suspicious rumor. If they did that, they wouldn't have time to report the news. And if their confidential sources in the White House thought that journalists were looking into something that might make them look bad, they would stop leaking to journalists, which would make reporting the news impossible.

But Marshall and his reporters, who apparently don't have anything better to do and may be slightly unstable, kept pushing this story until another U.S. Attorney, David Iglesias, went public with his suspicions about why he was fired. But even then Carney remained steadfast, writing skeptically, "If Iglesias names names, and others tell similar stories, I will take my hat off to Marshall and others in the blogosphere and congratulate them for having been right in their suspicions about this story from the beginning." Of course, he still wasn't prepared to waste his valuable time looking into the matter himself and he couldn't resist getting in a little dig at bloggers, pointing out that "Suspicions aren't facts," which bloggers apparently don't realize because they didn't go to journalism school.

Now Gonzalez has been forced to admit that "mistakes were made" although he didn't know anything about them. He pointed out that there are 110,000 people working in the Justice Department and he can't possibly know what they are all up to. Unlike bloggers, Attorneys General and Time correspondents have real jobs and they can't be expected to know everything.

Nevertheless, Carney made good on his promise to take his hat off to Marshall, no doubt relieved that he didn't say that he would eat his hat. Just in case anyone thought that Carney just sat on his hands and let bloggers do all the work, he also revealed that he actually made a few calls. "I called some Democrats on the Hill; they were 'concerned,' but this was not a priority." Without the cover of being able to report that Democrats were suspicious and looking into the allegations, Carney knew that he couldn't take the risk of looking into them himself so he was forced to publicly doubt they were true so that Time's reputation wouldn't be damaged. "The blogosphere was the engine on this story, pulling the Hill and the MSM along. As the document dump proves, what happened was much worse than I'd first thought. I was wrong. Very nice work, and thanks for holding my feet to the fire," Carney admitted magnanimously.

Now because of one blog and despite the determined efforts of Jay Carney and other mainstream journalists, the Justice Department is in disarray. I don't need to tell you how dangerous it is to have resources diverted to defending the embattled Attorney General and away from fighting terrorists. I hope that Marshall and other bloggers will realize how reckless their actions have been and will learn some valuable lessons from this episode. They need to learn how journalism really works and to understand what drives modern journalism you have to go all the way back to the Watergate scandal, which many bloggers are too young to remember.

After Richard Nixon was forced to resign the presidency because of the Watergate scandal, he told David Frost in an interview, "If it hadn't been for Martha Mitchell, there'd have been no Watergate." Martha Mitchell was the wife of Nixon's Attorney General John Mitchell. Before the Watergate scandal broke, she began calling reporters late at night and telling them that her husband was engaged in illegal activities. Reporters, of course, didn't believe anything she said and tried to help her by telling her husband what she was doing. He had her locked away and leaked a story to the press that she had a "drinking problem." The character of Martha Logan in the television series 24 is based on her so you can see why no one believed her and why she was so dangerous.

Although some blame for Watergate must also go to Mark Felt, the disgruntled FBI employee who has since been revealed as Woodward and Bernstein's source Deep Throat, it was Mitchell's indiscretions that first put the poisonous idea in the heads of reporters that our own government can't be trusted, which ultimately weakened our country. Just as people working for Gonzalez tried to stop U.S. attorneys from talking to reporters by threatening to release damaging information about them, John Mitchell tried to stop The Washington Post from writing about Watergate by warning, "[Post Publisher] Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's published."

Regrettably, The Washington Post went ahead with the story anyway. In the wake of Watergate laws were passed limiting what the government could do. Because of these laws government officials were barred from using all of the resources necessary to protect our country. So Mitchell was partly responsible not only for damaging the credibility and the power of the U.S. government for years to come but possibly even 9/11. It has taken years of painstaking work by the Bush Administration to restore some of the credibility and power the government lost after Watergate through laws like the Patriot Act. If one delusional, alcoholic woman, who just happened to be right in this one instance, can do so much damage despite the concerted effort of many reporters not to believe her, think what damage an army of Martha Mitchells could do. To journalists that's what bloggers are--an army of Martha Mitchells.

The idea of an army of Martha Mitchells is terrifying to reporters. Sure, Josh Marshall and other bloggers happened to be right on this one story, just as Martha Mitchell turned out to be correct despite the fact that she was a delusional drunken gossip. But that shouldn't tempt the Jay Carneys of the world to pick up the phone the next time one of these Martha Mitchells calls and tries to put subversive ideas in their heads. I think Carney and other reporters realize the damage Watergate did to this country and they are trying to undo it by returning journalism back to where it was before Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein ruined it. Unfortunately, there is an army of Martha Mitchells out there constantly ringing up journalists in the middle of the night, waking them up when they are trying to sleep.

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mistah charley, ph.d. said...

Jon - Obviously you are someone with deep background knowledge of the Watergate era - I'm guessing you read it in the newspapers as it happened, rather than in a history book after the fact - if I'm wrong about that, then my hat will be off to you.

These bloggers ARE an army of Martha Mitchells, and a deeply disturbing influence. When are we going to have professional licensing and regulation of news organizations, to protect us from this kind of thing?

Anonymous said...

Has the Bob Woodward, that you mention as having been involved in Watergate, been trying to return journalism back to what it was before he helped ruin it, or is it a different Bob Woodward that has been writing hagiographies of Bush and keeping secrets in the Plame peccadillo?

Anonymous said...

Of course, Mrs. Mitchell said: "This country is going to go so far to the right you won't be able to recognize it."

And she was right.

- K said...

There's a whole army of Martha Mitchells around the world, not just in the United States, threatening the safety of good regimes by revealing information about government corruption, torture, and other crimes.

In some places, the government has been up to the task of keeping these people in line. Clearly, your government is behind the times.

Unknown said...

An Army of Martha Mitchells?
Has cloning gone mainstream or it is still one of those TOP SECRET national weapons or privileges, depending?
What kind of security clearance does a person need to get access?
Certainly, Martha Mitchell isn't the only one being made into a virtual army. Who else?
Bloggers, journalists, whoevah: think about it. WHO ELSE?

Brando said...

I think someone misunderstood "serving at the President's pleasure" as "doing whatever pleases the President."

BlueKat said...

"I know dirty things."

"I saw dirty things."

"I am not going to stand for all those dirty tricks that go on."

Indeed, these nasty bloggers are just like Martha Mitchell. Perhaps the administration can find someone like Jack Anderson to discredit them all. (Is not Drudge the modern day equivalent?)If not, they could all be rounded up, drugged, kidnapped and locked up in some hotel somewhere.

They'd never find them in that big sailboat hotel in Dubai, plus, "accidents" can easily happen on in-door ski slopes....hmmm.

ChrisV82 said...

Investigative journalism is difficult enough without having to investigate things. That's something "bloggers" will never understand, because they never went to journalism school.

Demon Princess said...

Bravo! "Army of Martha Mitchells!

Your blog is brilliant, m'dear!

Anonymous said...

Of course Martha Mitchell was actually sleeping with the Attorney General, I don't know if any bloggers
have access to that kind of "inside scoop"

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