So the other day, I saw this:
And it made me think of this:
Now, Murrow gets over-lionized and McCarthy gets over-villainized as we put years between us and 1954 (after all, the US Government was compromised by Soviet intelligence), but that’s a separate issue. Who’s acting as the watchdog anymore? This is one of the critical purposes of journalism and a responsibility of the free press. I can’t remember the last time somebody on TV went full guns on both parties the way Napolitano did there – and we’re at the point now, with Obama’s first term nearing completion, where if you’re not including both parties in any discussion you’re having about the erosion of liberty, you’re definitely a partisan hack not doing your job.
Part of it is the fact that we don’t have people getting smeared and openly accused of treason in front of a Congressional Committee these days. Today, we throw clauses into bills or have our legislators vaguely hint that his colleagues have dubious loyalty when they don’t support the “right” security policy. With few exceptions, opposition to expansion or overreach of government power is stage-managed, with both parties knowing that the keys will be theirs again eventually if they aren’t currently. I suppose you can at least credit McCarthy for attempting to show his work.
The other, larger component is that politics on television is now covered completely as sport. Talking elections? Better bring our Washington correspondent in so he/she can tell us what everything really means, as if he/she were talking us laymen through a Cover 2 defense. And how does our Washington correspondent have this knowledge? They go to cocktail parties on the Hill and stuff. He/she knows people. They’ll tell us how this is all just part of a long game, resulting in electoral result X. They trade their watchdog role for access. What good is it to blow the whistle once if that means you’re going to cheat yourself out of a year’s worth of punditry?
“But wait,” you say, “what about the internet?” And I’d agree – people like Glenn Greenwald are beating the drum on this stuff on a near daily basis. But for the time being, we’re a TV culture. Even when we’re online, we want video to break things down or bring them to life. Our biggest moments on Twitter are when we’re all watching something on TV. And at this time, the heirs to Murrow’s broadcast legacy of bringing the watchdog press into every living room are shrinking from their task. And I’m not talking about the attack dogs of FNC and MSNBC’s primetime lineups. I’m talking about the people that are supposedly charged with bringing the news that matters to the country. Unfortunately, they’d much rather be debate moderators, figuratively and literally.