Should Journalists Cozy Up to Power or Uncover the Truth?

mcchrystal falls on quotesIf you haven’t yet read Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone piece that got Gen. Stanley McChrystal booted from his job as the top commander in Afghanistan, do so here. It’s a marvelous scoop of reporting, not just for the snarky jibes McChrystal and his aides threw at Obama administration officials, but also for its revelations on how badly the United States is losing this war. Now, Hastings, a freelance reporter, is being criticized for exposing the insults and embarrassing behavior. Lara Logan, a foreign correspondent for CBS, blasted Hastings on CNN for what she felt was a breach of trust on his part that could possibly damage journalists’ relations with the military.

Watch Hastings defend himself, followed by Logan’s remarks below:

But Logan quickly got blowback herself. Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, an outspoken investigative reporter most famously known for his recent exposes on the financial crisis, excoriated Logan on his blog, and accused her and others in the mainstream media of putting access to people in power above serving the public they are supposed to work for. Taibbi’s writing is not for the faint of heart (he’s quite liberal with expletives), but what he has to say on this subject is well worth reading.

Like Taibbi, I am just as deeply disturbed by Logan’s comments, as they say a lot about what’s wrong with American television and newspaper coverage today. Printing puff pieces about the military’s exploits in the war theater is not the job of any reporter – embedded or not. Being a stenographer for the government is not a reporter’s job either. And, contrary to what Logan believes, presenting “balanced,” “he said-she said” coverage is doing a disservice to the public, who, in order to make sound political decisions, absolutely needs to know who is telling the truth.

sylvia mooreA story may not just have two sides, but many, and one side may be outright lying. The public has a right to know that, and the journalist needs to expose the lie – or the embarrassing behavior – that may be hindering progress. If journalists can’t get access to interview people in power, they must be resourceful and get the information they need some other way. It is doable and has been done many times before by independent journalists around the world. Neither should Logan, CBS nor any other mainstream media outlet be public relations representatives for the military. That kind of attitude is what got us into these wars.

Sylvia Moore

Sylvia Moore is a Los Angeles-area blogger, writer and activist who spent several years as a newspaper reporter in central California. Sylvia has volunteered on behalf of healthcare and media reform. She is a member of and recording secretary for the Culver City Democratic Club, and is a member of and blogger for LA Media Reform, a local group of volunteers dedicated to helping people become citizen mediamakers and critical consumers of corporate mass media. Sylvia is also a volunteer and blogger for California OneCare, a group working to pass a universal, single-payer healthcare system in California.

Reposted with permission from the LA Media Reform.


  1. Jack Morrison says

    There is no good or bad public sphere, just as there is no such thing as a bit of a public sphere. According to the German Constitutional Court, it is only the full- fledged ability of all citizens to have access to all information, at least in principle, which makes the formation of public opinion possible. And it is the unobstructed formation of public opinion that makes it possible to view the outcome of elections as being representative of the will of the people.
    Is the state permitted to keep secrets from its citizens? Are citizens permitted to disclose such secrets?
    The answer to both questions is very simple: Yes.
    In Germany, it was former Constitutional Court Judge Grimm who declared that a free press serves a constitutional purpose. This is not meant in a restrictive way, but entirely within the meaning of the framers of the US Constitution. If the state derives its democratic authority from citizens having comprehensive information, then providing information becomes a civic duty. And breach of secrecy becomes a mark of the quality of a democracy.

  2. Marshall says

    Reporters should do the right thing, if information would cause harm to the country, a military operation, or reveal sources and methods, then it should not be revealed to the public without a government person giving an OK. If it just hurts someone’s feelings then go with it. The problem is some are not able to decern the right thing to do. I do worry about some mother seeing her son (daughter) on TV while in their last minutes from enemy gunfire.

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