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The compelling case for why we need journalists

Journalist are not the most favourite people around.    In the US they are almost at the point of being on the nose.    But, we need people who will write about what politicians are up to - and not telling us - but who also challenge, when the opportunity arises, those who lead us.     Just think of what WikiLeaks uncovered and we didn't know about.   And the justly well known Pentagon Papers and the revelations about thalidomide by The Sunday Times?   

In his latest column for The New York Times' Sunday Review, Frank Bruni, puts more than a compelling case for why we need journalists.

"Lately we journalists have been agitated, justifiably, by the Obama administration’s prosecution of leakers and spying on the reporters and news organizations who set up or sop up those leaks. It’s an overzealous overreach and a serious threat to our ability to police government, which has shown time and again that it needs policing.

But our role and relevance are arguably even more imperiled by politicians’ ability, in this newly wired world of ours, to go around us and present themselves in packages that we can’t simultaneously unwrap. To get a message out, they don’t have to beseech a network’s indulgence. They don’t have to rely on a newspaper’s attention. The Bachmann, Weiner and Clinton videos are especially vivid examples of that, reflections and harbingers of an era in which YouTube is the public square, and the fourth estate is a borderline obsolescent one.

Some of you are nodding and saying: “Great! You journalists have brought this on yourselves.” To a large extent, we have. With our cynicism, superficiality, susceptibility to carnival barkers and tendency to see all politics in terms of the contest rather than the content, we’ve earned a level of public esteem not much higher than the one that members of Congress bask in. The repugnant hounding the reviled: that’s the Beltway media situation in a rancid nutshell.

And there are some potentially positive consequences of a departure from the media norm. Will candidates using the unfiltered, far-reaching thoroughfare of cyberspace be able to liberate themselves from the physically grueling slog of stumping, which has almost nothing to do with their fitness for office and potential for governance? That could open up politics to talented people turned off by the endless bus tours. It could permit candidates to spend less time on the road, more time plotting what to do in the jobs they’re angling to get.

But it’s also a troubling new tool with which to construct a Potemkin identity, a facade at odds with anything behind it. Not wholly new: for a while now, candidates have used Web video for ads, biographical sketches and the like, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign announcement for the 2008 presidential election was a statement, with accompanying video, on her Web site. But that video was essentially an arrow among many in a robust quiver. It wasn’t an act of evasion.

If there’s a trend line at work, it’s of politicians’ being ever more orchestrated and anxious about the establishment of their own narratives (and they were plenty orchestrated from the get-go). President Obama rose to national prominence literally on the power of his own storytelling, with an electrifying convention speech and a best-selling memoir, and has since been emphatic about the polish of his public appearances and the distance at which reporters are kept. He prefers teleprompters and the soft focus of “The View,” Letterman and “Entertainment Tonight” to potentially messy interactions with political reporters.

And that kind of extreme control feeds a vicious cycle. A suspicious, scandal-primed press corps yields wary politicians, whose reticence and guardedness foster greater suspicion still. “Bad behavior from both sides feeds more bad behavior,” observed Bradley Tusk, who managed Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign.

The Clinton, Weiner and Bachmann videos, all different but related, simply ratchet up the effort to marginalize naysaying reporters and neutralize skeptical reporting. And as Chris Lehane, a Democratic political strategist, pointed out to me, they take a page from corporate America, whose chieftains have used that same format, as opposed to news conferences or interviews, to distribute sensitive communiqués. Lehane mentioned, for example, the 2007 video in which David Neeleman, then the C.E.O. of JetBlue, explained the airline’s brand-quaking operations meltdown.

But corporations answer only to shareholders and customers. Politicians answer to all of us, and have a scarier kind of power, easily abused. So we must see them in environments that aren’t necessarily tailored to their advantage. We must be able to poke and meddle. It may not be a pretty sight, and we journalists may not be doing it in a pretty way, but eliminate that and you wind up with something even less pretty: Bachmann, robotically composed, telling you that she’s quitting for purely high-minded reasons, with the vigor of the republic foremost in her heart.

That’s a whole lot further from the truth than anything we wretched scribes put out.andidates using the unfiltered, far-reaching thoroughfare of cyberspace be able to liberate themselves from the physically grueling slog of stumping, which has almost nothing to do with their fitness for office and potential for governance? That could open up politics to talented people turned off by the endless bus tours. It could permit candidates to spend less time on the road, more time plotting what to do in the jobs they’re angling to get.

But it’s also a troubling new tool with which to construct a Potemkin identity, a facade at odds with anything behind it. Not wholly new: for a while now, candidates have used Web video for ads, biographical sketches and the like, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign announcement for the 2008 presidential election was a statement, with accompanying video, on her Web site. But that video was essentially an arrow among many in a robust quiver. It wasn’t an act of evasion.

If there’s a trend line at work, it’s of politicians’ being ever more orchestrated and anxious about the establishment of their own narratives (and they were plenty orchestrated from the get-go). President Obama rose to national prominence literally on the power of his own storytelling, with an electrifying convention speech and a best-selling memoir, and has since been emphatic about the polish of his public appearances and the distance at which reporters are kept. He prefers teleprompters and the soft focus of “The View,” Letterman and “Entertainment Tonight” to potentially messy interactions with political reporters.

And that kind of extreme control feeds a vicious cycle. A suspicious, scandal-primed press corps yields wary politicians, whose reticence and guardedness foster greater suspicion still. “Bad behavior from both sides feeds more bad behavior,” observed Bradley Tusk, who managed Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign.

The Clinton, Weiner and Bachmann videos, all different but related, simply ratchet up the effort to marginalize naysaying reporters and neutralize skeptical reporting. And as Chris Lehane, a Democratic political strategist, pointed out to me, they take a page from corporate America, whose chieftains have used that same format, as opposed to news conferences or interviews, to distribute sensitive communiqués. Lehane mentioned, for example, the 2007 video in which David Neeleman, then the C.E.O. of JetBlue, explained the airline’s brand-quaking operations meltdown.

But corporations answer only to shareholders and customers. Politicians answer to all of us, and have a scarier kind of power, easily abused. So we must see them in environments that aren’t necessarily tailored to their advantage. We must be able to poke and meddle. It may not be a pretty sight, and we journalists may not be doing it in a pretty way, but eliminate that and you wind up with something even less pretty: Bachmann, robotically composed, telling you that she’s quitting for purely high-minded reasons, with the vigor of the republic foremost in her heart.

That’s a whole lot further from the truth than anything we wretched scribes put out."

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