There are many useless things one may study in college. When I transferred as an English major at William and Mary to the journalism program at Georgia State, I thought I was making a practical decision.
Like many of my generation, I was under the spell of Watergate-style investigative reporting and the advocacy journalism that spawned the alternative press. We left our hippie-yippie selves behind to change the world with words. The pen was mightier than the joint!
Unfortunately, there were two serious glitches in this plan. First, one had to get a real job. Journalism is still a miserably paying occupation, especially for beginners, but it was outrageously bad back then. Here's how bad it was. I was interviewing for a reporter's job at the Atlanta Constitution. It looked pretty certain that I had the job. Then came the talk of salary. They offered me significantly less money than the twice-weekly paper in Elberton. So I embarked on about six years in rural Georgia at three different newspapers.
In the backwoods, I quickly became aware of the second problem with my plan to change the world with the power of written truth. My employer had to be willing to publish what I unearthed. Between the Little League pictures and accident reports, I did manage to scare up some pretty sensational stories. I uncovered, for example, the details on how an election was fixed by absentee voting, how a mayor was the principal landlord in a virtual small-town slum, how some county officials were involved in drug trafficking.
With one exception, the publishers refused to run such stories. I told myself that it was the cost of living in small towns. Once you rock the boat, you are quickly marginalized. For a publisher, that can be costly.
Unfortunately, when I moved on to big-city media, I often found the same dynamic at play. In one case, I was actually contracted by a magazine to write an in-depth story – one that one of my small-town publishers had refused to run. When it came down to it, though, even the big-city magazine wouldn't print it. This happened half a dozen times, in Atlanta and elsewhere.
I don't think my experience is unique and it's one reason the conservative depiction of print media as a muckraking tool of the far left is so absurd. Anyone who survives in journalism learns that what isn't being reported is frequently more important than what is reported.
Two weeks ago, there was an example of this that still has my head spinning. The New York Times published a lengthy article by David Barstow about the ever-present "military analysts" all the networks and some newspapers have employed since 9/11. These are all high-ranking military retirees.
It was no surprise when Barstow documented that all of them have been gung-ho supporters of the Iraq invasion and occupation. What was more disturbing was learning that most of them had actually been pre-approved by the Pentagon and White House. This corps of "analysts" met regularly with White House officials who schooled them in administration talking points. They were also flown, at taxpayer expense, to Guantanamo and Baghdad, where they were subjected to sunny propaganda (and knew so).
But still worse, Barstow reported that the majority of these former generals were working for contractors in Iraq. In other words, the media (including the New York Times) have been employing analysts who shill for the administration, which is also awarding lucrative contracts to the companies represented by the analysts.
With the exception of CNN, all of the networks refused to comment for Barstow's story – and CNN spokesmen claimed they knew nothing about any of this. Barstow's interviews with the analysts themselves reveal that none of them were asked about possible conflicts of interest.
The Times is to be congratulated for publishing Barstow's piece, which demonstrates beyond all doubt how the media have now allied themselves with the so-called military-industrial complex. But, as Glen Greenwald of Salon.com observes, it's troubling that it's taken five years for someone to write this article.
And the story doesn't stop there. At this writing – more than a week before publication – not a single network has responded to the story. With the exception of a notation in Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz's column, print media have also been silent.
So the media appear to be successfully ignoring a scandalous story that is basically about their habit of ignoring the truth to ingratiate themselves to ideologues and corporate shills.
For me, it's rural Georgia all over again.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.