Tuesday, July 19, 2005

On the Woodward and Bernstein reunion tour

Okay, so Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were on the Daily Show last night, and yes, they were shilling for their new book, but they were also commenting on the mushroom scandals that keep popping up and the media coverage thereof. If we're going to be completely honest, we'll have to recognize that it was it was a seriously heavy chunk of luck that made the guys "Woodward and Bernstein" instead of "Some Nebbish Guy and Hey, What's Up With That Other Guy's Hair," in that without Nixon's poor judgment as to which offices to break into and which conversations to tape record, there wouldn't have been a scandal to cover. On the other hand, though, they contributed to their own fame there by simply being better-than-average reporters; it could be posited that lesser reporters wouldn't have been so successful at digging deep, asking the right questions and talking to the right people. And that's why people like me, people who aspire to be Real, Grown-Up Reporters someday, look to W&B as the gold standard. At this point, they're almost more of an archetype than anything else.

Bob Woodward told a story about doing an interview at the White House and being met at the gates by an anti-Bush protest group, one protester of whom demanded to know what Woodward was doing in there and whether he was giving Bush a blow job. Twenty yards down Pennsylvania Avenue, he was accosted by a woman who asked if he was just trying to take Bush down the way he took down Nixon. And that's the way it is, really - no one trusts the press; they just distrust the press for different reasons. Jon Stewart (who sometimes seems more like a real reporter than anyone else these days) asked the pertinent question: should the public trust the press, really? And Carl Bernstein said no, but not for the reasons that people think. It's not about bias, because everyone is going to see bias where they want to; it's about journalists not doing their jobs properly.

And they totally, totally aren't. Reporters are so afraid of pissing off sources and losing access that they won't write anything more controversial than the school lunch menu, much less ask actual followup questions. The recent press corps assault on Scott "Rainman" McClellan was amazing because it was unusual to see reporters being so damned assertive at a White House gaggle, but to quote Chris Rock, "What do you want, a cookie?" That's what reporters do, you lazy punks.

The sub-story that ended up overwhelming the Jim/Jeff Guckert/Gannon scandal was that it was broken, for the most part, by the non-"real journalist" community. The serious, in-depth reporting was done by World O'Crap and Americablog, and they did it without depending on special, magical, Press Club-only insider sources; they did it with Google and a willingness to spend a little time finding out what the hell is actually going on. Bloggers got their due, which I thought was cool, but I couldn't help but wondering: Aren't you journalists ashamed?! All of you "real" journalists should be ashamed! This story was out there, the bald dude was standing right freaking next to you in the press gaggle, and the story was broken by some folks with computers and a basic recognition of when things just don't smell right.

Unequivocally, our generation's Woodward and Bernstein will be bloggers (assuming the FEC doesn't manage to shut them all down, but that's a whole other post). I don't know what scandal will be there to help them, because frankly, the White House has adopted Ronald Regan's Teflonicity; Gannon didn't touch them, the Downing Street Memos got less than "meh," and the ongoing Puppetmastergate doesn't seem to fluster the administration nearly as much as it should. If it's not the Bush White House, it might well be the next president.  But it's going to happen, and "real" journalists had better be sufficiently chastened.

The funniest comment in recent memory was Jon Stewart's whispered comment on the video of Scotty McClellan's shellacking: "The White House press corps has secretly been replaced with real reporters." Let's see if they notice. Hell, let's see if it lasts.

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