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THE CONFLICT OF INTERE$T
By David Podvin
The Washington Post has devolved from being the vaunted citadel of American investigative journalism to little more than a gelding cheerleader for the current occupant of the White House. The moral collapse at the Post has nothing to do with ideology, and everything to do with greed.
When the Washington Post Company announced its earnings on October 31, Dow Jones Newswires reported the following: “Revenue rose 10% to $706.1 million from $640.3 million, helped by 40% revenue growth at Kaplan division. Newspaper-publishing revenue grew 4.4% to $211.4 million, but revenue declined in both the television and magazine-publishing divisions.”
Absent the huge increase in revenue from its Kaplan, Inc. educational materials subsidiary, the Washington Post Company would have been a money-losing organization, the kind of corporation where executives conduct layoffs prior to being fired themselves. The explosive growth at Kaplan was due to the largesse of George W. Bush, the politician whom the company’s flagship newspaper treats with tender loving care. It is the Bush program mandating the testing of schoolchildren across America – tests for which Kaplan supplies materials - that makes the federal government a lucrative source of revenue for the Post’s cash cow.
Al Gore opposed such massive uniform standardized testing, arguing that children should be striving to learn useful knowledge and skills, as opposed to just memorizing the curriculum for the purpose of performing well on tests. Gore’s stance cost him dearly, because it provided the Post with an overwhelming financial incentive to help Bush. Although the Post ultimately gave Gore a meaningless, half-hearted endorsement on its editorial page, it is the paper’s news section that sets the daily tone echoed by media outlets across the country. On the all-important front page, Post readers were constantly presented with fabricated stories about the vice president’s nonexistent serial deceit. Meanwhile, his mendacious and corrupt Republican opponent was spared critical examination. During the decisive Florida recount, the paper openly sided with Bush.
The decision to opt for cash at the expense of journalism has been enormously profitable: factoring in the Kaplan windfall and the deregulation of the broadcasting industry, the Washington Post Company will gain hundreds of millions of dollars it never would have had if Gore were president. In business terms, the decision to throw in with Bush has been a smart move. The only price the Post has had to pay for its additional profits is the loss of its integrity. Gone are the days of investigating wrongdoing in the executive branch and editorials demanding presidential accountability. Today, the Washington Post is just another conformist component of the corporate media establishment.
Over the next year, when Post writers David Broder and Ceci Connelly and Dan Balz and Howard Kurtz and Bob Woodward and Dana Milbank mightily strain to defend Bush while viciously lashing out at the eventual Democratic nominee, their motive will be self-preservation. Employees who cost their company massive amounts of money do not get lucrative pay raises, stock options, and bonuses… they get pink slips. In order to avoid that fate, the journalists at the Post will again be running interference for the candidate who is committed to funneling the most taxpayer money to their employer. Journalists at the other mainstream media outlets will do the same.
The Democrats had better be ready for an unprecedented assault by the corporate media in 2004, because the monetary stakes have never been this high. The media conglomerates are determined to have the remainder of the multi-billion dollar broadcasting industry deregulated. The Washington Post Company also desperately wants to help all the little children of America by making sure that standardized educational testing is maintained and expanded. These are objectives that will be met only if George W. Bush remains in office, by whatever means necessary.
Already the Post has begun to reprise its squalid performance of 2000 by targeting Democratic presidential candidates in ways that are both inane and unethical. There have been numerous snotty little articles that betray the paper’s animus towards anyone who dares to challenge Bush.
In a typical Post story, Dana Milbank eviscerated then-frontrunner Senator John Kerry for ordering Swiss cheese on his Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich and then eating it with “dainty” bites. Milbank presciently analyzed Kerry’s disgraceful performance by concluding, “Appearing out of touch with the common man can be deadly for a candidate.” Kerry is now trailing badly in the polls, so apparently great masses of rank and file Democrats share Milbank’s implacable outrage about the cheese steak fiasco.
More significantly, the paper has run articles laying the groundwork for the Bush reappointment campaign by questioning the emotional stability of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and the character of former general Wesley Clark. These storylines are impervious to refutation, because emotional stability and character are highly subjective concepts.
Dr. Dean has been cast by the Post as Mister Hyde, someone whose very existence seems to pose a clear and present danger. Evelyn Nieves began her objective report on the “short-fused” candidate as follows: “Howard Dean was angry. Ropy veins popped out of his neck, blood rushed to his cheeks, and his eyes, normally blue-gray, flashed black, all dilated pupils.” The paper questions whether someone who is so out of control “has the diplomatic skills needed to be the leader of the free world.” Even the “snarling” Dean’s attempts to pretend he is not a mad dog fail miserably in the eyes of Post reporter Laura Blumenfeld: “His smile looks more like a baring of teeth.”
Clark is apparently heir apparent to Gore’s 2000 Post designation as America’s Most Ambitious Congenital Liar. In an article by Lois Romano, the paper has introduced readers to Clark’s reputation among “some” in the military as “someone who would do or say anything to get ahead”. This unverified claim is a verbatim reprise of the Republican National Committee Talking Point Number One about Gore.
The implication of these stories is not subtle: because of their contemptible personal flaws, none of which can be proven, neither the deranged Dean nor the conniving Clark should ever become president. Meanwhile, the contemptibly (and provably) flawed current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue somehow remains an unsuitable subject for similar harsh reportorial treatment.
The Post is just getting warmed up. If you think that the corporate media was as unprofessional and malicious as humanly possible when it smeared the last two Democratic presidential nominees, prepare to be shocked and awed during the upcoming campaign. With so much money on the line, and so little honor in the newsrooms of Corporate America, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
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