Drudge Becomes Media Scapegoat
Drudge is turning out to be a sacrificial lamb in the name of journalistic integrity, sparking not only a debate about how cozy British journalists are with the British government, but also illustrating how powerful a citizen journalist, or blogger, can be.
Or "link journalist" I suppose, which is an interesting side-development.
If you’ve missed the couple-thousand reports, Drudge is being credited with blowing Prince Harry’s cover in Afghanistan, who was on track toward Arthurian legend status by single-handedly taking out 30 Taliban. (Actually, he organized the air strikes that took out 30 Taliban). Legend-building aside, everyone gives him the proper respect (at least) for serving his country in battle.
Drudge broke the news of where Harry was stationed. Sort of. He’s being blamed for it anyway, considering the vast reach of his link blog in the United States. But really, he was relaying information published in both Aussie women’s mag "New Idea" two weeks ago, and in German news source "Bild" yesterday.
The interesting thing about that is neither of these publications appeared aware of a UK-wide embargo the press agreed to in order to protect Harry’s royal behind on behalf of the British government. Another interesting thing about that is while "Bild’s" article is still up on the Web, "New Idea’s" search links, one of which points out Harry’s whereabouts in Afghanistan and another one – published in November – reporting Harry would not serve in Iraq, redirect to a generic biography.
The editor of "New Idea" says the magazine was unaware of the 10-week embargo UK journalists had thus far honored. The end result: Harry was sent home where it’s safe. Drudge, "New Idea," and "Bild," then, regardless of the debate that is now ensuing about responsible reporting and government-press collusion, sort of did him a favor. My bet is there’s a lot of troops who’d like to go home, also.
Here too, you have those fundamental differences between Britain and the US that have gone back a couple of centuries. One involves the traditional American rejection of nobility by birthright and special treatment (please, no Bush/National Guard jabs; I’m talking about nationally-held mythos and the supposed hegemony pushed by every American textbook and talk radio host), but that’s another topic. The other fundamental difference is the relationship between the press and the government.
Assuming there’s not, in the 21st century, a massive collusion between the mainstream press, their corporate owners, and government spooks (and there’s every bit of evidence there may be, fellow conspiracy theorists), the ideals established by the US Constitution provide a distinct separation between the government and the press. It’s a free-speech and government accountability thing.
How can a watchdog hold the government accountable if the watchdog obeys when it’s told to heel?
I won’t say that the American press doesn’t sit on things for various reasons. Most often, "sitting" is the result of a relationship built between the press and PR firms, who ask the press to honor embargoes. Every journalist knows he is not legally bound to an embargo, but honors them anyway most of the time in order to keep a good relationship with those who have access to information.
Similar deals are often struck with politicians or government employees, too: If you keep this bit of information to yourself, we’ll give you better information. Though you’d be hard-pressed to prove that. It’s a pretty intricate dance of give-and-take.
Add to that already tenuous relationship, pressures from corporate owners to produce thrice as much news in a given time-period, and a public relations field that employs more PR reps than there are journalists (remember, it’s all about controlling the message), and you’ve got a sophisticated, self-regulating press corps.
So I’m not saying that embargoes have no place in journalism, or that they don’t happen in American journalism. I’m also not saying that British journalists should have run out and reported Harry’s whereabouts (which isn’t too far off from CNN being on the beach when US troops got there in Desert Storm). But at the same time, it raises questions about just how cozy the British press is with the British government, and how much they don’t report in order to maintain their relationships.
The same question, I guess, goes to the American press.
But as far as Drudge goes, he makes a pretty convenient person to point fingers at when the jig is up, doesn’t he? Whether or not you ascribe to the validity of "link journalism" or blogging, Drudge illustrated the power of information gathering and dissemination while pressing a much-needed debate on ethics and proper relationships.
In times of information overload and information manipulation, it’s refreshing to think there are still good-old-fashioned whistle-blowers out there. I’ve said it before: Bloggers will save journalism, and this is just another reason why.