In some of my previous posts both here on Dangerous Intersection and on Daylight Atheism, I’ve done my best to call attention to the corrupt, degraded state of most of today’s major news-gathering organizations. But a story I read today is truly the most astonishing example yet – both in the way the mainstream media has totally abandoned basic principles of journalistic ethics and integrity, and in the way they brazenly flaunt that behavior.
Last weekend, U.S. presidential candidate John McCain invited reporters to his vacation home in Arizona for a barbecue. McCain’s aides and staffers explained that the weekend was intended as a “social event” – i.e., no questions about McCain’s campaign strategy, voting record, or political positions – and was therefore off the record. When some reporters objected, McCain’s staff agreed that the weekend would be on the record after all, but only on the condition that reporters brought no audio or video recording equipment. The reporters meekly acceded to this, and that was the extent of our brave press corps’ journalistic heroism.
As I said, since the weekend was a “social event”, no questions were asked that would tell the American public anything of substance about McCain the candidate. Instead, the press corps was wined, dined and schmoozed by McCain’s campaign all weekend. Evidently, none of them saw anything improper either in accepting these gifts or in telling us all about it. I’ll let our brave, intrepid reporters describe their weekend retreat with Mr. Straight Talk in their own words.
Holly Bailey of Newsweek has the scoop on the accommodations:
The campaign booked the senator’s aides and reporters into one of the only big hotels in town: the Enchantment Resort, a five-star hotel nestled so far back in the picturesque red rock canyons of Sedona that most in the group found that their cell phones were out of range. To cope with the stress of being incommunicado, people booked massages at the hotel spa and went on hikes, including one on which an instructor sought to help participants unblock their “inner chi.” “Let me tell you, I’ve got a lot of chi today,” joked Steve Duprey, a close friend of McCain’s from New Hampshire who has been traveling with the campaign. Others played golf, went swimming or simply explored the hotel compound.
Michael D. Shear of the Washington Post tells us more about the five-star hotel he and his colleagues enjoyed:
The idea, McCain said, was to allow reporters to get to know him and his staff under less stressful circumstances. (The fact that the press spent the weekend at a resort called Enchantment where many sipped wine and enjoyed lengthy deep-tissue massages probably contributed to that feeling.)
Several reporters from CNN blew the lid off of McCain’s barbecued ribs recipe:
McCain revealed that barbecuing for guests is one of the few ways he relaxes, especially during the grueling campaign, and was eager to share his carefully honed recipe on the gas grill: baby back ribs (bought at Costco), cooked bones down with a dry rub that’s a third garlic powder, a third salt and a third pepper.
The trick to not letting it dry out? Keep putting lemon juice on, the senator said.
…Dinner was served on tables by Oak Creek, which runs through the property. The menu included ribs, grilled chicken, hot dogs, bratwurst, hamburgers, beef tamales, couscous and pasta salad.
CBS News’ Dante Higgins offers these penetrating bits of journalistic insight about McCain’s wardrobe and interior decorator:
McCain wore a white sweatshirt with a silk-screened family photo on it, sunglasses, a green baseball cap and blue jeans. As grillmaster, he looked like the all-American dad, with a story for every spot in the house.
…The décor of McCain’s house had a southwest flavor. Navajo rugs don the walls and floors. Well worn couches and chairs furnish the lower level of his home, which has exposed brick, wooden door frames, and paneling. In one room, political cartoons of McCain from the 2000 election cover the walls.
And finally, showing the dispassionate analysis that’s made the mainstream media so well-respected, Jeff Mason of Reuters renders his wholly objective verdict on the barbecued spare ribs:
So how did they taste?
Objectivity prohibits a good reporter from passing judgement, but let’s put it this way: everyone wants to come back.
What I find most astonishing is that, of all the reporters who were invited to McCain’s house, not a one of them that I’ve read had the slightest qualm. It’s unbelievably inappropriate that any reporter would agree to this, let alone the dozens who evidently did. I don’t believe this even needs to be said, but apparently our press corps needs to be reminded: reporters should not be accepting expensive gifts and lavish weekend retreats from the candidates they’re supposed to be covering! Do they really expect us to believe they can report on McCain critically and objectively after this? Will they be dissuaded from reporting negative news about him if he threatens not to invite them back?
The purpose of this retreat should be obvious to everyone except our deaf, blind and dumb press corps, who apparently thought McCain was doing it purely out of the goodness of his heart. In reality, even a child could see that he did it because he wanted to bribe the press into giving him favorable coverage. And they obliged him, apparently without even a tremor of conscience, accepting his blatant bribe and then filing multiple positive stories about the nice time they had at McCain’s beautiful desert ranch and the five-star hotel he booked for them. They gave him exactly what he wanted, and they never even seemed to glimpse the truth of how they’re being used.
But perhaps I’m unfairly impugning the press. Perhaps they realized full well what McCain was doing. But if so, that makes this even worse, because they went along with it anyway. It’s a sad commentary on the state of the media in our nation. Once they saw their function as “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. Now they count themselves among the ranks of the comfortable, and their sympathies lie, not with the public whom they’re supposed to be informing, but with their wealthy and famous friends in the glittery upper circles of society. The media nowadays seems to see its primary role as congratulating itself on how influential it is, and they view the flattery of the powerful as their just desserts.
Any real reporter would have flatly turned down McCain’s obvious and shameless attempt at a bribe. Any real reporter would have walked out the moment he heard that there would be no interviews or probing question sessions that weekend. It speaks volumes that none of them apparently did. And the fact that their editors and superiors also evidently saw nothing wrong with this is evidence that the corruption of the media is not isolated, but pervasive and systemic. The media, in its present state, has become the enemy of democracy, rather than its guardian. We need to encourage people to get their information from alternative sources that do real reporting and that are not beholden to the wealthy and powerful.