Bob Franken

The Openess Hustle

November 14, 2007
The Openness Hustles (Bob Franken)
@ 10:59 am

Remember Mikey? He’s that kid in the cereal commercial who “hates everything.” Well, Mikey would make a good reporter.

We are supposed to be professional skeptics, challenging any advocate’s self-serving, one-sided promotion. As the journalism cliche goes, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” As a result what we do can be mighty inconvenient.

Which explains why there are so many efforts to sabotage the media. Everywhere we turn in and around government, we have people selling something. And selling it in deceptive ways.

The last thing they need is somebody asking tough questions, or even obvious ones. So they go to extreme lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Witness the planted staff at the FEMA news conference. As we know now, they had been instructed to pretend they were reporters.

Boy, are they sorry they did that! Not because they feel they did anything wrong, mind you, but because they got caught. In fact, they probably feel in their heart of hearts that their mission was far too important to be challenged by any trouble-making wretches from the outside.

And that kind of thinking is not unique. Look at the variation on the planted questions offered up by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Bush White House.

For that matter, look at the heavy-handed ways the military tries to prevent open coverage of anything it does.

When the Pentagon first opened Guantanamo Bay in 2002, officials organized a one-day preview of Camp X-Ray, BEFORE any prisoners arrived.

Before they could hustle us off the base, word spread that the first “detainees” would be arriving that afternoon.

We put up such a ruckus about leaving, they let a small group of us stay. However, they instituted such severe restrictions on coverage from from then on that the process became known as the “Dog and Pony” show. Military public affairs people would escort groups of reporters on a tour that was designed to look open but really kept hidden all the abuses that we now know were going on out of sight.

The point is they and the others who engage in their subterfuges pretend they believe in the public’s right to know — actually, make that NEED to know. They realize they can’t just say to the American people, “It’s none of your damned business” — except for Vice President Cheney, of course.

So many of the rest, whether they’re government officials, candidates or, for that matter, the rulers of all our institutions, use every means at their disposal to deflect any challenge. Propaganda, deception, intimidation? Sure. Why not?

I’ll tell you why not. When we talk about what makes this country unique, openness is usually at the top of the list. At least that’s the claim.

Frankly, it ain’t so. And that is a threat to the whole idea of a nation that relies on an “informed electorate” to choose its leaders.

We should get our knowledge not from the pablum commercials they offer but partly from us “Mikeys,” the reporters whose job it is to question their ideas, programs and qualifications. That is the only way we can avoid being sold a bill of goods. Again.

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