Saturday, March 08, 2008

For American Journos, 'Mum' Would Have Been the Word

Glenn Greenwald, a man with whom I rarely agree, makes an excellent point about the fall of senior Obama advisor Samantha Power (she told a reporter that Hillary Clinton is "a monster"):
But the reporter who was interviewing her, Britain's Gerri Peev of The Scotsman, printed the comment anyway -- as she should have, because Peev had never agreed that any parts of the interview would be "off the record," and nobody has the right to demand unilaterally, and after the fact, that journalists keep their embarrassing remarks a secret.

It's extremely likely, though, that had Power been speaking to a typical reporter from the American establishment media, her request to keep her comments a secret would have been honored. In one of the ultimate paradoxes, for American journalists -- whose role in theory is to expose the secrets of the powerful -- secrecy is actually their central religious tenet, especially when it comes to dealing with the most powerful. Protecting, rather than exposing, the secrets of the powerful is the fuel of American journalism. That's how they maintain their access to and good relations with those in power.
In theory an American journalist would have done the same thing as the Scotsman reporter - printed Power's ill-considered remark.

In practice? Most American journalists would not have printed it unless Power worked for McCain. Greenwald is quite correct on "effect," if a bit shaky on "cause."

At the end of his piece, Greenwald tries to make the ridiculous case that the US Press favors the Right, but he's only pandering to the juvenile BDS sufferers who make up his Salon readership; Greenwald's main point, though, is spot on. The odds are long that an American reporter would have honored Power's request to keep the remark off the record.