WASHINGTON – It is settled history that William Randolph Hearst, the mega publisher portrayed in the film “Citizen Kane,” helped start the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Half a century later, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy plied Washington columnist Arthur Krock with hospitality, whiskey and more to suborn him to help lay a path for son John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s successful run for the White House.
Powerful men and powerful publishers were always tugging at each other’s chains for influence. It really didn’t matter much years ago because there were lots of newspapers and magazines – different voices shouting different messages.
That, of course, changed suddenly with the popularity of digital news, and the radical concentration of the number of outlets for national news and, critically now, political news and opinion.
But recent WikiLeaks disclosures suggest the deepest level of cooperation – dare we say collusion – in history among leading journals and the electronic media and the Democratic National Committee and its Hillary Clinton campaign.
The leaks may or may not have originated with the Russian government. They may have come from Lenin’s Tomb. What matter are the facts. The disclosures that the DNC rigged the primary season game against candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders were taken seriously enough to force the quick resignation of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
That’s politics and there’s a political answer to that. There is no easy solution to the collusion between the DNC and journalism other than professional discipline. And the respect for professional independence has collapsed in many quarters here, the leaks show.
The top investigative reporter for Politico.com, Kenneth Vogel, was caught red-handed in the emails dump letting a key official of the DNC read his entire dispatch before Vogel showed it to his editors at Politico. Many who work for newspapers, cable and television newsrooms use Politico as source material.
The emails show a number of transactions between the DNC and prominent media stars and their outlets at less than arm’s length.
The subjects include Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” his producer, MSNBC, CNN and the Washington Post.
In one email, a Democratic official said the DNC was working Post reporter Greg Sargent “hard” to “write something favorable” and bragged that it expected Sargent to “play ball.” Another recounts a joint strategy meeting between the DNC and MSNBC.
None of the media persons mentioned has been criticized, much less suspended. Even after the emails dump, Todd rebuked NBC correspondent Angela Mitchell on the air for reporting during the Democratic convention that many of the Sanders delegates “sat on their hands” during first lady Michelle Obama’s speech.
Is this the new normal? The media’s attitude toward Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was discussed by Glenn Greenwald in an interview distributed by Editor & Publisher on Friday. Greenwald, living in Brazil, is a leader in freedom of information movements. He was instrumental in distributing secret government documents stolen by Eric Snowden.
Greenwald doesn’t like Trump, and called him “unstable.” That, Greenwald said, doesn’t justify journalists digging up or trumping up stories simply to destroy Trump. Greenwald says they are. He said that is counterproductive and can prompt Trumpsters to tune out “elite” journalists.
There’s a worse risk. What happens when or if Clinton is elected? Will the capital press corps simply throw off its anti-Republican passions, unethical practices and hand-in-glove relationships with the DNC? That is unlikely.
Those who participated in this cabal will have too much invested to suddenly turn around and do their job of tough and independent reporting on the new regime.