Monday - July 09, 2007

Category Image "Journalistic Code" or, Why Novak is an Idiot

Robert Novak is no more than a gossip monger. I read today that Robert Novak "tells all" in his new book. He's made his living as a gossip monger and has been successful because he can project an insufferable stuffiness and snobbishness as he tells us all the secrets of Washington. He's really no different than People magazine except that he writes about brainless people who can take our money away, whereas People magazine just writes about people who make movies.

Part of his schtick is to act as though he is privy to all the insider wheeling and dealing in politics, and relate his tales with an air of superiority. People will listen to anyone who acts as though they are superior.

Novak was the one, if you'll recall, who did the "tell all" article that exposed Valerie Plame, the CIA employee with the odd name, as a CIA employee. As gossip goes, this was not only boring, but unimportant. If she ever was an undercover agent, and that is not clear, her manipulating the CIA for political purposes certainly justified noting that she worked for the CIA.

Most people know now about the absurd investigations and Scooter Libby's conviction for not being involved. But all that could have been avoided had Novak simply come forward from the beginning to tell the authorities investigating this non-crime how he became aware of her status.

But no, Novak had to perpetuate the myth that gossip mongers are the high priests of politics and immune from the rules the rest of us abide by. He's a "Journalist." Whatever that is.

While people's fates were twisting in the wind, Novak stirred up more and more controversy, even staging a temper tantrum on television. When simple cooperation with the investigation would have put this needless mess to rest, he invoked the "code" of journalism as though purveying unattributed statements and gossip is somehow ethical.

When I was a kid, the bad westerns and other tv shows would mention the "code" of the outlaw. Such is the "code" of Novak's journalism. That is to say, it's laughable on its face.

Here's why it's laughable:

Journalists are not smart people. They have degrees in journalism for people who can't understand math or science. Yet, journalists routinely write about things they can't possibly understand and get it wrong almost every time. Anytime I have been associated with an event that ended up in the news, the story has invariably been wrong. Not just incomplete or abbreviated, but misleading and wrong. They are the kind of people who think their lack of understanding of the world is the natural state of people everywhere.

Novak felt a need to keep his source secret. Why? Because how else will politicians be able to tell him lies and gossip if he lets people know who the liars and gossipers are? Somehow, when Novak abets a potential criminal act it's sacrosanct, but if you or I were to claim privilege we would be tossed in the slammer. But then, once the scandal has played out he's free to tell all in a book he wants to sell. How convenient.

No one seems to question the merits of allowing politicians to speak "off the record" and without attribution, Novak even seems to think this is a good thing. These are people being paid by the citizens of the United States to work on our behalf. Everything they do and say that is related to the job we pay them to do should be attributable. Speaking without attribution is a very convenient way to spread lies and gossip, but if they didn't then how would Novak make his money?

In fact, Novak's refusal to cooperate in the investigation is not only extra-legal, it is unethical. But he won't see it that way since that's his rice bowl.

People who write about current events are not special categories of citizens. They are just citizens. That couldn't be more clear today with the internet. Anyone can write on the news today, and they do. We are no longer restricted to the ignorant and misleading writing of people not smart enough to have real educations or knowlege. Experts now write on the news from their homes and do a much better job of it. We don't have to get our only news from the AP, who pays terrorists in Iraq and Palestine to write their news rather than send trusted writers. We don't have to get military analysis from someone who doesn't know the difference between a tank and an armored personnel carrier, or a howitzer from a mortar. We no longer have to rely on pretty boys on TV who never took a class in calculus or chemistry to explain science and technology.

Robert Novak had a responsibility as a human being to clear up the facts surrounding a criminal investigation and didn't. He had a responsibility to not allow politicians to smear their opponents with gossip and hear say. Yet Robert Novak is perfectly happy to contribute to a multi-year political mess by not coming forward based on incorrect claims of principle. And he's perfectly happy to abandon these "principles" when he can sell a book.

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