Monday, May 11, 2009

Schieffer: "Washington Will Hardly Miss Him"

I don't often watch the Sunday morning talk shows unless there is a guest and/or a topic that is important to me. This Sunday's Face the Nation had as its guest Dick Cheney, which I discussed below, so I also caught Bob Schieffer's comments about Justice Souter's departure.

"I had no problem with the Justice's legal work. But as one who has lived 40 years in Washington, I'll be honest: I didn't care for his attitude.

He made it no secret that he hated the city, once describing his work as the best job in the world in the worst city in the world.

Another time he called life here "akin to an intellectual lobotomy."

Really? Our nation's capital? One of the most beautiful cities in the world?

Call me corny, but I have to confess, I've run into some pretty smart people here over the years, but then again I tried to get to know the city and its inhabitants. Who wouldn't if you were going to live in a place? Justice Souter, obviously.

I've never known anyone who ever saw him outside the court. But now he's leaving. I take it he won't miss Washington - but my guess is Washington will hardly miss him."

This is what is wrong with Washington, the media, and journalism today. The power elites are all best friends. They want to socialize with each other and journalists want to make sure they maintain their contacts, get invited to the right parties while having access to the necessary people. They co-mingle their lives and their jobs in a way that should it be their finances, would get them all fired.

Journalists shouldn't be friends with their sources, with the people they are paid to cover. The reason that the Founders wrote the Constitution the way they did was because they believed that a free press was essential to liberty. They believed that without the ability to speak truth to power and inform the public, that government would not be held accountable.

How accountable can they be if they party together? How closely will journalists look into possible wrong-doing if they're worried about their seat in the White House Press Room? At the next Correspondent's Dinner? If they're under pressure to produce a column a week and maintain readership or ratings, why would they risk that by questioning their golf buddies?

I thought we chose Supreme Court Justices to interpret the Constitution. Certainly the ideology of the President making the choice will inform his selection, but the emphasis is on knowledge of the law,the Constitution, and previous legal decisions and what those decisions were based on.

Whether or not someone wants to be your new BFF should have nothing to do with the kind of coverage they get or don't get, but Mr. Schieffer has made it explicitly clear that coverage in Washington - at least in his view - depends on friendship. It depends on making nice, on "attitude."

So the press is supposed to provide 'we the people' with the information that we need to make essential decisions about the operation of this country. Information about the ideology, policies, and plans of those running for office so we can make our choice. Information about the major issues of the day so that we can communicate with our legislators and inform them of our wishes and guide their decision-making.

But, how foolish of me. How naive. How many times have we heard politicians - Bush et al in particular - say "I don't make decisions based on public opinion" as if to do so was bad. To do so is to be maligned for being a "flip-flopper."

Outside of elections, how are our leaders to know our wishes? Not everything happens in neat 2, 4, or 6 year increments. In the run-up to Clinton's impeachment, Bosnia, and Iraq, the Washington media spent hours talking to each other about what concerned the country. About how upset the country was with Clinton (not). About how scared the country was of another attack by al Qaeda (not - we were angry, Bush and Cheney were scared). About how the country demanded this and that when actually, it was the Washington media debating each other, discussing with each other, and ensuring that their access and party invitations didn't change and that status quo was maintained.

Our leaders should listen to opinion polls. Certainly they should not change their minds or actions with every up or down in the polls, but when important issues come up and there is no election giving us an opportunity to offer our say, then the only opportunity we have is to express our opinion through mail, phone calls, and polls.

Pundits like Bob Schieffer should be less concerned with whether or not Justice Souter - and whoever takes his place - likes Washington or not, tries to fit in or not, tries to be Bob's BFF or not, and instead concern himself with whether or not the new Justice knows and understands the duties and responsibilities of the job. We all know that Bob sucks up to the Republicans, that conservative guests get softball questions, and that the culture of Washington has always favored the Republicans. Maybe if we had more people come to Washington and thumb their noses at the Bobs and the Howards and the Chrises, we might actually get something on the tv machines and in the newspapers and magazines that we could actually use.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

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