Dallas, TX – The New York Times' recent public apology for its Iraqi war coverage was admirable. The 153-year-old newspaper didn't have to do it. They certainly were not alone in being duped into believing that weapons of mass destruction existed.
Yet, though the paper pledges to be more diligent in confirming stories and citing credible sources in the future, it isn't enough.
It will never be enough if news organizations across the country relinquish their basic function of asking the hard questions in search of the truth, and instead, continue to let themselves be misled and stymied by an administration intent upon secrecy and invoking executive privilege.
Some of the media is already trying to right this wrong. A few weeks ago, nineteen Washington bureau chiefs of various news organizations pledged to boost coverage of issues related to government secrecy.
Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley announced plans for a "media advocacy center" to lobby for open government in Washington. But it still isn't enough. What's missing is the public's duty to be outraged by overt secrecy, blatantly misleading speeches and behavior unbefitting a democracy. Why is it that we were far more furious over Clinton's private infidelities but shrug our shoulders over Bush's behavior of isolating us from our global allies?
The White House disdains answering to the media. It is obvious each time the President scolds or replies in a condescending manner to a reporter during those rare prime time press conferences. And somehow the public has bought into this White House repulsion of the press.
We are made to think that questioning and criticizing this administration is unpatriotic. Reporters who do brave the icy stares are labeled liberal and accused of undermining national security. Asking the questions that should be asked is not a partisan exercise. It is a necessary element of a working democracy. It is forgotten that reporters are the ears, eyes and voices of the public. They are the select ones who are granted the access to government officials that the rest of us are not privileged to enjoy. When a public official rudely dismisses a reporter's question, it is not one person that official is dismissing, rather it's a whole constituency.
In an administration notorious for pushing educators to be accountable for their actions, it is ironic how this administration has become recognized for being just the opposite.
The White House thinks they're safe by ignoring or denying press credentials to those reporters who aren't afraid to search for the truth. It's a good thing this isn't South Korea.
South Korean public officials don't have the luxury of just worrying about the hundred or so usual reporters who cover events; they have to worry about 33,000. They are called "citizen reporters," and they are ordinary Korean citizens who write news stories for the country's sixth most influential news organization - OhmyNews. According to its founder, citizen reporters contribute 70 percent of the content to OhmyNews. Their only compensation is $17 and the satisfaction of knowing they have a hand in changing the world.
It's an ideal that is eluding our next generation of journalists. In April, during a presidential visit to Des Moines, Iowa, three student newspapers were denied press credentials. Mike Allsup, a reporter for the Des Moines Area Community College newspaper, received a phone call from the White House press office telling him that the president did not want students covering the Des Moines event. He was told, "his time would be better spent in school."
Unfortunately, Allsup and the rest of his generation are already learning an unforgettable lesson: as long as people don't care to complain, democracy is in the eye of the beholder.
Marisa Trevino is a writer from Rowlett.