Monday, July 22, 2013

One Tough Cookie

  Helen Thomas (1920-2013)

The Washington Post called her the "feisty scourge of presidents".  She was considered "tough", "outspoken", "abrasive", asking questions others couldn't--or wouldn't.  Questions a bit too probing for some, perhaps.  During the Bush administration she was summarily moved from her usual place in the front row, all the way to the back. A demotion (de-motioned).  You can't really see hands raised way, way in the back, or maybe even hear the question.  An effective strategy to pretend not see or hear someone.  Mission accomplished.

Today, criticism of your government's leader, policy, or behavior could get you blacklisted, or at the very least, "watched".  It depends on how you phrase it, in which venue, and the level of your probing or persistence.  Thinking a thing is one thing.  But blatently, passionately stating it or pursuing the truth of it (or worse, mediatizing your pursuit of an inquiry), can cost you your career as a journalist.

Press conferences don't seem the same without her.  Where are the gutsy, probing, really tough questions today?  The ones we all want answers to that just aren't being asked (or if asked, repeatedly go unanswered).  I watched a press conference recently where reporters stood or sat, pen and notepad ready, and to almost every question came the shrugfull response:  "We'll have to get back to you on that"; "I don't know the answer to that"; "I can't comment on that, it's classified"; "We don't know at this time", "I'm not authorized to divulge that information. ..... Next question?"

And not only at government press conferences.  Major traumatic events, such as mass shootings, or terrorist captures or attacks, or drone kills--why are the official reports so rife with inconsistencies, explanations that constantly change (inaccuracies never corrected), that strain common sense, the results of investigations kept secret, documents gone missing, inadvertently or deliberately shredded--or legislature quickly enacted to make them unavailable?

If you blow the whistle on corruption, you are not thanked; instead you yourself sometimes become a target.  If you question the lack of evidence, you are considered impertinent (or a conspiracy theorist). If you ask too many questions, you are first marginalized; then made an example of.  The result from the public is not, as one might expect, revolution, but apathy.

I imagine a future where at press conferences or daily briefings to reporters, official spokespersons will probably be dispensed with altogether.  Some underling will be designated to show up and hand out prepared printed statements, which reporters can then use to paraphrase and regurgitate into their respective 'reports'.  By that time maybe  no one will be reading newspapers or watching the news anymore, televised fictional happenings long having replaced the real news; besides, nobody could tell the difference, they've gone mad trying.  And so it goes, as Vonnegut would've said.

Journalists come
journalists go.

They go where others sometimes fear to tread
           and wind up dead
(or shunned or ridiculed,
sent politely      to the back row
so as not to be so       in your face.

'Now, now, behave yourself', is what is meant.
Know your place.)

But if questions don't get asked no more --
           does that mean we already   know the score?
       or that it no longer

R.I.P. Helen Thomas