July 19, 2005
Outing CIA Agents For Dummies: Rove v. PlameBy Noel Sheppard
It's safe to assume that the number one question asked at cocktail parties and on golf courses this weekend was who do you think 'outed' CIA agent Valerie Plame. Likely, the answer depended on the recipient's news source of choice.
For example, some media outlets affirm that it was Karl Rove, President Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff. In their view, Rove should either be fired, or resign.
Conversely, other news divisions maintain that Rove didn't actually violate any national security statutes given that he was first told of Plame's CIA involvement by a reporter, and that Plame hadn't been working overseas recently enough as a covert agent for this 'outing' to actually be considered a crime.
So, who's right? Which media outlet's take should we believe? Maybe more important, why should we have to make that decision, and how can we possibly be qualified to do so?
Isn't that what the news industry is supposed to do for us — present unadulterated and unbiased facts so that we can understand what happens from one day to the next? Moreover, shouldn't one be able to pick up a newspaper, or turn on a cable news channel, and become informed without the sinking feeling that you are possibly being lied to?
After all, with this story currently being the focal point of contention, one side of our media is going to end up being wrong. Depending on which side it is, this could be significantly greater than 50% of America's news agencies, which means that more than half of the reports on this subject could in fact be erroneous.
How can that be? And, for those that are nodding your heads smugly at this suggestion because you feel that your side will therefore be vindicated with a huge win for your party, isn't it just as likely that your view of what is the truth in this matter is just as errant as that of the the media outlets whose veracity you never question because they fortify your political ideology?
Taking this further, there are currently over 600 television channels available via satellite. Let's say you don't want to hear the biased version of the news that is designed to make you feel good about your political dogma and the party you support. Instead, you actually want to hear the truth, and nothing but the truth.
Shouldn't there be one of these 600 stations dedicated to such a thing twenty—four hours a day? Or maybe just an hour a day? Or ten minutes?
Or, is there simply no market for the truth? With the rise in popularity of nonfiction books in the past couple of decades, novels still way outperform this category on the New York Times Bestsellers list every week. Just ask J. K. Rowling.
Does this suggest that news has become exclusively a sales and marketing item? Are newspaper editors and television news producers making storyline decisions solely on the basis of which version will better sell to their target market regardless of accuracy?
After all, companies market products and services to us based upon a variety of demographics including age, gender, and income level. Why shouldn't the media use the same approach to sell news reports based on political leanings if, in the end, it is all about ratings, market share, and advertising revenue?
Assuming this is indeed the case, a news agency whose audience is largely liberal had better report that Rove is the guilty party in this scandal or risk losing some of its valued customers. Of course, the same goes for a conservative outlet being compelled to defend Rove's actions like a momma—bear defends her cubs.
But, doesn't this suggest that we're all a bit like Lenin's 'useful idiots'?
For those missing the simile, Vladimir Lenin referred to Western journalists, politicians, writers, and supposed intellectuals who professed the virtues of communism as 'useful idiots' in that they furthered his cause in democratic and capitalist countries even though they weren't Party members.
This term has recently been dusted off to depict exceedingly liberal media members, Hollywood—types, and socialist activists in our nation. In this modern conservative epithet, a 'useful idiot' is any liberal who not only blindly accepts all the propaganda being spewed by Democratic politicians and their mainstream media minions, but also becomes a walking billboard for such biased and errant views.
However, given the absence of consistently impartial and irrefutable facts in much of today's news reports, isn't our entire population currently being manipulated like useful idiots regardless of political leaning?
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Noel Sheppard is an economist and writer residing in Northern California. He welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.