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Third and Fourth Most Troubling Media Stories of 2005



This entry is big enough to get two spots on our list; both because of its scope and its implications for the future of journalism.

Number 3 and 4: The CIA Leak Case and the Saga of Judith Miller and Bob Woodward

Like the Mafia or a Michael Jackson trial, the federal investigation into who leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to the news media has slimed everyone it touches. And few journalists have been as damaged by the case as former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Washington Post investigative legend Bob Woodward (well, maybe the douchebag of liberty, Bob Novak).

At first, Miller seemed a hero for resisting prosecutor's efforts to force revelation of her source, eventually choosing to serve 85 days in jail rather than testify who leaked the name. But when Miller made an abrupt about-face -- claiming vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby didn't provide sufficient evidence he was releasing her from confidentiality promises until she has been in jail nearly three months -- journalism watchdogs got suspicious.

Eventually, the NewYork Times and other news outlets dug up enough of Miller's backstory to reveal a too-close relationship to government sources, which likely corrupted her reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (perhaps helping the Bush administration make the case for war in Iraq) and got her involved in the Plame saga.

On the back of a self-involved reporter and a too-credulous publisher, the New York Times went from crusading for a valorious journalism principle to shielding a federal official who was likely trying to plant stories in the media designed to silence a Bush administration critic. Along the way, they earned a series of court decisions which seriously weakened the right of journalists to keep sources secret from federal prosecutors.

And as a horrible denouement, investigative reporting legend Bob Woodward was forced to admit in November that he had heard Valerie Plame's name from a White House source before Libby told Miller. This simultenously poked holes in the prosecutors' case against Libby and tarnished the reputation of America's best-known investigative reporter -- who had denounced and downplayed the CIA leak investigation on TV news shows without revealing he was involved.

In the end, two prominent journalism institutions were revealed to have abdicated their journalism watchdog roles to protect their insider status. And the only reason such a scandal hasn't seemed to affect public opinion of journalists' integrity is because it was already horribly low to begin with.

Media Extra #1:

When I first saw Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg's way-funny rap Lazy Sunday on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago -- it tells the story, Beastie Boys-style, of two geeks who hook up on Sunday to see the Chronicles of Narnia -- I was rolling on the floor. Pairing the urgent delivery style of in-your-face old schoolers like the Beasties and Run DMC with the dorky story of two guys going to the Upper West Side to see a kids' movie, Parnell and Samberg managed to satire both slacker/geek culture and urban rap.

Coolest line is the chorus: "It's the Chronic (What!) -cles of Narnia!"

Of course, the clip has become an Internet sensation. And critics like myself have already begun to over-analyze it. (Josh Levin of Slate theorizes this three-minute clip could save hip hop; funny, I wasn't aware that a music style which produced three of the top five selling pop albums last week needed saving).

Cool to see that, 20 years after the Beastie Boys first hit, pairing geeky white guys with hardcore rap still gets a laugh.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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