Partisans can’t be journalists

Normally, I don’t pay much attention to the patter on Internet bulletin boards – particularly extreme partisan boards like Free Republic on the right or Democratic Underground on the left.

But a reader sent me a link the other day to a post on DU by William Rivers Pitt, a self-proclaimed guardian of all things Democratic and liberal:

“As far as I am concerned, CHB’s bread and butter is telling people things they wished were true, instead of telling people what is actually true,” Pitt said. “Publications like this give the entire alt-media a big black eye.”

He went on to add: “They have never, not once, quoted a source by name.”

Pitt, for those of you who don’t spend time reading the left wing side of the partisan political divide, served as managing editor the liberal commentary site and currently serves as a “writer and editorial director” of Progressive Democrats of America. He taught English lit and journalism at some trendy private school near Boston and his father is former chairman of the Democratic Party in Alabama.

Frankly, I’d expect a former teacher to show more accuracy in what he writes but then I’m dealing with a writer to admittedly flaks for a partisan point of view. That is the real problem with alternative media today – the belief that such media must represent a certain point of view to do its job.

The role of a journalist, Findley Peter Dunne wrote, is “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  I was a journalist with several years of experience, a dozen awards and a war under my belt before Billy Pitt crawled out of his mother’s womb.

He claims my bread and butter is “telling people things they wished were true.” Got news for you Billy boy. We raised questions about the Iraq war when 84 percent of the lemmings out there waved the flag and chanted the pro-war chorus and most of the members of your own party voted to give George W. Bush the authority to wage that war.

In 2003, we published stories that said intelligence pros questioned the accuracy of information that claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but most of the war-crazed populace out there – Democrats included – didn’t listen.

Never quoted a source by name? We’ve published more than 25,000 stories since going online on October 1, 1994, and 99 percent of them are based on named sources. Yes, we’ve had some notable stores based on unnamed sources, like the ones last year saying Bush was losing it, lashing out at his staff in uncontrolled temper tantrums. At the time, a lot of people, including Pitt’s buddies at Democratic Underground, doubted the story but it has since been picked up by a whole bunch of the mainstreamers that Pitt’s enemies over at FreeRepublic call “shills of the left wing.”

Pitt correctly points out that I got burned big time by what I thought was a trusted source two years ago. I issued a public retraction over it. Oddly enough, the information published in that story, that Bush had been warned the intel on Iraq was faulty, turned out to be true. But the source turned out to be a phony and I ate a lot of well-deserved crow over it. I know how CBS feels about the discredited memos on Bush’s war-avoiding service in the Texas Air Guard.

Yet those who remember that story overlook the many other stories that we’ve published that used named sources. Dr. Justin Frank, a prominent Washington psychiatrist and author of the book, Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, provided us with much needed insight for our earliest stories on Bush’s mental condition. So have a number of ex-staff members whose names appear in our stories.

As a Democrat, Pitt remembers and criticizes the many stories we wrote about Bill Clinton’s screw ups. Capitol Hill Blue was born during the Clinton administration and covered much of that President’s disregard for the truth. Some of those stories used anonymous sources as well because the Clinton administration had a long history of retribution against its enemies yet a number of women came forward and allowed use of their names in stories about sexual harassment. We also identified former state troopers and campaign workers who told stories of misdeeds.

Our award-winning series, America’s Criminal Class: The Congress of the United States, used named sources. So did our investigative report on teen model web sites, another award-winner.

It is understandable that current members of the Bush administration don’t want their names used. The Valerie Plame scandal serves as a constant warning to them on what happens to those who break the code of silence that surrounds the current White House cabal.

Without anonymous sources, the truth about Watergate would not have come out. Neither would we have known about Iran-Contra nor much of what is now emerging about the deceptions that led to the invasion of Iraq.

I don’t like liars. I don’t like elected leaders who deceive the country they have sworn to serve. I’ve found in more than 40 years of journalism that most elected officials are dishonest and put their own political interests above what is best for the nation. It doesn’t matter if they are Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, left-wing or right-wing. If an anonymous source will help us expose liars of any political stripe I’ll use them. I’lll use them as often as it takes to get the truth out.

And I don’t care much for partisans who claim to be journalists while publishing under a political party banner. Truth is non-partisan. It doesn’t’ subscribe to a particular political philosophy. And truth is not served by an alternative media that looks at things from a partisan political slant. A Robert Novak who writes that all things Democratic are bad is no different from a William Rivers Pitt who claims the same things about Republicans.

Journalism is best served by those who follow the story wherever it leads and don’t let political or philosophical bias sway their course.

That’s something that those who write from a partisan point of view, and too many of those who teach journalism, can’t possibly comprehend but those of us who actually practice the craft understand. . I’ve been doing it that way for more than 40 years and I expect to be doing it for 40 more.

There will be other Presidents and elected officials, Democrat and Republican, who will face the same scrutiny from Capitol Hill Blue. I approach all elected officials with equal skepticism because I’m a journalist and that’s what real journalists do. Unfortunately, my skepticism is all too often rewarded with yet another story of yet another politician abusing the public trust.