All the Congressmen's Men
excerpted from the book
Essays on Our Endangered
by Walter Karp
Franklin Square Press (Harper's
Publisher Walter H. Annenberg
" [The American press has] at least
as much power in determining the course of the republic as the
executive, legislative, and judicial branches set forth in the
William Rusher, publisher of the National Review
The American press exercises [perhaps
the greatest power there [is] in politics: the power to define
... who decides what is news in America?
The answer lies right on the surface,
as obvious as Poe's purloined letter. Reporters themselves know
the answer, and talk of it candidly enough in their memoirs. Newspapers
carry the answer in almost every news story they publish. What
keeps us looking in the wrong direction, as I recently discovered
while wading through an ample supply of media studies and books
by working journalists, is a deep seated linguistic habit. Instead
of speaking of news, we speak of "the press" and "the
media"-corporate entities with wealthy owners, paid employees,
profits, holdings, forests in Canada. And, thinking of these,
it is almost impossible not to speak of "the press"
doing this or that-which is exactly what hides the purloined letter.
For to say that the press does things conceals the fundamental
truth that the press, strictly speaking, can scarcely be said
to do anything. It does not act, it is acted upon.
This immediately becomes dear when one
considers how and where reporters find the news. Very few newspaper
stories are the result of reporters digging in files; poring over
documents; or interviewing experts, dissenters, or ordinary people.
The overwhelming majority of stories are based on official sources-on
information provided by members of Congress, presidential aides,
and politicians. A media critic named Leon V. Sigal discovered
as much after analyzing 2,850 news stories that appeared in The
New York Times and The Washington Post between 1949 and 1969.
Nearly four out of five of these stories, he found, involved official
sources. Had Professor Sigal limited his study to national political
news, and had he been able to count all the stories that had been
instigated by official sources who went unmentioned, nearly five
out of five would probably be dossier to the truth. The first
fact of American journalism is its overwhelming dependence on
sources, mostly official, usually powerful. "Sources supply
the sense and substance of the day's news. Sources provide the
arguments, the rebuttals, the explanations, the criticism,"
as Theodore L. Glasser, a professor of journalism, wrote in a
1984 issue of the Quill, a journalist's journal. To facts derived
from sources, reporters add "a paragraph of official-source
interpretation," according to Wicker, for powerful people
not only make news by their deeds but also tell reporters what
to think of those deeds, and the reporters tell us.
David Broder, in his recent memoirs, recalls
that while covering the Democratic Party for The Washington Post
in the late 1960s he learned that the grass-roots rebellion against
President Johnson and the Democratic Party establishment, as he
then put it, "degrades the Democratic Party"-having
been told so by his sources, that is, by members of the Democratic
National Committee, Democratic leaders in Congress, and local
party officials. Covering Congress means talking to the most powerful
legislators and their legislative aides. For years, recalls Broder,
the Associated Press covered the House of Representatives for
scores of millions of Americans through daily chats with Representative
Howard W. Smith, a conservative Virginia Democrat who chaired
the powerful Rules Committee. Covering the White House means dancing
daily attendance on the President's aides and spokesmen. "We're
in small quarters with access to only a small . number of official
people, getting the same information. So we write similar stories
and move on the same issues," says a White House correspondent
interviewed in The Washington Reporters. A dozen great venues
of power and policy-Defense, State, Justice, Central Intelligence,
FBI, and so on-form the daily beats of small claques of Washington
reporters "whose primary exercise is collecting handouts
from those informational soup kitchens," as Alan Abelson
once put it in Barron's.
Sources are nearly everything; journalists
are nearly nothing. "Reporters are puppets. They simply respond
to the pull of the most powerful strings," Lyndon Johnson
once said. Reagan's secretary of state, Alexander Haig, explained
to an interviewer in March 1982 that "even if they write
something that I think is terribly untrue, I don't consider that
it was a writer who did it. It's always someone who gave that
writer that information." So pervasive is the passivity of
the press that when a reporter actually looks for news on his
or her own it is given a special name, "investigative journalism,"
to distinguish it from routine, passive "source journalism."
It is investigative journalism that wins the professional honors,
that makes what little history the American press ever makes,
and that provides the misleading exception that proves the rule:
the American press, unbidden by powerful sources, seldom investigates
Under the rule of passivity a "leak"
is a gift from the powerful. Only rarely is it "an example
of a reporter's persistence and skill," as William S. White
noted in Harper's Magazine more than thirty years ago. "Exclusives"
are less a sign of enterprise than of passive service to the powerful.
When Reagan's State Department wanted to turn its latest policy
line into news, department officials would make it an "exclusive"
for Bernard Gwertzman of The New York Times, former State Department
spokesman John Hughes recently recalled in the pages of TV Guide.
Hughes could then count on "television's follow-up during
the day," since TV news reporters commonly used the Times
reporter as their source, knowing that he was the trusted vessel
of the highest officials. It is a bitter irony of source journalism
that the most esteemed journalists are precisely the most senile.
For it is by making themselves useful to the powerful that they
gain access to the "best" sources.
So passive is the press that even seemingly
bold "adversarial" stories often have the sanction of
the highest officials. In December 1982 Time questioned President
Reagan's queer mental equipment in a cover story entitled "How
Reagan Decides." This was the first such story given prominence
in a major news outlet. Yet the story's source, it turned out,
was none other than the President's own White House aides, who
thought it would help them club Reagan awake. Without White House
approval the story would never have run, as the Time editor involved,
Steve Smith, told the inquisitive Hertsgaard. Five months later,
with an economic summit conference scheduled for Colonial Williamsburg,
the same White House aides set about repairing any damage to Reagan's
image they might have inflicted in December. To make sure that
the President's fictive competence would be the media's line at
the conference, Reagan aide Michael Deaver invited Hedrick Smith,
a star reporter at the Times, to lunch at the White House in order
to press home the point. This kind of source journalism is almost
irresistible to a reporter. As Wicker tells us with admirable
candor, "I regret . . . to say I have on too many occasions
responded like one of Pavlov's dogs when summoned to the august
presence of a White House official; whatever information he had
for me, I usually grabbed and ran," knowing full well that
it was almost certain to be "a self-serving bill of goods."
Hedrick Smith, author of The Power Game, did likewise. "A
few days later the Times ran a page-one story on President Reagan's
vigorous preparations for the summit," The Wall Street Journal
reported. "But the real payoff was how
Mr. Smith's piece set the tone for the
television networks' coverage of the summit. All of the TV broadcasts
conveyed the image of a President firmly in charge." As Lyndon
Johnson once remarked, "There is no such thing as an objective
news story. There is always a private story behind the public
While serving as Reagan's treasury secretary,
James Baker promoted Third World debt policies that were profitable
to himself. Yet that gross impropriety, though part of the public
record, went completely unnoticed by the press for nearly two
years, and continued unnoticed while the Senate was ostensibly
examining Baker's appointment as secretary of state. The new secretary
had no sooner entered upon his duties, however, when "someone
in the administration"-White House counsel C. Boyden Gray,
as it turned out-peached on Baker to the press, thereby turning
the newsworthy into news. For some reason one of President Bush's
White House henchmen had used the press to humiliate the President's
most powerful adviser. That was the private story, now becoming
public, seen darkly through the looking glass of news.
The private story behind our national
news is usually found in Congress. The powerful sources seen darkly
through the glass of news are congressional leaders telling the
press what to think and say about anything that happens in the
capital and anyone who matters in the capital-excluding themselves.
"This is a well-known 'secret' in the press corps: Washington
news is funneled through Capitol Hill," notes Hess, rightly
italicizing a secret well worth knowing: that congressional leaders
make and unmake the nation's news.
As long as Congress made aid to El Salvador
contingent on improvement in human rights, Salvadoran death squads
and political crimes were news in America. To keep well supplied,
the Times put a local investigative reporter on its staff. As
soon as Congress lost interest in El Salvador, in 1982, the murderous
regime virtually ceased to be news; the Times investigative reporter-Raymond
Bonner-was promptly replaced by a reporter more amenable to the
new congressional line.
For some years evidence of Pentagon waste
and corruption had been available to the press in the uncommonly
graphic form of $660 ashtrays and $7,622 coffeepots. Yet this
well-documented information lay in a sort of journalistic limbo
until mid-September 1984, when certain political leaders held
a well-orchestrated Senate hearing on Pentagon waste. Thus licensed
as news, outrageous ashtrays became common knowledge and struck
home with extraordinary force. The entire country was so enthralled
and appalled that the wanton arms buildup stood in political peril.
Something had to be done to stanch the flow of enlightening news.
At the urgent request of congressional leaders (frightened perhaps
of their own temerity), President Reagan established in mid-1985
a bipartisan commission to take charge of investigating Pentagon
procurement. In typical mock deference to lofty presidential commissions-those
black holes in political space- Congress fell silent about defense
corruption. No official source remained but the Pentagon soup
kitchen, which ladles out no news of Pentagon malfeasance. Once
again minus its congressional news license, Pentagon waste and
corruption disappeared into journalistic limbo. On matters of
public consequence, it is not news editors but the powerful leaders
of Congress who decide what is news and how it will be played.
Do we harbor a clear and distinct impression
about national affairs? Quite likely it comes from congressional
leaders. "To a large extent, the reputations of Presidents
and their top political appointees-cabinet members, agency heads,
etc.-are made or broken on Capitol Hill," Broder notes in
his memoirs. The "news" that President Carter failed
to "consult with congressional leaders" came to us from
congressional leaders. (The truth of the matter was quite another
story.) Similarly, the preposterous "news" that President
Bush was haplessly "adrift" six weeks after his inauguration
was whispered to reporters by congressional Democrats and "Republican
insiders"-leading politicians of both parties. That is surely
Hertsgaard's "power to define reality," and just as
surely, that power is not in the hands of a passive press and
its source-bound reporters. The myth of media power is nothing
more than a political orthodoxy that conveniently masks the purloined
truth: the professional politicians of Washington quietly shape
our national news to suit their interests. It should not come
as a surprise that an orthodoxy so useful to the powerful (not
to mention flattering to the press) has achieved the prominence
The passivity of the press is commonly
- and mistakenly - called "objectivity," the ruling
principle of American journalism ever since World War I put an
end to the Progressive revolt against oligarchy, monopoly, and
privilege. The code of "objective journalism" is simplicity
itself. In writing a news story a reporter is forbidden to comment
on his own, or draw inferences on his own, or arrange facts too
suggestively on his own. Yet even in the most "objective"
story, as Wicker notes, nothing can be said "unless some
official-enough spokesman could be found to say so."
In 1984 the President and Congress were
in agreement that a large voter turnout in El Salvador's presidential
election would prove that "a step toward democracy"
(as The New York Times would later characterize it) had been made,
justifying massive aid to the ruling faction. The turnout proved
large; the results were hailed and Congress voted increased military
aid at once. In the vast farrago of El Salvador news one fact
was missing: voting in El Salvador is compulsory. What rule of
objectivity kept the American press from telling us the simple,
salient, objective fact that gave the lie to the whole futile
On February 25, 1986, The New York Times
reported, a presidential panel investigating the crash of the
space shuttle Challenger proved incapable of explaining "the
cause of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's apparent
insistence that the liftoff proceed on Jan. 28." According
to the Times, the panel was baffled by NASA's "changed philosophy"
of launch safety and puzzled by its sudden decision to put engineers
"in the position of proving it was unsafe [to launch], instead
of the other way around." What went unmentioned in the Times
story of official bafflement was a fact formerly known to all-that
on the night of the ill-fated launch President Reagan had planned
to deliver a State of the Union paean to "America moving
ahead" (in the words of a Reagan aide explaining why the
speech was postponed). What rule of objectivity required the Times
to omit mention of this "coincidence" and so shield
its readers from the blatant dithering of a presidential panel?
None, of course.
There is no public information more objective
than an official government document, yet "few Washington
news operations have their own facilities for serious documents
research," notes Hess. Even when there is time, there is
a "shunning of documents research." What rule of objectivity
accounts for the shunning of unimpeachably objective sources?
None, yet even the most newsworthy documents disappear into journalistic
oblivion at the mere behest of the powerful. On February 26, 1987,
Reagan's "special review board," known as the Tower
Commission, issued its long-awaited report on the Iran-Contra
scandal. An hour's reading revealed a President obsessively concerned
with, and intensely curious about, Iran-Contra matters, and determined
to keep those matters in the hands of close personal advisers.
To the press, however, the three members of the commission said
exactly the opposite. In public statements, interviews, television
appearances, and private meetings with leading editors, they insisted
that Reagan was victimized by a "management style" that
kept him in complete ignorance of everything blameworthy. That
disgraceful lie, which in effect accused the President of his
own defense, was endorsed at once by Democratic leaders and duly
became the day's news, as if the report had never been written.
When the Iran-Contra committees of Congress issued their report
on the scandal, congressional leaders told the press at once that
the whole sordid chapter was closed. The press did as instructed
and closed the books at once on the most extraordinary abuse of
power in presidential history. The report itself was ignored;
a wealth of newsworthy information, impeccably "sourced,"
sank into journalistic limbo. The report termed Reagan's private
war against Nicaragua "a flagrant violation of the Appropriations
Clause of the Constitution," but that grave charge, worthy
of blazing headlines, was scarcely noticed in the press and ignored
entirely by the Times. What rule of journalism dictates such base
servility to the powerful? No rule save the rule of the whip,
which political power cracks over the press's head.
"Aggressive challenges to the official
version of things" arouse what Wicker calls "Establishment
disapproval" and bring down the Establishment lash: "lost
access, complaints to editors and publishers, social penalties,
leaks to competitors, a variety of responses no one wants."
"To examine critically the institutions and mores of government,"
notes Leonard Downie, Jr., managing editor of The Washington Post,
"might mean breaking friendships with trusted government
contacts, missing the consensus front-page stories everyone else
is after, or failing to be followed down a new path of inquiry."
Punishments need not be draconian. "Manipulating access,"
says Wicker, "is the most standard means of stroking and
threatening, and by all odds the most effective, even against
bold and independent reporters." If draconian methods are
needed, political leaders do not scruple to use them. When Halberstam's
Vietnam reporting for the Times angered President Kennedy, his
White House henchmen whispered to Wicker "the slander that
Halberstam was a Saigon barhopper who had never been to the front."
Twenty years later, Robert Parry's Central America reporting for
the Associated Press ran afoul of Reagan's State Department, which
launched a whisper campaign against him, accusing Parry of being
a Sandinista sympathizer disguised as a journalist.
Self-serving politicians bully and threaten
the publishers' employees, hinder their work, and weaken their
stories, yet almost no audible protest comes from the "super-rich
and powerful businessmen who ultimately controlled the U.S. news
media." Slandered by State Department hatchet men, Parry
discovered that, as he told Hertsgaard, "if you don't succumb
to all that, you get the line from your editors that maybe they
should take you off the story, since you seem to be pursuing a
political agenda. When the government attacks you, even your colleagues
begin to doubt your credibility." Assigned by the A.P. to
the Pentagon beat in the 1960s, a young reporter named Seymour
Hersh sidestepped its informational soup kitchen, found his own
high-ranking official sources, and duly infuriated Assistant Secretary
of Defense Arthur Sylvester, master of the soup kitchen at the
time. Sylvester phoned Hersh's boss to complain about the "little
ferret," as he was known in the Pentagon, and out went the
inquisitive Hersh. The fact that his stories were impeccably "objective,"
that the A.P.'s member newspapers had been pleased to publish
them, meant absolutely nothing. The Pentagon had spoken, and the
A.P. obeyed. The obligation of a free press to "act as a
check on the power of government" is checked instead by the
power of government.
Fearful of losing access, "beat reporters
must often practice self-censorship," notes Gans, "keeping
their most sensational stories to themselves." Fearful of
offending the masters of the soup kitchens, they "have little
contact with an agency's adversaries." Servile by need, Washington
reporters all too often become servile in spirit, like prisoners
who come to side with their jailers. "You begin to understand,"
as I. F. Stone once put it, "that there are certain things
the people ought not to know." For nearly twenty years reporters
covered the FBI beat without reporting that the bureau was engaged
in massive domestic spying under the transparent guise of "counterintelligence."
For ten years reporters covered the CIA without reporting on the
agency's own illicit domestic spying operation, although they
surely had wind of it. For the "myopia of a Washington political
beat," says Broder, "there is no sure antidote."
Were the power of the media anything more than a shabby fiction,
there might be some real hope. In fact, there is none.
The political whip that falls on reporters
also falls on the media "powers that be." The publisher
or broadcaster who allows his reporter to delve into the forbidden
mores of government or to challenge the official version of things
by making "controversial charges . . . quoting unidentified
sources," says Wicker, "is likely to he denounced for
'irresponsibility.' " His patriotism may be questioned, his
advertisers roused against him. He can be held up to public contumely
as a prime example of unelected elitist power, with what effect
on profits the "powers that be" do not wait to find
out. "All too many of [them] are fundamentally businessmen,"
says Wicker, and nothing scares more easily than a billion dollars.
After President Nixon assailed the Times
for publishing the Pentagon Papers, "the nation's most influential
newspaper," as Rusher calls it, grew so frightened that "we
bent over backwards trying to cultivate Nixon," in the words
of Max Frankel, now the executive editor of the newspaper. After
the Reagan White House publicly scolded CBS for its vivid prime-time
documentary on the plight of the poor in 1982, "CBS News
management," reports Hertsgaard, "began pressing journalists
. . . to tone down criticism of President Reagan."
CBS was the protagonist, too, in one of
the most telltale stories of political power and the national
news media. On October 27, 1972, CBS News carried a fourteen-minute
survey of the Watergate scandal as it stood after four months
of brilliant investigative reporting by The Washington Post, which
had dared treat the break-in as a crime to be solved, even without
official approval. Elsewhere in the media, however, the story
had been "bottled up," notes Halberstam in his account
of the episode. The rest of the press treated it as mere partisan
bickering; the Times, for its part, was still "bending over
backwards." Now millions of CBS viewers heard Walter Cronkite
describe in detail "charges of a high-level campaign of political
sabotage and espionage apparently unparalleled in American history."
A second installment on laundered money was scheduled to follow.
At the White House, a coarse-minded scoundrel named Charles Colson
was in charge of intimidating the press for the President. The
day after the broadcast he telephoned the great power-that-be
William S. Paley, board chairman of CBS, to hector and berate
him. If Paley did not stop the second program, warned Colson,
CBS would be stripped of the licenses to operate its five lucrative
television stations. A frightened Paley tried his best to carry
out the White House order. His newspeople, to their credit, resisted,
and a compromise was reached: the second show was cut nearly in
half and substantially weakened.
That was not compliant enough for the
White House, however. A few days after Nixon's reelection, Colson
called up Paley's longtime lieutenant, Frank Stanton, to issue
a still more sweeping threat: If CBS persisted in broadcasting
hostile news about the President, the White House would ruin CBS
on Wall Street and Madison Avenue. "We'll break your network,"
said tyranny's little henchman. Stanton suppressed his rage. Paley,
deeply ashamed, told no one of Colson's threats. Why didn't these
two media magnates turn those threats into news? What else is
a free press for if not to help a free people hold the powerful
to account? Yet here was a President grossly abusing the power
of his office (which was newsworthy in itself) in order to censor
the news (which was doubly newsworthy) so that the electorate
might not hold him accountable at the polls-which was newsworthy
three times over.
In John Adams's thunderous words, a free
people has "an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine
right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean,
of the characters and conduct of their rulers." Now a ruler
was subverting our inalienable right to dreaded knowledge of him.
Surely that was newsworthy, yet it didn't become news. It rarely
does. The news media in America do not tell the American people
that a political whip hangs over their head. That is because a
political whip hangs over their head.
"The Washington politician's view
of what is going on in the United States has been substituted
for what is actually happening in the country," former president
of the A.P. Wes Gallagher pointed out in the mid-1970s, a time
when the press enjoyed a brief hour of post-Watergate freeness.
And why would Washington politicians want us to know that our
knowledge of them comes from them? That is the kind of knowledge
that awakens a sleeping people, that dissolves political myths
and penetrates political disguises. To keep all such dreaded knowledge
from the rest of us is the "information policy" of those
who rule us. And so it is we hear, from the left as well as the
right, the steady drone about media power.
From the "frightening information
policy" to the impeachable offenses documented in the shunned
Iran-Contra report, the private story behind every major non-story
during the Reagan Administration was the Democrats' tacit alliance
with Reagan. It is this complicity, and not the Reagan Administration's
deft "management" of the news we hear so much about,
that explains the press's supineness during the Reagan years.
As usual, it was Congress that was managing the news.
"It was very hard to write stories
raising questions about Reagan's policy, because the Democrats
weren't playing the role of an opposition party," said the
A.P.'s Parry, explaining to Hertsgaard why the press seemed to
be "on bended knee" during the Reagan years. Congress,
said Leslie Stahl of CBS News, "has not been a source for
the press in the whole Reagan Administration. They don't want
to criticize this beloved man." Even good stories fell flat,
said Jonathan Kwitny, a Wall Street Journal reporter at the time,
because "there is no opposition within the political system."
When the Times, to its credit, reported on August 8, 1985, that
White House aides were giving "direct military advice"
to the President's private Contra army, Reagan replied at a press
conference that "we're not violating any laws." Democratic
leaders asked the President's national security adviser, Robert
McFarlane (later convicted for his answer), whether the President
was Iying, after which they assured the press there was nothing
to the report. And for many months one of the most momentous stories
of our time "just went nowhere," as Larry Speakes, Reagan's
press secretary, boasted to Hertsgaard.
Even stories with eminent sources "just
went nowhere" during the Reagan Administration, because the
political leadership in Congress, unwilling to challenge the President,
refused to license them. For nearly six years New York's Senator
Daniel Patrick Moynihan charged in numerous speeches and op-ed
articles that our present paralyzing budget deficits were deliberately
created by President Reagan and his faction. By slashing taxes
(not to mention doubling military spending), they planned from
the start to "create a fiscal crisis," Moynihan said,
and use that crisis to force the country against its will to reduce
"social spending" for years to come. The indictment
was truly grave: an American President conspiring to deceive the
American people in order to achieve goals he would never have
dared avow. The would-be source was impeccable: a prominent senator,
respected, reflective, and uncommonly eloquent. Yet Moynihan's
indictment never became news, not even in the spring of 1986,
when David Stockman's astonishing memoirs substantiated that indictment
in dense and vivid detail. Instead of turning the former budget
director's memoirs into momentous news, Washington's press corps
attacked Stockman for writing them. "In all this torrent
of comment about the book," noted James Reston of the Times,
"there is very little analysis of his indictment of the methods
and men who are still deciding the nation's policies." The
press fled from the story, Moynihan said, because "the political
class cannot handle this subject." Against a political establishment
resolved to keep dreaded knowledge from the country, not even
an eminent senator can make that knowledge news on his own.
For eight years the Democratic opposition
had shielded from the public a feckless, lawless President with
an appalling appetite for private power. That was the story of
the Reagan years, and Washington journalists evidently knew it.
Yet they never turned the collusive politics of the Democratic
Party into news. Slavishly in thrall to the powerful, incapable
of enlightening the ruled without the consent of the rulers, the
working press, the "star" reporters, the pundits, the
sages, the columnists passed on to us, instead, the Democrats'
mendacious drivel about the President's "Teflon shield."
For eight years we saw the effects of a bipartisan political class
in action, but the press did not show us that political class
acting, exercising its collective power, making things happen,
contriving the appearances that were reported as news. It rarely
On May 8, 1969, the Times reported, none
too conspicuously, that President Nixon was bombing a neutral
country in Southeast Asia (Cambodia) and making elaborate efforts
to conceal the fact from the American people. The Democratic Congress
ignored the story completely, and without a congressional news
license, perforce, it "dropped out of sight," as Wicker
notes. The entire party establishment had tacitly rallied around
a President who harbored dangerous ambitions. That was what had
happened, but it wasn't news. Instead of revealing a would-be
tyrant in the White House and his congressional allies, the news
showed the American people nothing. Think of it: nothing. Our
divine right to dreaded knowledge of our rulers, far from being
indefeasible, could scarcely have been said to exist.
Three and a half years later, the same
congressional leaders decided to delve into the Watergate scandal,
almost certainly to check Nixon's careening ambitions. Yet how
many Americans know that a bipartisan political establishment
had actually made such a decision, wise and prudent though it
was? All too few. How many Americans believe that an "imperial
press" had taken it upon itself to drive a President from
office? All too many. And how many Americans have the faintest
idea that "the earliest and most serious blow to Carter's
credibility," as Broder recently recalled, "came from
the way Democrats in Congress had described to reporters their
early disillusionment with the President"? The fact of Democratic
hostility would have been dreaded knowledge, indeed, in 1977:
an "outsider" President, newly inaugurated, is assailed
at once by his own party's "insiders." But that, too,
never became news. Instead, the press reported the hostile jibes
of Democratic leaders as if they were impartial judgments rather
than blows struck in a political struggle. The "insiders"
probably altered the course of our history, but thanks to a servile
and subjugated press, we scarcely knew they existed.
So it has continued day after day, decade
after decade. Our rulers make the news, but they do not appear
in the news, not as they really are-not as a political class,
a governing establishment, a body of leaders with great and pervasive
powers, with deep, often dark, ambitions. In the American republic
the fact of oligarchy is the most dreaded knowledge of all, and
our news keeps that knowledge from us. By their subjugation of
the press, the political powers in America have conferred on themselves
the greatest of political blessings-Gyges' ring of invisibility.
And they have left the American people more deeply baffled by
their own country's politics than any people on earth. Our public
realm lies steeped in twilight, and we call that twilight news.