There’s no question in my mind that the woes of the journalism profession today have been at least partially self-inflicted. At the very historical moment that the news pros faced relentless new scrutiny from a vast army of dedicated amateur watchdogs and expert critics, they offered up a relentless sequence of missteps and disasters. Some were failures of professionalism, from the Jayson Blair meltdown to the Dan Rather screwup. But the biggest — the absence of a stiff media challenge to the Bush administration’s Iraq war misinformation campaign — was a failure of civic responsibility. With that failure, the professionals forfeited their claim to special privilege or unique public role as challengers of official wrongdoing and ferreters of truth. The democracy still needs these roles filled, of course. But after the Iraq bungle, the professional journalists’ claim to own them exclusively became much harder to accept.
What struck me about this insightful comment was that it seems to parallel something at a deeper level. Consider this slight re-write:
But the biggest — the absence of a stiff political challenge to the Bush administration’s use of torture — was a failure of moral responsibility. With that failure, America forfeited its claim to special privilege or unique international role as a challenger of global wrongdoing and champion of justice. The world still needs these roles filled, of course. But after the Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib bungle, America's claim to own them exclusively became much harder to accept.