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Headache Hysteria

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Aug 1, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 43 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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But judging by the American media, the biggest story going is the unlawful behavior of British tabloid reporters in the News of the World voicemail hacking scandal. By loudly denouncing the conduct of foreign reporters, American journalists get to discuss how sacred and noble their own conduct is relative to those shifty Redcoats on Fleet Street. The problem is that the ethical conduct of the American media is nothing to celebrate, and in any event, no one really deserves credit for proudly deciding not to break the law.

Well, except when one of the most storied journalists in modern American newspapering builds his career on it. Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, has been everywhere denouncing the scandal in the harshest possible terms. “Murdoch’s enterprise has acted like thugs, not like reporters, somewhat like a mafia outfit,” he recently told -MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. 

The trouble is, had there been voicemails in Bernstein’s day, we feel pretty confident that he would have hacked them to get the story. The indispensable Mickey Kaus, who blogs for the Daily Caller, cracks open his copy of All the President’s Men to find the relevant passage:

Bernstein had several sources in the Bell system. He was always reluctant to use them to get information about calls because of the ethical questions involved in breaching the confidentiality of a person’s telephone records. It was a problem he had never resolved in his mind. Why, as a reporter, was he entitled to have access to personal and financial records when such disclosure would outrage him if he were subjected to a similar inquiry by investigators?

Without dwelling on his problem, Bernstein called a telephone company source and asked for a list of Barker’s calls. That afternoon, his contact called back and confirmed that the calls listed in the Times had been made.

Well, you know what they say about those who live in glass TV studios. .  .  . Nevertheless, Kaus further notes that when writing about the scandal for Newsweek Bernstein “buries a defensive paragraph”:

When Bob Woodward and I came up against difficult ethical questions, such as whether to approach grand jurors for information (which we did, and perhaps shouldn’t have), we sought [Washington Post] executive editor Ben Bradlee’s counsel, and he in turn called in the company lawyers, who gave the go-ahead and outlined the legal issues in full. Publisher Katharine Graham was informed. Likewise, Bradlee was aware when I obtained private telephone and credit-card records of one of the Watergate figures.

Just to clear up any confusion, it’s okay for a reporter at the Washington Post to break the law if he tells his editors. It’s not okay for reporters at News of the World to break the law if they inform their editors. Got it? Good.

While Richard Nixon’s behavior in office was certainly deplorable, that doesn’t mean it was a wonderful day for the country when Woodward and Bernstein set the template for a generation of journalists to come. In Britain, journalists are frequently unethical, vicious, and ideological, but they don’t try to hide their motivations. Thanks largely to the worship of Woodward and Bernstein, American journalists are frequently unethical, vicious, and ideological—with an extra dollop of nauseating sanctimony on top.

Breeding Like Beckham

Last week’s London Guardian took a brief respite from its attempt to lynch Rupert Murdoch and turned its attention to David and Victoria Beckham. What did the soccer phenom and the former Spice Girl do to deserve the paper’s ire? Well, it turns out that Mrs. Beckham just gave birth to the couple’s (dramatic pause) fourth child!

Running the headline “Beckhams a ‘bad example’ for families,” the Guardian intones:

David and Victoria Beckham may have been overjoyed to welcome their new daughter, Harper Seven, last week but, according to a growing group of campaigners, the birth of their fourth child makes the couple bad role models and environmentally irresponsible.

As the world’s population is due to hit seven billion at some point in the next few days, there is an increasing call for the UK to open a public debate about how many children people have.

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