Column: It’s in the book: The not-so-free press

By Andrew Mason

Just like the leaves changing colors come with fall so do our leaders’ stories. We’re a little over a month away from the midterm election and most politicians are busy with selling themselves for re-election. But some rise above the rat race and instead of giving us the talking points, they tell us what we so desperately need to hear: Read the book.

Many national figures are turning to the printed page to get their story across. This can be attributed to the black hole that is cable news, talk radio and the Internet. Facts and opinions there are swallowed, digested and regurgitated by so many pundits that it’s hard to remember what they ate in the first place.

In his famous row with Fox News reporter Chris Wallace, former President Clinton repeatedly invoked former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke’s book “Against All Enemies” to counter questions about why he didn’t do more to catch Osama Bin Laden while in office. He was also trying to discredit “The Path to 9/11,” a TV miniseries that set most of the blame on his administration. We know that screen entertainment generally does a poor job interpreting literature so this comes as no surprise.

Recently, Hugo Chavez railed against the United States in his address to the United Nations. While he wasn’t busy demonizing our government, he was extolling the virtues of Noam Chomsky’s latest book “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance.” While the leftist book made a great stage prop for Chavez, Chomsky made out like a bandit as well. After the speech, the paperback went to #1 on Amazon.

Also making news is Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward whose latest work is part three of his “Bush at War” series entitled “State of Denial.” In it he confirms what many of us had long suspected, that we are being lied to on a daily basis by an administration bent on remaining in power. Not surprisingly, excerpts from the book were front page news for the New York Times and the Post. Many stories say that Woodward has worked on this book for more than two years.

Finally, a line was crossed last week when at a meeting with President Bush and Afgahni President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan’s president Pervez Musarharraf declined to answer a reporter’s question because he was “honor bound” not to release some information that would be contained in his ghost-written memoir “In the Line of Fire” that was being published by Simon and Schuster.

This is setting a disturbing trend. In the old days, if you had information about what was going on you found the nearest microphone. But now it seems that in order to get it from the horse’s mouth, you have to go to the nearest Barnes and Noble.

Out of all these, Mr. Woodward’s book seems the most troubling. Why did he withhold juicy information that would be front page news across the country? What happened to bringing us hard hitting news on a daily basis? Unfortunately, Mr. Woodward has sold out.

Many people complain (in books, ironically) that the media ignores important, complicated stories in its pursuit of a political agenda or bias, yet they save the best stuff for their own manifestos. Six figure advances have trumped the need for transparency in government. Instead of giving it to us when we needed it, that is ASAP, Woodward has succeeded in making real investigative journalism a commodity.

Apparently if we want real information, we can no longer rely on our leaders, the mainstream media or the Internet. We must be content with the spin, the disinformation and propaganda since it’s free with advertising support.

If we want premium news, we must now pay $23.95 to hear the truth. Most people won’t bother and will accuse those that do of being elitist. The end result is that our democracy becomes a pay for play event. Thanks to Woodward, many people won’t even show up.