Accuracy in Media

Yesterday’s hot story about the military travel of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t have been a story at all were it not for the persistence of a conservative watchdog doing the legwork shirked by the liberal media. By using the Freedom of Information Act, Judicial Watch unearthed mounds of great dirt on Pelosi, D-Calif. Here’s a sample:

  • Intermediaries for Pelosi sometimes voiced their displeasure with travel arrangements. One e-mail said: “It is my understanding there are no G5s [a type of airplane] available for the House during the Memorial Day recess. This is totally unacceptable. … The speaker will want to know where the planes are.
  • In response to a series of requests for military aircraft, one Defense Department official wrote: “Any chance of politely querying [Pelosi’s team] if they really intend to do all of these or are they just picking every weekend? … [T]here’s no need to block every weekend ‘just in case.'”
  • In what she admitted was an “exception to standard policy,” Pelosi requested an Army escort and three military planes to transport her and other lawmakers to Cleveland for the funeral services of the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio

The e-mails resulted in a fascinating tale of taxpayer waste and political hubris that makes for great copy, especially in the context of a nation gripped by a recession and a Democratic-led Congress lecturing corporate executives about their in-air behavior. Which begs the question, why didn’t the media break the story about Pelosi’s air travel — and why won’t most journalists cover it now?

They certainly could have broken the story. Anyone can file a FOIA request, and newsrooms should be doing so routinely to dig beneath the bureaucratic surface of government.

More to the point, the media should have broken the story. Journalists had the same good reason as Judicial Watch to do so — the fact that military travel by House Speakers became an issue in February 2007. Motivated by the heightening economic crisis and the high cost of military air travel, Judicial Watch made a FOIA request in October and produced a standard follow-up story.

Major newsrooms with large bankrolls were beat to a great story by a small nonprofit.The mainstream media could redeem themselves by covering the news that Judicial Watch exposed. But thus far — with Fox News, The Wall Street Journal’sWashington Wire” blog and Politico being among the few exceptions — they haven’t.

Their disinterest can’t be explained by saying the story isn’t newsworthy because it is. One good angle is that in 2007, when Pelosi’s special air travel first became controversial, a Pelosi aide told MSNBC that “it is up to the Air Force to decide what type and size of plane will be required to ferry her back and forth to her San Francisco district.” The latest e-mails tell a different story, one about a Speaker who would be “very upset” if the military didn’t satisfy her plane requests.

The real reason they are ignoring the story is because a conservative watchdog broke it. Judicial Watch’s involvement gives the liberals who run most major newsrooms all the excuse they need in their biased minds to rationalize the lack of coverage. But if journalists were better watchdogs of government and used FOIA the way they should, diligent outfits like Judicial Watch wouldn’t have to do their work for them.

UPDATE: Largely ignoring the this story isn’t enough for the mainstream media; now journalists are defending Pelosi. Is that their job? Would they do it for a Republican leader? Rhetorical questions, obviously.


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