The heroic press

Bruce Herschensohn passed away on Monday. He’d been a TV fixture on KABC-TV, the Los Angeles ABC affiliate, from the late ‘70s through the 80s, offering the conservative viewpoint on the topics of the day. Growing up in an Irish Catholic household where a photo of JFK hung on the wall, the conservative viewpoint was not especially welcome at the time – especially from someone who’d worked for Nixon.  But Herschensohn always kept a pleasant demeanor, with a half-smile that contrasted with the hard-headedness of his conservatism.

Nixon of course was brought down by the reporters for the Washington Post, Woodward and Bernstein, and forever after, the crusading journalist taking on the powers-that-be has been a favorite mythological figure of Hollywood studios and ambitious journalists both.  Journalists had played a part in history, instead of merely recording it.  Nixon became the first president to resign in disgrace (back when disgrace was a thing).  Hooray for journalists!

Except… was Nixon the first corrupt president? If not, where were the journalists before?  Why weren’t the journalists investigating the true history of the Vietnam War, instead of waiting until insider Daniel Ellsberg spoon-fed the Pentagon Papers?

Why weren’t journalists investigating JFK’s many mistresses, including the one who was also mistress to a Mafia boss? And why was no one investigating Kennedy’s health, propped up as he was by cornucopia of injections and pills to ease the effects of numerous ailments?

Why weren’t journalists uncovering the Tuskegee Experiment, in which, for 40 years between 1932 and 1972, scientists with the Public Health Services and the Center for Disease Control secretly studied the effects of syphilis on poor black sharecroppers as part of a “study?”

Why weren’t journalists investigating Franklin Roosevelt’s declining health during the 1944 campaign, when the public was kept from knowing the full truth about their President?

Where was Walter Cronkite? Where was Edward R. Murrow? Where were Woodward and Bernstein?

Seems to me journalists have failed the U.S. at least as much as they have edified the nation. The fact is, too often, journalists have covered up stories that might affect their friends or preferred candidates, and so, too often, instead of shedding light on a subject, reporters help to cast subjects in darkness. Just ask Hunter Biden.

So perhaps Woodward and Bernstein can be lionized for finally doing the job of journalists. But their target – Nixon – looks worse because of the failure of reporters to actually cover Nixon’s predecessors.

The heroic press, indeed.

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