In the Wall Street Journal this morning, the inimitable Kimberley A. Strassel points to Governor Eliot Spitzer’s misuse of his power as New York’s attorney general and excoriates the media for being accomplices in his “violation of the rules of fairness and due process.”
Strassel notes that journalists viewed Spitzer as the defender of the “little guy” and didn’t subject him to the same scrutiny as many other public figures:
Journalism has many functions, but perhaps the most important is keeping tabs on public officials. That duty is even more vital concerning government positions that are subject to few other checks and balances. Chief among those is the prosecutor, who can use his awesome state power to punish, even destroy, private citizens.
Yet from the start, the press corps acted as an adjunct of Spitzer power, rather than a skeptic of it. Many journalists get into this business because they want to see wrongs righted. Mr. Spitzer portrayed himself as the moral avenger. He was the slayer of the big guy, the fat cat, the Wall Street titan — all allegedly on behalf of the little guy. The press ate it up, and came back for more.
Strassel details numerous examples of Spitzer’s misuse of his power through media leaks that set up corporations as the villains, through threats to boards to get rid of executives or else, through vindictive action against his critics.
There’s little that’s tragic about Mr. Spitzer, unless you consider his victims (which would appear to include his own family). The press would do well to meditate on that, and consider how many violations they winked at and validated over the years. Politicians don’t exist to be idolized by the press, at least not by any press corps doing its job.
It’s really worth a read to understand how Spitzer and his untrammeled power was painted by the media as a moral avenger even when he trampled over civil liberties.