Loose lips sink ships, and apparently general careers as well.
The McChrystal affair itself looks like a very small episode to me as long as there's no strategy change, but it's a great example.
Let's recall the reaction; McChrystal's competence got questioned because he failed to keep the public ill-informed on the attitudes in his staff and the friction in the chain of command. The journalist got criticised because he supposedly jeopardizes future "access" to important people by reporting the truth once.
This mini scandal was a demonstration about how modern Western media works today: Honest, accurate reporting about the truth is the exception, an accident that jeopardises the author's career.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|McChrystal's Balls - Honorable Discharge|
Western democracies are built on the assumption that the media keeps the electorate informed about reality, in order to enable them to make a decision (vote) in their interest. A democracy with a media failure is a failure, the mere illusion of democracy a.k.a. opiate of the masses.
The latter, more harsh view of the role of the media seems quite fitting in light of the low quality of many TV shows and news shows. (Why the heck should news be a show or entertaining at all!?)
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We cannot tell the media what to do without giving up even the illusion of democracy, so other forms of correction need to be considered.
An improved power balance is a promising idea.
Let's assume that all those crappy journalist who tell us about press releases instead of about actual news really would love to be good reporters, but they fear repercussions (lost "access") too much. Wouldn't it help then to give them more rights, the right to access, for example?
The really, really bad news here is that exactly the country with the McChrystal/Rolling Stone example has a law of that kind - the Freedom of Infomation Act. Similar laws have been enacted in many countries, including Germany (2005). Obviously, this doesn't seem to suffice.
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Another approach than "rights" is power. The classic economic solution against the exploitation of workers by corporations is to allow them to unionise and strike. The union can be roughly as large as the corporation (or the inter-trade organisation) they're facing (members vs. employees). This can roughly balance the previous power asymmetry and lead to greater general welfare.
Similarly, journalists become powerful enough to end their dependence on "access" could as part of a greater mass.
Persistent problems have rarely easy fixes, and this was none as well. Media concentrations have remarkably negative effects on media plurality and the quality of national news. These media concentrations are employer-side concentrations, of course. Would it be possible to build a journalist trade union that can boycott those who use the ability to deny interviews to sanction journalists for no good reason?
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Nowadays we have the internet and thus new forms of media that begin to compete with traditional media organisations. Maybe the new news channels could help to inrease awareness of the problem?
Any way; we should fix our media in order to get better informed on relevant issues.
Maybe I'll live to see a nation in which reporter's relations are not about keeping crap secret and "news" interesting, but about keeping the public (= the sovereign) well-informed.