The Financial Express

The Washington Post, two Presidents and bold journalism

| Updated: January 05, 2021 19:49:15

Inside the Washington Post office Inside the Washington Post office

The Washington Post has done it again. It has exposed the immorality, indeed the corrupt nature of yet another President of the United States (US). By releasing the audio tape of an hour-long haranguing of officials of the state of Georgia by outgoing President Donald Trump --- in which Trump is openly asking Brad Raffensperger to recalculate the votes cast in November's presidential election in Georgia and give him 11,780 votes that will overturn Joe Biden's victory --- the newspaper has taken us back to what it did forty six years ago.

No one who believes in bold, objective journalism will ever forget the painstaking efforts of two young reporters on the Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in investigating the Watergate scandal and eventually creating a situation where President Richard Nixon was forced to resign in August 1974. It was noted at the time that these two journalists and the Washington Post had brought down an imperial presidency and had therefore made a significant contribution to restoring morals in the White House. When politics gets smeared with ugliness, journalism can go after those who act in ugly fashion.

What the Post did on Sunday, through releasing the Trump tape, was simply reasserting the power and responsibilities of journalism. One is not sure that Trump will express any contrition over his words on the tape, for he has been that rare American President whose sense of shame or propriety has been characterised by an absolute lack of it. But that the tape is there, per courtesy of the Washington Post, is once more a guarantee that where there are men and women willing and ready to be professional journalists, society can rest assured that those who exercise power in crude fashion or questionable manner cannot get away with their misdeeds.

This is where we admire journalism as it has come to be in the West. Of course, there are the sorry manifestations of journalism in that part of the world, especially when you think of what Rupert Murdoch has been doing and what Fox News has been doing. You recall the embedded journalism which was so much a part of the Gulf Wars in the early 1990s and early 2000s. But it is the bigger picture which has regularly held out hope. The BBC has always had a clutch of journalists feared by those in the corridors of power. Jeremy Paxman, Tim Sebastian and John Simpson were there, as today there are Laura Kuenssberg and Vicki Young. When Andrew Marr grills Boris Johnson on the Prime Minister's coronavirus policies and does not let him off the hook, journalism gets to be a charming affair. And, yes, the young Mehdi Hasan at Al Jazeera cheers us when he slices away at the pomposity of the powerful.

In the past, in the United States, there was Dan Rather who would not let George H.W. Bush go without answering his question. In our times, we have been encouraged by a good number of journalists in India. Karan Thapar's polite but firm interrogation of influential individuals has always been a remarkable commentary on the weapon of independence Indian journalists have traditionally employed in carrying out their responsibilities. Raveesh Kumar at NDTV is another media personality who leaves his audience feeling good about journalism, with quite a good number imagining a role for themselves in future in the profession. Journalism is not for the faint-hearted, as these media people in the West and in India and elsewhere have consistently demonstrated.

And it was just such a truth which Woodward and Bernstein upheld in the early 1970s through their relentless investigations into the crime that was Watergate. Under pressure, President Nixon famously told the media, "I am not a crook." But the Washington Post journalists did end up proving he was a crook. Today the Washington Post has shown that the man who will leave the White House in about two weeks is a crook as well, for he has been doing everything in the last four years and especially since Joe Biden beat him in November to steal the election. Those tapes are a judgement on the man. They are the final push to a man into a whole he has dug for himself.

A powerful media is a sure guarantee of democracy in any society. Journalists who know their job, who study history, who do not kowtow to power have in our times brought down men who had deluded themselves in believing in their infallibility. Seymour Hersh exposed the My Lai massacre by American troops in Vietnam in 1969. The Australian journalist John Pilger has boldly reported on the genocide in Cambodia and has excoriated the imperialist nature of western foreign policies. Sydney Schanberg of the New York Times brought the Pakistan army's genocide in Bangladesh to the world's attention in 1971.  Walter Lippmann earned the wrath of President Lyndon Johnson when he voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War, but that did not stop him from his pursuit of proper journalism.

The Washington Post, always a reminder of the legacy of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham, gives us reason again to hold high our belief in the power of journalism to render hollow unabashed demonstrations of power by individuals unfit to hold high office.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a senior journalist and writer.

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