Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Defining professionalism down

When Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" in 1993 he launched a linguistic meme that has seen countless words substituted for the asterisk in the construction "defining * down." A few that come up in the 89,000 Google hits are democracy, victory, torture, delinquency, conservatism, decency, smart and depression. And that's just in the first two pages.

"Defining professionalism down" does not appear on the list, but I think we need to add the phrase to the canon. Its time has come.

It seems to be the only way to explain this breathtakingly craven quote by the Washington Post's David Ignatius several years ago, describing the media's role in the buildup to the Iraq war.
In a sense, the media were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from prominent Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn't create a debate on our own. And because major news organizations knew the war was coming, we spent a lot of energy in the last three months before the war preparing to cover it -- arranging for reporters to be embedded with military units, purchasing chemical and biological weapons gear and setting up forward command posts in Kuwait that mirrored those of the U.S. military.
If that's what Ignatius thinks of as professional conduct, then he's definitely defining professionalism down. Thanks to Media Bloodhound for this revealing look at the inside of a Beltway journalist's mind.

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