VIEWSrnSpeaking Truth to Powerrnby Philip Jenkinsrn^^seaf^rnue s^^’ imrn1^^ and theVrnJt^rnWhy is there no adversarial press in the United States?rnWhy do the media seem so afraid of news stories thatrnthreaten to embarrass or destroy governments? These questionsrnmay seem curious in a society that prides itself on freedomrnof the press and where the media are often criticized forrnexcessively negative criticism of public figures. Did not thernnewspapers bring down a President in our lifetime? But thernWoodward-Bernstein mythos should not give us the illusionrnthat the media act as an effective check on power. It is not thatrnthe American press is not free: it is just so timid, so anxious tornavoid breaking a rather narrow consensus. Whether the storyrnconcerns international terrorism or drug smuggling, intelligencernscandals or law enforcement disasters, the media have anrnoverwhelming tendency to believe the official position, evenrnwhen the contrary evidence mounts dramatically. Even worse,rnthe media in such cases spend more time seeking to discreditrngovernment critics (“conspiracy theorists” and “paranoia” arernrhetorically useful terms) than they do examining the substantialrnholes poked in official accounts, hi a large and increasingrnarea of matters affecting intelligence, law enforcement,rnand national security, the American media are no morernadversarial or critical than those of a traditional People’srnDemocracy. If the goal of good journalism is speaking truth tornPhilip ]enkins is a professor of history and reUgious studies atrnPennsylvania State University.rnpower, then the press has a serious ease of laryngitis.rnLet us take one specific example. Between 1985 and 1988,rnliterally hundreds of accounts suggested that the AmericanbackedrnContra forces in Nicaragua were involved in drug trafficking,rnmostly in the form of huge quantities of cocaine importedrninto the United States. The specific charges were quiternwell substantiated in the form of criminal trials for narcoticsrnand gun-running, both in the United States and in CentralrnAmerican nations. There were stories that at least part of thisrntrade was being accomplished with the acquiescence or activernassistance of American authorities, while related tales describedrnmurders, bribery, and political cover-ups involving high levelsrnof the federal government, including the White House and thernNational Security Council. American intelligence agencies hadrnreportedly mobilized support for the Contras at the state andrnlocal levels, and black money was rumored to have passedrnthrough various Savings and Loans and reelection committees.rnArkansas was one conspicuous example, under its then GovernorrnClinton. All these allegations were at the time available inrnprint, in relatively obscure left-wing papers like In These Timesrnor Mother Jones and in books by Jonathan Kwitny, Leslie Cockburn,rnand others. In the mainstream media, however, thernContra-drug connection was virtually never mentioned exceptrnoccasionally to be denied as “one of the harebrained rumorsrnmaking the rounds,” “conspiracy mongering,” and sornon. With a handful of exceptions, this was the solid attitude ofrn16/CHRONiCLESrnrnrn