News And Citizenship

What do Jay Rosen’s public journalism, Edward Murrow, Michael Yon, and John Galloway have in common? How do they help me understand why it is that U.S. and U.K. media are so uncomfortable with the idea of printing the cartoons?

Because they focus our attention on the notion of journalists as citizens.

Watching the U.S. and U.K. media twist themselves into ever-tightening logical circles as they explained why they wouldn’t reprint the Danish cartoons – which would have, rightly, been interpreted as thumbing their noses at the Islamists who stirred the controversy – I’m struck by a simple notion.

As Americans, or as citizens of the U.K., defiance is an appropriate response. You don’t like cartoons of your prophet? Too bad. Hell, we dip ours in piss and sell the photos.

But the media world is somehow above that unseemly response; their goal is to be even-handed parents, balancing the claims of both outraged children, and maintaining their stance as rapporteur, not participant.

It wasn’t always so.

I noted the L.A. Times article on Michael Yon, and the author’s (and, to be honest, most of the audience’s) distaste for Yon’s not-well-considered actions in picking up a rifle and attempting to get involved in a firefight. What journalist would do anything like that?

What journalist would have, as the writer put it,

…ignored the barriers that traditionally separated the press from its subjects. He openly rooted for soldiers and helped them collect the wreckage after roadside bombings.

Well, let me give two examples.

After midnight in London, Morgenthau gave an address on CBS Radio to the American people, which Roosevelt’s speechwriter Robert Sherwood and the CBS London correspondent Edward R. Murrow helped to write. He told his audience that while touring the fallout [sic] shelters, the “principal thought that filled my mind and heart” had been “we must never forget!” It was not enough to hope that postwar Germans and Japanese would “behave themselves as decent people”: “Hoping is not good enough…Germany and Japan must be kept disarmed.”

I’ve cited this before ; but let me bring it up again…Edward R Murrow, the demigod of a courageous press, acting as a flack for a U.S. Government official – worse, actively writing a speech for him. And it certainly doesn’t read like a nuanced one.

Go over and read Joseph Galloway’s memoirs of his experiences in Vietnam – they’re interesting reading in general (he’s an interesting guy – he co-authored ‘We Were Soldiers Once, And Young’).

But he had an idea: We would stay the night at the MACV Adviser compound nearby and get a much earlier start than those day-trippers the next morning. Sounded like a plan. At the gate of the compound a very tired looking American captain greeted us warmly. “We have been on 100% alert here for the last five days and nights. We are exhausted and need some relief. You guys are it.” He hooked me up with Saigon on his old-fashioned telephone switchboard. I was yelling down a bad line to Herndon in Saigon, telling him what we had seen that afternoon, when enemy mortar rounds fell on the South Vietnamese compound next door. I ducked under the switchboard and kept talking. Afterward, the captain handed us an M2 greasegun submachine gun and a handful of magazines. He showed us where we would sleep, in an empty bunkroom full of double-decker bunks. And where we would stand guard, in a sandbagged bunker facing a barbed-wire fence with a road beyond that. Henri would stand guard alone, from Midnight to 3 a.m. My turn was 3 a.m. to daybreak.

I lay there in the dark unable to sleep till Henri shook my arm and gestured at the door. I took the gun and ammo and entered the bunker for the longest night of my life to that point. Midway through my tour the Viet Cong pulled a satchel charge attack on the South Vietnamese compound across the road. No one approached our fence. Finally the eastern sky began to brighten slightly. The night was nearly over. Thank God. Just then a Vietnamese on a bicycle with a huge bundle on the handlebars came into view, pedaling up that road. I leveled the gun, safety off, and told myself if he made one false move he was dead. About then the captain slapped me on the shoulder: “Son, if you shoot that man you are going to have to cook our breakfast. He’s the chef.” Whew.

How’s that for your first day at war?

There’s more…

The Cav also brought along with them their hometown reporter, a grizzled and, to we 20-somethings, ancient World War II veteran Marine named Charlie Black of The Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer. We would all go to school on Charlie Black who lived with the Cav 24/7 and loved what he was doing. Charlie would go out with a battalion on operations and stay for a week or ten days or two weeks. When he came back to An Khe he would sit down at a battered old typewriter and write endless dispatches, single spaced, on onion skin paper. His stories were full of names and hometowns. He would find a friendly GI who would frank the letter so it went home airmail for free. His editor would run every line, because his readers included the wives and kids of many of the troops. Charlie was supposed to stay two or three weeks; he ended up staying more than a year that tour. Traded in his return air ticket for pocket money, slept on the ground or in the press tent for free and ate a steady diet of C-rations, also for free. The Cav troops would have happily passed the hat for donations if Charlie had gone totally broke. They loved him, and the love affair was mutual.

And more…

Ray dropped the Huey in rather precipitously to avoid the machine guns. I bailed out, the camp defenders flung some wounded aboard, and Ray was gone, shooting me the bird through the plexiglass. A sergeant ran up and said, “I don’t know who you are, Sir, but Maj. Beckwith wants to see you right now.” I inquired as to which one was the good major. “He is that big guy over there jumping up and down on his hat,” the sergeant replied. In short order I was standing before a man who would become a legend in Special Operations Warfare as the founder of the Delta Forces anti-terrorist teams. The dialogue went something like this: Him: Who the hell are you? Me: A reporter, Sir. Him: I need everything in the goddam world; I need reinforcements; I need medical evacuation helicopters; I need ammunition; I need food; I would love a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey and some cigars. And what has the Army in its wisdom sent me? A reporter. Well, son, I got news for you. I have no vacancy for a reporter but I do have one for a corner machine gunner—and YOU ARE IT! Me: Yes, Sir.

Beckwith took me to a sandbagged corner of a trench and gave me a short lesson in the care and loading and firing f the .30 caliber air-cooled machine gun which sat there, dark, ugly and menacing. He showed me how to unjam it in case of need. How to arm it. His instructions then were simple and direct: You can shoot the little brown men outside the wire; they are the enemy. You may not shoot the little brown men inside the wire; they are mine. For the next two or three days and nights I lived in that corner of the trench, beside the gun. What sleep there was was caught in lulls during the day. One day the Air Force finally managed to air-drop supplies in the right place; in fact right on top of the right place. Huge pallets of crates of ammo and c-rations drifted right down onto the camp, demolishing at least one tin-roofed building and smashing other defensive emplacements. I reached out and grabbed a Newsweek reporter, Bill Cook, and yanked him into my trench right before he was about to be squished by a descending pallet. The snaps of the parachutes billowing all over the camp were pretty good, even if I say so myself.

Finally a South Vietnamese armored column arrived to the rescue. Bob Poos of AP and another old friend, Jack Laurence of CBS, were riding atop the Armored Personnel Carriers. I waved at Poos and asked him where the hell he had been. He gave me the one-finger salute. The North Vietnamese had left by then and the hills were silent for the first time in a week. The air stank with that never-to-be-forgotten smell of rotting human flesh. The hills were ripped apart by the airstrikes brought down on the machine gunners, a stark, shattered landscape. We spent one more night in the camp. Poos was assigned to my machine gun.

Not the AP of this war, I’d suggest.

If there was a turning point, James Fallows covered it, in talking about a 1987 roundtable on ethics with journalists, academics, and the military:

Then Ogletree turned to the two most famous members of the evening’s panel, better known than William Westmoreland himself. These were two star TV journalists: Peter Jennings of World News Tonight and ABC, and Mike Wallace of 6o Minutes and CBS. Ogletree brought them into the same hypothetical war. He asked Jennings to imagine that he worked for a network that had been in contact with the enemy North Kosanese government. After much pleading, the North Kosanese had agreed to let Jennings and his news crew into their country, to film behind the lines and even travel with military units. Would Jennings be willing to go? Of course, Jennings replied. Any reporter would-and in real wars reporters from his network often had. But while Jennings and his crew are traveling with a North Kosanese unit, to visit the site of an alleged atrocity by American and South Kosanese troops, they unexpectedly cross the trail of a small group of American and South Kosanese soldiers. With Jennings in their midst, the northern soldiers set up a perfect ambush, which will let them gun down the Americans and Southerners, every one. What does Jennings do? Ogletree asks. Would he tell his cameramen to “Roll tape!” as the North Kosanese opened fire? What would go through his mind as he watched the North Kosanese prepare to ambush the Americans? Jennings sat silent for about fifteen seconds after Ogletree asked this question. “Well, I guess I wouldn’t,” he finally said. “I am going to tell you now what I am feeling, rather than the hypothesis I drew for myself. If I were with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans.” Even if it means losing the story? Ogletree asked.

Even though it would almost certainly mean losing my life, Jennings replied. “But I do not think that I could bring myself to participate in that act. That’s purely personal, and other reporters might have a different reaction.” Immediately Mike Wallace spoke up. “I think some other reporters would have a different reaction,” he said, obviously referring to himself. “They would regard it simply as a story they were there to cover.” “I am astonished, really,” at Jennings’s answer, Wallace said moment later. He turned toward Jennings and began to lecture him: “You’re a reporter. Granted you’re an American”-at least for purposes of the fictional example; Jennings has actually retained Canadian citizenship. “I’m a little bit at a loss to understand why, because you’re an American, you would not have covered that story.” Ogletree pushed Wallace. Didn’t Jennings have some higher duty, either patriotic or human, to do something other than just roll film as soldiers from his own country were being shot? “No,” Wallace said flatly and immediately. “You don’t have a higher duty. No. No. You’re a reporter!” Jennings backtracked fast. Wallace was right, he said. “I chickened out.” Jennings said that he had gotten so wrapped up in the hypothetical questions that he had lost sight of his journalistic duty to remain detached. As Jennings said he agreed with Wallace, everyone else in the room seemed to regard the two of them with horror. Retired Air Force general Brent Scowcroft, who had been Gerald Ford’s national security advisor and would soon serve in the same job for George Bush, said it was simply wrong to stand and watch as your side was slaughtered. “What’s it worth?” he asked Wallace bitterly. “It’s worth thirty seconds on the evening news, as opposed to saving a platoon.” Ogletree turned to Wallace. What about that? Shouldn’t the reporter have said something? Wallace gave his most disarming grin, shrugged his shoulders and spread his palms wide in a “Don’t ask me!” gesture, and said, “I don’t know.” He was mugging to the crowd in such a way that he got a big laugh-the first such moment of the discussion. Wallace paused to enjoy the crowd’s reaction. Jennings, however, was all business, and was still concerned about the first answer he had given. “I wish I had made another decision,” Jennings said, as if asking permission to live the last five minutes over again. “I would like to have made his decision”-that is, Wallace’s decision to keep on filming. A few minutes later Ogletree turned to George M. Connell, a Marine colonel in full uniform, jaw muscles flexing in anger, with stress on each word, Connell looked at the TV stars and said, “I feel utter . . . contempt. ” Two days after this hypothetical episode, Connell Jennings or Wallace might be back with the American forces–and could be wounded by stray fire, as combat journalists often had been before. The instant that happened he said, they wouldn’t be “just journalists” any more. Then they would drag them back, rather than leaving them to bleed to death on the battlefield. “We’ll do it!” Connell said. “And that is what makes me so contemptuous of them. Marines will die going to get … a couple of journalists.” The last few words dripped with disgust.

What answer would John Galloway or Edward R. Murrow given?

The issue, simply, is that members of the media feel they must put their citizenship aside – or possibly tie to a broader flag – in order to do their jobs.

That has an impact in the coverage we see in Iraq, and it also has an impact in the coverage we see here at home.

Jay Rosen, who (as far as I know) coined the term ‘public journalism’ to describe the notion that news media – newspapers and television stations – had obligations as institutions and citizens of communities to do more than simply report, but to engage and participate.

I think that’s a good thing. I think that the media should be citizens.

I’m not unaware that this pulls the rug out from under many claims – including my own – that media ‘bias’ is damaging the media and out communities; I’m going to need some time to work out a response to that.

But a media that’s struggling to stand impartial between the claims of theocrats and those of freedom is a media that isn’t embracing any concept of citizenship I know.

Journalism is struggling with this issue:

As the Columbus experiment became known within the newspaper industry, a variety of other suspicions were raised. During a panel discussion at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference of 1992, Howard Schneider, managing editor at Newsday, spoke out. “I think what Columbus did was bad,” Schneider said. “I think the potential for mischief is great. I do not mean only that they had to report on what their editor was doing, but [also] buying into the idea that they are now a part of the community, and the community’s agenda is the newspaper’s agenda, and suddenly we have to make the community feel good. This may be a temptation to sugarcoat some of the realities of the city.”

This kind of criticism would flare repeatedly in the years ahead as others in the news business decided to “leap across the chasm that normally separates journalism from community,” as Swift put it, while many of their colleagues learned of these leaps and drew back in disgust. “Getting involved” became one of the flashpoints for the controversy that surrounded public journalism when it surfaced as a movement after 1993.

In not publishing the cartoons, it seems to me that the media are stepping back from “Getting involved” here again.

And that’s too bad.

[Update: Through sheer coincidence, American Thinker links to an article in Accuracy In Media on exactly this point:

She adds, “It’s OK for them to spill the beans about everything the White House does, but Heaven forbid they should tell the Bush Administration where some of the terrorists are or that they’re having tea and a casual chat” Come on. Now who’s bordering on treason? Al-Jazeera [is our friend] compared to what our own media will do to the United States with our backs turned. It’s a travesty. They should be charged with treason when they do these types of stories and don’t report their sources to the proper officials.”

The December 27 report in question about ‘Commander Ismail’ was narrated by Myers, who said that “In his first interviews with Western media, Ismail brags about killing three Navy Seals this summer, then downing a Chinook helicopter that came to rescue them, killing another 16 Americans.” Myers explained, “NBC News interviewed Ismail in August and again this month. Both times, the Taliban made sure we could not provide their location to the U.S. military.”


33 thoughts on “News And Citizenship”

  1. Jay Rosen, who (as far as I know) coined the term ‘public journalism’ to describe the notion that news media – newspapers and television stations – had obligations as institutions and citizens of communities to do more than simply report, but to engage and participate.

    I think that’s a good thing. I think that the media should be citizens.

    Well, that depends. If you (and Jay) mean that reports and media have the same obligations that any other citizen or institution has, then fine. Otherwise, I think we have a problem.

    I, for example, am a software developer. If someone asks me what my job is about, should I answer, “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?” What if an MD answered in this way? Or a homebuilder? Or a police officer? Or judge? Joanne Jacobs captures the conceipt of the “higher calling” quite nicely in a comment here (sorry no links to comments, just scroll down or search for “Jacobs”:

    When the San Jose Mercury News was working on a “mission statement,” I participated in endless, agonizing discussions on this sort of thing. I suggested our mission was to put out a newspaper, but nobody listened to me. We ended up with coffee mugs about the Merc being the “essential source of information.”

    A good newspaper does “enhance society” and strengthen democracy. But newspapers should concentrate on informing readers and let the enhancement take care of itself.

    It might be going too far to argue cause and effect here, but at least it’s unquestionable that too much emphasis on the exalted role of news media at least makes it harder for the organizations to resist “fake but accurate” undertakings.

  2. What if you’re a journalist who doesn’t particularly want the U.S. to do a great job in Iraq, for fear it will oppress the people/lead to more imperialism/FITB? Or what if you’re an isolationist and simultaneously a hard-core America-first-er, like Pat Buchanen? Is your duty to sink the war effort for the good of the nation as a whole?

  3. That takes us back to the difference between a Democratic nation at war and one at peace. War, by its nature, cannot be conducted democratically. If Congress nationalizes the steel mills to turn out tanks in WW2, that may no be democratic or capitalist, but all that must bow for a time to survival instinct.

    The fundamental difference between the parties today is their view of whether and to what degree we are at war (though the non-suicidal branch of the left will _never_ allow this to be spoken openly). A simple example: no-one who _really_ thought American survival was at stake would raise an eyebrow on listening in to phone calls (with or without a warrant) between known enemies overseas and persons here. That doesnt make their point wrong, in fact it is a debate we _should_ be having. Just how dangerous is the current threat?

    Same for journalists in the field. If its the Nazi war machine we are fighting, nobody will question whether the war correspondent would or should pick up a rifle if called upon. But if its an enemy that may not really be a threat, and maybe we deserve the threat anyway, things are different. So we are back to the original question. Much of the sound and fury between supporters and opponents these days stems from never engaging that basic point. When you dont agree on the starting conditions you will surely never see eye to eye on the implications.

  4. My college newspaper (The Daily Illini) published the cartoons yesterday. The accompanying editorial found the cartoons “bigoted and insensitive,”: but argued that now that the cartoons themselves had become a public issue, journalist had a responsibility to publish them:

    bq. *If anything, journalists all over this country should be letting the public decide for themselves what to think of these cartoons.*

    I couldn’t agree more.

  5. Surprisingly enough, I feel compelled to simply ditto comments #1-3 above – they all make excellent points about the bigger picture and larger issues at play.

    I’ll point out one other thing: that in a democracy, especially in a world as complex as this one, one of the most important things is accurate and unbiased information. The people making the decisions (i.e. us, on election day) need as clear a picture as possible of what’s going on so we can make the _right_ decisions.

    Now, the Murrow and Galloway anecdotes above are compelling – in both cases it’s fairly easy to argue that no important information was suppressed, and that the guys in question did the right thing. And the Jennings/Wallace hypothetical’s a tough situation… which is why we talk about tough situations in the first place.

    But note that all of this “journalists can be heroic citizen actors by helping the military where needed” is rather different than the point AL generally makes: that the media is prejudiced against the war in Iraq, and should be doing more to bolster public support. He never spells it out in great detail, but I suspect that he’d like to see more stories about the heroic stuff that our soldiers are doing, more stuff about the joys of Iraqi freedom and democracy, and less of the daily grind about bombings, casualties, and problems with the rebuilding process.

    Now, if it is the case that this is what AL really wants (and he can correct me if I’m wrong) then he’s basically doing a bait and switch, arguing that journalists should be better citizens by pushing _his_ preferred view of the war, and selling _his_ preferred policies to the country. The unexamined question here is whether the pro-Iraq war view _is_ the right thing for the US… and that’s not a question that it’s AL’s place, or journalists’ place, to answer. Their job it to report _everything_ that’s going on in Iraq back to us, so that _we_ can make the decision.

    If AL et al have reason to think there’s important news about Iraq out there that we’re not getting, then they have every right to harangue the media about not posting it, and to use WoC itself to spread that news. But we haven’t seen them do much of either lately, perhaps because, near as I can tell, there’s _not_ that much good happening in Iraq that we’re not getting from other sources. Which makes this entire line of attack somewhat unreasonable, near as I can tell.

  6. bq. I think that’s a good thing. I think that the media should be citizens.

    bq. I’m not unaware that this pulls the rug out from under many claims – including my own – that media ‘bias’ is damaging the media and out communities; I’m going to need some time to work out a response to that.

    I disagree. I think it *strengthens* the argument. The members of the media providing biased reports, without recognizing that they are biased, are abrogating their responsibilities as citizens and professionals to strengthen the country as a whole. As citizens, they have an obligation to inform ( *not* *educate*) their fellow citizens about what is going on so that all citizens can make informed choices.

    Fundamentally, American journalists get their right of free speech from the US Constitution. From this comes their profession as journalists. Therefore their higher calling should be to the nation as a whole.


  7. We are not supposed to question the patriotism of journalists like Wallace and Jennings (maybe he gets a pass as a Canadian). But isn’t this a fair question when they themselves have acknowledged that their professional allegiance stands higher than their allegiance to America?

    This might be a perfectly correct stance for them to take, but their answer to their critics shouldn’t be: “I dare you question my patriotism!” The honest answer should be “My first allegiance is to the truth as I see it.”

  8. “What if you’re a journalist who doesn’t particularly want the U.S. to do a great job in Iraq, for fear it will oppress the people/lead to more imperialism/FITB? Or what if you’re an isolationist and simultaneously a hard-core America-first-er, like Pat Buchanen? Is your duty to sink the war effort for the good of the nation as a whole?”

    Interestingly, if you really believed that sinking the war effort was good for the nation as a whole, then yes it would be your duty to do that.

    However, if you did believe that and act as if you did, the rest of the country would be justified in treating you as a traitor. To argue otherwise would be to suggest that there is no such thing as a traitor at all, since anyone – Benedict Arnold or anyone else – could always argue that ultimately in the long term he had the best interests of the nation at heart. That you intended to do good is in my opinion in no way related to the charge of treachery, and working at ‘sinking the war effort’ while a nation is at war is certainly treachery.

  9. I’d check out the timeline the BBC printed. It tells a story we’re not really getting from the press.

    Back in September, they print the cartoons. People don’t like them so the Ambassadors in Denmark complained, and by the end of October, everyone’s forgotten about it.

    But then the Norwegians reprint the cartoons….. People flip out, there’s appologies….

    … But then France, Germany, Italy and Spain intentionally reprint the cartoons *again*. And here we are.

    The whole thing is unfolded like a bar fight. The same insult and response repeated over and over by each side to prove a point, escalation upon escalation until now there’s a brawl.

    I don’t blame the US & UK press for choosing not to pour gas on the fire by continuing to reprint the cartoons over and over and over. It’s unnecessary.

    It’s like saying the response to the time magazine Koran flushing riots should have been for every news outlet to flush a Koran.

  10. The cult of objectivity is antithetical to the idea of citizenship. Citizens see themselves as members of a particular community to which they have obligations and from which they derive benefits, so citizenship necessarily involves taking sides and making value judgements. The strictly objective journalist refuses to do either. Some may claim to be a “citizen of the world”, but this has no legal standing and anyone who uses it as a justification for not supporting his or her own country is basically a freeloader, who enjoys the benefits of belonging to a free society while refusing to contribute to its maintenance.

    To be completely objective would mean reporting events as if one had no stake in the outcome – which in the case of theocracy versus freedom is clearly not true for any journalist – and no opinions at all as to what outcome would be desirable. But reporting a conflict without any value judgements means reporting the most brutal actions of terrorists and paramilitary thugs as if they were morally equivalent to those of combatants who make every effort to obey the laws of war and avoid civilian casualties. That gives the thugs a legitimacy they would otherwise lack, and protects their cause from any harm that widespread public condemnation might do it. So the attempt to maintain an impossible standard of objectivity ends up assisting the most brutal parties to any conflict, which in the current War on Terror means assisting America’s enemies. Since that conflict is also a war of ideas, the legitimisation of brutality by amoral reporting is particularly dangerous.

    Of course, the existence of a free press depends on the freedoms of speech, movement and association that totalitarians of any stripe would abolish. What the MSM considers objectivity should therefore be called “False Objectivity” in reference to the Marxist idea of False Consciousness, because those who practice it have internalised beliefs that are inimical to their own class interest.

  11. Wallace missed something pretty critical, there: if that were to happen in a real situation, he could be charged with treason, because he actively aided the enemy in an attack on American troops. Even though he didn’t pick up a weapon, he gave aid both in propaganda terms and, in this case more importantly, participated in the camouflage of the enemy positions by not trying to warn the American troops. If he were to survive the ambush, he should be charged with treason.

    But in more real terms, I think that any American who holds an allegiance to some other ideal or cause while claiming the benefits and protections of being American is contemptible, and should widely be held in contempt.

    And in the case of much of the media, that is happening.

  12. I saw the program (part of an excellent series of symposiums) where Jennings and Wallace displayed their superior professional sang froid. The show also featured a number of military officers who talked about the relationship of an army in combat to a free press. I remember one of the participants saying that the military had obviously given much more thought to this subject than journalists had.

    Not surprising, since the military has undergone deep changes since Vietnam, while the little Cronkites as the same as always, or rather worse than ever.

    Imagine what Mike Wallace would have said to Joe Galloway. Imagine the finger-wagging schoolmarm lecture that would have been …

  13. But the media world is somehow above that unseemly response; their goal is to be even-handed parents, balancing the claims of both outraged children, and maintaining their stance as rapporteur, not participant.

    What the ninnies at the NYT and elsewhere are acutally advocating is a “Might Makes Right” theory of free speech: If someone can credibly threaten violence against a particular type of speech, then engaging in that type of speech is the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater.

  14. Back in November, 2004, in response to a Jay Rosen piece I wrote “Concentric Circles”:$213 to explain that individuals, journalists, and societies share the same necessary understandings.

    I can’t offer a better alternative for how individuals, journalists, and societies work, and dare others to try. What bothers me more, is that none of this seems to be part of any curriculum. We don’t teach that democracy is codification of the underlying humility that there may be a better way of doing things and are, therefore, committed to the process of discovering how.

  15. On the journalism side, this all comes back to a big chunk of the establishment that simply refuses to entertain the idea that objectivism is _impossible_. Its also not necessarilly desireable.

    Look at it this way: if you are a reporter and your number one goal is to deliver objective information, you need to put aside everything that makes you interesting. You ultimately would just have to try to write the facts as you observe them, without any commentary or background (and even that wont work because human beings are notoriously bad witnesses). You can say a bomb went off at such and such a time and place(which might not even be accurate), but what else? Even if you saw who set it off, you are either speculating or taking someones world for it. Not much of a news cast. “There was fighting today, but we cant prove between whom or who won”. That would be an honest, if almost worthless newscast.

    Instead we pay reporters to use judgement and investigating skills to give us a plausible scenario. Sometimes its right, usually not entirely, sometimes its dead wrong. When you start playing this game, which we call ‘journalism’, every piece of background and bias in the reporter becomes a part of the story. No way around it. So, yeh, it matters a whole bunch how the journalist perceives the conflict and the players involved. If the journalist is the kind of person that feels they are more ‘effective’ or professional by either assuming or pretending to believe there is no moral difference between a terrorist who intentionally bombs kids lined up for candy and a soldier who accidently kills a bystander fighting for his life, well that in itself tells us _a lot_ about the journalist, and his preconceptions. Like every student of human nature from Holmes to House will tell you, how we hide our failings tells us as much about a ourselves as the failings themselves.

  16. The problem with journalism is that is has become a transnational profession that trumps ordinary decency and citizenship; akin to the Medieval priesthood.

    The growth of celebrity journalists like Wallace and Jennings helped encourage that. OF COURSE Wallace and the like would sacrifice American lives for a few seconds of film that increases their stardom.

    In that they are no different from other junk celebrities like Oprah, or Britney Spears. And are held in the same regard.

  17. Seth:

    bq. I don’t blame the US & UK press for choosing not to pour gas on the fire by continuing to reprint the cartoons over and over and over. It’s unnecessary.

    The cartoons were reprinted in two contexts: (a), to report the story surrounding what was until recently a fairly low-level issue, and (b) to demonstrate solidarity. All of this stems back to the original point of the cartoons, which were part of a series discussing self-censorship across Europe – journalists, intellectuals, politicians, etc, deciding not to say things they believed about Islam, lest Muslim mobs start torching embassies and threatening slaughter.

    The last six months have demonstrated that that’s a genuine concern. It is a given that Europe and the Arab world will become increasingly entwined in this century, so these issues are even more important in the long-term. And on cultural issues such as this, the reaction has been to back down. Had the rioters tried to storm American embassies, the news reports would be about the number of people killed by the Marines.

    Accepting that certain things that are part of Western freedom – satirical cartoons, for instance – will bring about riots and terrorism will set the pattern for the future. You question the wisdom in angering Muslims, for no apparent gain, but there was only no gain because the politicians lack the spine of the journalists (a remarkable situation indeed). Had the European governments’ reaction been to enforce their laws and defend their territory, rather than distance themselves from Denmark, flee their embassies and beg forgiveness, Europe might have given the Islamists pause.


  18. Chris –

    I think the issue isn’t that “the media is prejudiced against the war in Iraq, and should be doing more to bolster public support.” It’s that the media sees itself as a kind of umpire between the two sides, who have roughly equal moral standing.


  19. AL-

    bq. I think the issue isn’t that “the media is prejudiced against the war in Iraq, and should be doing more to bolster public support.” It’s that the media sees itself as a kind of umpire between the two sides, who have roughly equal moral standing.

    With all due respect, this doesn’t square at all with the rants I’ve seen you make against the L.A. Times. You’ve specifically accused them of having “obvious bias”, not of being (or trying to be) scrupulously neutral. So I’m skeptical of your claim here.

    But taking it at face value, I also have to say that while, at a gut level, I don’t have a problem with journalists calling a sociopathic and horrifying attack against Iraqi civilians, “a sociopathic and horrifying attack against Iraqi civilians,” there are real questions to be asked as to how far that should go, and at what point it starts to prevent people from getting the information they need.

  20. I personally do not believe, that there has been a war in the history of man where every single citizen of that country supported their side of the war. In wars past, those citizens who committed an act, whether in action or words that supported the enemy, were charged with a crime.

    Whether this war is on our soil or not, it cannot be denied that we are indeed at war. It is also a well known fact, that our particular enemy at this time does use our media as propaganda. In light of that, can our media’s actions be considered as supporting our enemy? In addition, the well known actions that some media have taken in regards to protecting our enemy, are those not supporting the enemy also?

    In addition, our media has proven to us they are willing to put profession over country, can we trust them to protect our freedoms? Their giving in to threats by our enemy is only the first step.

    How do we not look at our own media as our enemy now. In the time of war, there are only two sides. Which side are they on?

  21. About three yeara ago I purchased a book on ethics in jourmalism. The book represented three years of study and deliberations on what ethical guidelines a reporter should stick to.

    I returned the book after reading that it was some times acceptable to color the truth for the greater good.

    Regardless of what side of an argument you are on a journalist job shouild be to present the truth fairly.

  22. Don’t even try to parse “objective” or “fair and balanced” in the discussion of ethics in journalism. The discussions serve up only wind. And if anyone tries to foist an “Ethics Policy” on you, be afraid, be very afraid.

    But if you want to live in the real world, learn to appreciate what I instruct our new reporters and editors: “Write so that tomorrow you will feel proud about what you have accomplished today.”

    Our goal as the reader’s surrogate is to help improve one’s mental map of reality such that he or she can plan a better future.

    So instead of objective or fair and balanced, try accurate and useful. Also remember that news is an ongoing process with successive deadlines.


  23. Watching the U.S. and U.K. media twist themselves into ever-tighenting logical circles as they explained why they wouldn’t reprint the Danish cartoons – which would have, rightly, been interpreted as thumbing their noses at the Islamists who stirred the controversy – I’m struck by a simple notion.

    Oh come one. Let’s use an analogy. Let’s say these cartoons were massively insulting racial caricatures of blacks. First of all, I suspect everyone here would find it deeply disgusting that *anyone* thought them worth publishing. Secondly, if some group went off the deep end and committed violence because of it, would the response of all of you be to insist that the cartoons be reprinted everywhere?

    <sarcasm>Of course! Let’s insult *every* black over and over again until they actually realize that yes, we don’t give a damn about their sensibilities. The only thing were concerned about is taunting those who are already enraged. Event better, let’s all wear KKK costumes in solidarity to the idiots who get illegally beat up when they stage a KKK march! That’ll teach those who let anger get the better of them and believed that violence was the answer!</sarcasm>

    Geez, let’s make it clear to the world that we care a lot more about the easily angered than we do our own law-abiding citizens. Even better, let’s play right into the hands of those who *want* their citizens to be enraged, who want their citizens to know that the West hates them…

  24. Tom West, you’re not going to add traction to the discussion with a sarcastic example. For me, more to the point is whether the content of the cartoons add more to understanding than a summarizing description. If it bleeds, it leads may be an acceptable formula for television news, but it is not a necessity in a newspaper.

    What has become essential in newspapers are links for readers to be able to drill down to primary sources. When that is allowed, the question of cartoon print/not print becomes less significant than describing the underlying clash of cultures and helping people develop a sensible process for weighing useful resolution of that clash.

  25. The concept of useful information, while pertinent to the argument as a whole, was not what the initial comment (and my response) was about. AL’s comment was that reprinting the cartoons would be “rightly” viewed as vexing the already outraged, completely forgetting the offense it would cause the vastly larger number of Muslims going about day to day life.

    I think my analogy is (to a point) valid in as much as it makes us feel the offense that the cartoons cause to Muslims. Solidarity with expressions of free speech generally only extend when we can’t imagine the personal upset that comes from such speech. (Note, lack of solidarity is *not* the same thing as approval of suppression.)

    The sarcasm… well, probably it was a little overboard, but this *is* the internet, after all.

  26. After going around the blogosphere I have come up with my own definition of this war that our country is currently engaged in.

    The Everybody is being Politically Correct Unless it is the Government No Secret is Secret Whiny Weenie War.

    All rules of war regarding treason have been cancelled. All who support the enemy should be treated with kid gloves.

  27. We probably all were taught initially that the Freedom of the Press is there to protect us from our own government.
    All these things discussed can be viewed in that light yet, and probably should be.

    The Press is protecting us from the “foolish failed war” of our government by viewing the war from the other side, and making it “legitmate” from that view. This way, as the Government reads ( we know they do, congress announces their latest investigative find straight from the NYT daily) the press, they are given pause, a way to think of the what ifs and wherefores of the enemy, in order to “help us”, by making sure the government deals with it eyes wide open. It also can help mold the public, as we are well aware.
    Of course, the father left you are currently, the more pronounced that enemy view will be.

    I watched the Big Three + MSM do an analysis of their war coverage concerning Iraq probably two years ago. Ted Koppel, Dan Rather and various others were there in forum, netcast on C-span.
    They concluded they weren’t giving Iraq a fair shake at all. Then they winced out a half dozen or so excuses and told us all it would be unfair coverage into the future and there was nothing they would do about it. Oh, they were slick and very publicly “depressed” about the whole thing.

    That is the state of coverage. In some other forums they may cry that someone else ( Fox) is not objective, or that they are sorry ( CNN Eason Jordan ), and in the end, it can all be parsed to protecting us all from that evil thing called our Government, and that includes especially at this general time the two main parties that could power exchange in the elections.

    That is what they really think their job is, despite years of journalism school, or whatever else they say at some given forum or gathering, and if they can manipulate government and the public in order to “protect” us all, wether that is more or less government in any area, they will do it.

    Objectivity is merely a cover, and it sure can be there in some reporting, even a lot of reporting, but when it comes down to that Constitutional perrogative they all wind up playing it to the hilt.

    Wars are considered a huge portion of what the Government can do, and what we need to be “protected” from. We can also be “protected” from a government that doesn’t do enough for us.

    Total disgust can wind one up in the position of Wallace, whereby “the Government is so far out of line” that letting them take a good hit from an opposing military is the next best thing ( or better than )doing it yourself in your own hit piece on air. Someone should help Wallace to a total assured destruction scenario going active on his objectivity, and see if he still holds his credo, or probe further in steps to find his breaking point, if there be one.

    If of course, one is currently thrilled with the Government, and the war in Iraq, that coverage will show another view indeed, not often seen nowadays, or for that matter not often seen since Vietnam.

    I don’t mind so much the reporter that blatantly takes sides, but I sure do mind the reporter that blatantly takes sides while chewing out another reporter who takes a side as well, and yet still claims to be objective and factual above all else while slinging arrows. That is what is really disgusting, and it happens all the time.

    A bunch of people try to claim there really aren’t these sides, but just bring up Fox News and New York Times in the same sentence, and try to stick to that line of crap about no sides and objective reporting.Totally assured mutual destruction is the result.

    ( If that sort of left out 3rd party people, your agenda is absolutely similar. )

  28. Anyone who believes the MSM in general is even handed is fooling themselves. First off reporteres mostly do as they are told. They wotk for owners who tell them what they will or will not publish. Printing the whole picture on Iraq has nothing to do with whether or not you support the war. If a soldier gets killed, report it. If soldiers collect money amonst themselves to buy a new wheel chair for an Iraqi with no legs reportit? If one of our soldiers abuses a prisoner report it. If the prisoners do as they are instructed and lie about it report that too. But, before you report any story, verify the accuracies of the information sources ro all you are doing is tabloid journalism. If our troops and the Iraqi finish a power plant or sewage plkant to an area that never even had it before, taht’s news, The problem is you can see a darn thing from the Bagdahd hotel.

    One more point, go to and enter the three main networks in one at a time and see where their owners allegiance lays.I* know for a fact okne is a committed communist.Look up our most outspoken represaentatives who are against the war, and one last thing look up the organizations that organize the peace rallies, the move to stop all military recuiters from entering college campuses, who runs camps in the summer to train college kids and “now” high school kids” to refuse military service and speak out against the war.

    Code Pink, ANSWER, DSA, ACORN, Pelosi, Clinton, Dean, Kucenich, the progressive caucus, Goerge Soros, the “Shadow Party,” …..But don’t take my word for it look it up yourselves. Read the articles linked, then keep following the links.

    You will not see a single msm report on any of this. Why? Remember, all the networks are onwed by what, 3, rich and powerful people!

    Get real. This has nothing to do with journalistic rules or wehatever. This is about sociazlism and communism.

  29. Thank goodness that the IslamoFacists and the Media have not discovered that excelent history text by a extreme left wing author “The Cartoon History of the Universe”.

    The way it handles and Mo is just beautiful.

    Actually the way he handles all isms is a joy to see.

    Of course those without humor can’t appreciate what they want to control.

    You can see Larry Gonick’s great books at:
    “Larry’s Web site”:

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