BY MARIELLEN DIEMAND
“To speak the truth, there must be two people. One to speak it and one to hear it.” HENRY DAVID THOREAU
Thoreau reminds us that in order for there to be truth in our lives there must be someone to speak it first. We as a society assume those truths will be freely distributed by those who run our country and those who keep us informed – those we are supposed to be able to depend on and trust. In a time of war, free speech comes under fire by our government in the forms of censorship, false reporting and untruths and unbalanced news. The truth needed for a vibrant democracy has dissipated, leaving behind an antiseptic and sanitized version of the war in Iraq, brought to us by media corporations – often referred to as “mouthpieces for the US government” . “Mostly, it works that way in practice because countless journalists – whether they’re flag-wavers at Fox News or liberal sophisticates at NPR News – keep letting authorities define the bounds of appropriate empathy and moral concern,” said Norman Solomon, a nationally syndicated columnist on media and politics, on April 17, 2003 in Media Beat. During the course of the war with Iraq, there were many questions about the role of the American media. Some would argue that their role was to inform, but after a slew of false reports, a contract signed by embedded reporters with the Pentagon on “playing by the rules” and a pro-war sentiment ringing throughout cable news networks, it would seem as though objective reporting was the last consideration in the “rush to be first” to inform the public. “If the first two weeks of the coverage was any indication, this war will be a case study in the failure of success by U.S. journalism,” said Robert Jensen, writer for The Progressive, at the height of the conflict. 1 “…There was no meaningful debate on the main news shows of CBS, ABC, NBC or PBS…The media didn’t even provide the straight facts well,” said Jensen. 2 Now that the war has come to an end and the U.S. occupation has begun, twenty-four hour a day coverage of the war has been replaced by sporadic clips of troops guarding the cities of Iraq and of those troops fortunate enough to be returning home. The embedded reporters have returned back to their networks and more emphasis is being placed on national going-ons, the SARS virus and North Korea. So where do we go from here? Do we simply forget about the “reporting” that occurred in Iraq – the one-sided, patriotic sentiment that was evident in newscasts and the many false reports on chemical weapons and the fall of Iraqi cities? It is important for the nation, now more than ever, to reflect on the information that was served to them about the war – the analysis by ex-military generals serving as “reliable” sources and the misrepresentation of Iraqi casualties and Iraqi voices. It is important to discuss where our press’ and government’s priorities were throughout this war and hope that we can stir enough dialogue so as to change press policies, inviting the chance for open debate – that which is crucial to democracy. We have entered an ideal time for this reflection and change to occur – a time when our eyes are no longer sore from watching relentless bombing, but are now open to see the real devastation of war and the consequences of misinformation and infotainment. 1 www.progressive.org/may03/jen0503.html 2 ibid © 2003 Media Education Foundation. This article may be reproduced on a non-profit basis for educational purposes only.
ROLE OF THE PRESS “In wartime the press is always part of the problem. When the nation goes to war, the press goes with it…the blather on CNN or Fox or MSNBC is part of a long and sad tradition.” 3 CHRIS HEDGES | reporter for The New York Times In December 2001, a few months after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Solomon noted,“the overwhelming bulk of news stations are already serving as amplification systems for Washington’s...