Thursday, December 30, 2004

Life During Wartime

Is the function of the press to report events objectively or is it meant to provide a narrative sufficient to further the goals of a government?

Earlier this year, when Democrats were in an uproar over Sinclair Broadcasting Group ordering its affiliates to show the anti-Kerry "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal", not much was said about the fact that Sinclair had previously sent correspondents to Iraq to report on “good news about the war”. Sinclair (and its supporters on the Right) apparently felt that Americans were only getting negative reporting from Iraq.

In the interest of objectivity myself, I Googled “Iraq + good + news” to no avail; the first ten pages of results returned stories reporting that the good news is that not more people are being killed. Indeed, Sinclair gave up its endeavor when it became clear that there’s not much mileage in US soldiers handing out candy to Iraqi children and found it difficult to justify the stories of schools being built – for every twenty schools destroyed. Given both sides of the story, only the most myopic (or, prevalently, misinformed) Bush supporter could say there’s a plethora good news coming out of Iraq; recent polls suggest most Americans think otherwise.

Still, for many pro-war conservatives, “news” is not about providing facts to the public but about conjuring narratives sufficient to support the goals of the Bush administration. Fighting 101st Keyboarder Roger Simon states that reporting the news makes
"Many members of our media are anti-American traitors." "Civil liability is something the families of those murdered should be asking about... I don’t think it is too much to expect reporters to have a sense of history..." "Not biased, just on the other side." "Without a Democratic party that would enact policies favorable to the terrorists, the terrorist/AP collaboration would have no effect." "If you are subscribing to a newspaper that carries the AP why not just send a check to Hamas?"
(via AlicuBlog)

Indeed, why bother with the truth at all?

Because, the function of the First Amendment, and the Press it protected, was to keep the government in check by informing American citizens without the oversight of the government what exactly was going on with their elected leaders.

Whether or not a citizen chooses to believe what the Press reports is up to that citizen, I suppose. However, it was difficult to find The Fighting 101st Keyboarder Division complaining about so-called liberal bias in the media when the war started. So it’s a matter of wanting to have it both ways, for pro-war conservatives. “Reactionary” is the term I believe is suitable (check the definition) because a coherent philosophy doesn’t waver with the wind. You can’t be gung-ho about how the Press goes ga-ga when a space-age military is rolling over an essentially stone-age force and then accuse that same Press of anti-American sensibility when things go terribly wrong and they report that, too.

The First Amendment is a uniquely American construct and if anything is "anti-American" it is the notion that the First Amendment only exists in order to support the aims of the government.

Now, a pro-war conservative (such as Roger Simon) may contend that reports of prisoner abuse and torture are the acts of "anti-American" members of the press seeking to undermine the aims of the Bush administration. However, such a claim is untenable when no contrary claims exist (i.e. torture or abuse did not happen). In fact, Simon doesn't claim that contrary reports exist. He's merely spewing ad hominem bile because the reports don't suit his view of the war.

The logic is simple. Either you report facts that suit the aims of a pro-war agenda or you simply report facts. The former flies in the face of the Constitution. If you're going to claim "Americanism" or "anti-Americanism", you must establish identity with the creed that determines what an "American" is - the Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Democracy demands the truth not narrative, not a gussied up version of the truth. Informed decisions are made on information - not opinion. In a truly free - American - society, the Press reports on "what is" not on "what we wamt to hear".


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