Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Lining Up For War

Dan Rather, CBS News anchor, May 2002:

It is an obscene comparison - you know I am not sure I like it - but you know there was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tyres around people's necks if they dissented. And in some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here [in the United States], you will have a flaming tyre of lack of patriotism put around your neck. Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions, and to continue to bore in on the tough questions so often. And again, I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism.

...What we are talking about here - whether one wants to recognise it or not, or call it by its proper name or not - is a form of self-censorship. It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself. It carries through with a certain knowledge that the country as a whole - and for all the right reasons - felt and continues to feel this surge of patriotism within themselves. And one finds oneself saying: 'I know the right question, but you know what? This is not exactly the right time to ask it'.

I worry that patriotism run amok will trample the very values that the country seeks to defend... In a constitutional republic, based on the principles of democracy such as ours, you simply cannot sustain warfare without the people at large understanding why we fight, how we fight, and have a sense of accountability to the very top.
Rena Golden, executive vice-president and general manager of CNN International, August 2002:

Anyone who claims the US media didn’t censor itself [during the Afghan campaign] is kidding you. It wasn’t a matter of government pressure but a reluctance to criticise anything in a war that was obviously supported by the vast majority of the people...And this isn’t just a CNN issue - every journalist who was in any way involved in 9/11 is partly responsible.
Ashleigh Banfield, MSNBC war correspondent, April 2003:

...what didn't you see [in the media coverage of the Iraq war]? You didn't see where those bullets landed. You didn't see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism or was this coverage? There is a grand difference between journalism and coverage, and getting access does not mean you're getting the story, it just means you're getting one more arm or leg of the story. And that's what we got, and it was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn't journalism, because I'm not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful terrific endeavor, and we got rid of a horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn't see what it took to do that.

...Free speech is a wonderful thing, it's what we fight for, but the minute it's unpalatable we fight against it for some reason.
Christiane Amanpour, CNN war correspondent, September 2003:

I think the press was muzzled [in the runup to war in Iraq], and I think the press self-muzzled. I'm sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did.
So, do we detect a pattern yet? It doesn't take a genius to realize that the American broadcast media lined up behind the administration and promoted the post 9/11 military adventures as noble excursions to hunt down evil and liberate the downtrodden.

The self-criticism exhibited above is commendable on one level. None of these media figures will win many friends with their remarks. But what we need from these very same people is a critical spirit as the news is happening. Not after the fact.

Or, to put it another way: check your patriotism at the door. You're supposed to be journalists, not cheerleaders.