As Thomas Jefferson said, "The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left for me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." - Letter to Colonel Edward Carrington, Jan. 16, 1787
Bravo to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, for affirming that journalists must report the truth; not accept the Bush administration’s pronouncements of “fact.” In an exchange on the January 30th edition of Larry King Live, a caller asked why “there hasn’t been more outrage on the part of the American people and the U.S.media, government, on the recent bombing in Pakistan, killing all those women and children? Ignoring sovereignty and international law?” “I mean, I haven't seen anything in the American media that has really claimed how awful it was and the anger, the legitimate anger on the part of the Pakistani people,” the caller continued. “It just floors me that there's no outrage.”
Amanpour’s response: “You know, I think -- well, certainly there's been a lot of reporting about it. Perhaps not enough for that view of it. As you know, there's not enough international reporting on American television anyway.” “But I think to the bigger point, why are we there,” Amanpour asked. “We're there because if we're not, whose word are we going to take for it? For instance, over the bombing in Pakistan, and for instance, over the constant atrocities in Iraq.”
“Are we going to take the Pentagon-paid Lincoln Group who are paying for positive stories to be written in the Iraqi press?” Amanpour asked. “Are we going to take what the administration tells us? Do you remember at the beginning of this war, Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense, told us that these insurgents were just a bunch of dead enders who amounted to absolutely nothing? Well, that was three years ago. You remember on your own show, not so long ago, the vice president of the United States said that the insurgency was in its death throes, in its last throes.”
“Well, we're there to report what's actually going on and we pay a heavy price for trying to get to the truth. And the truth is what our business is all about. And that's why we're out there, despite the enormous, enormous personal cost to us, to our families, and to our networks.”
Another caller-----after commending “President Bush and all of the United States military on all of the hard work and success that we’ve had with the war against terrorism in Iraq”----- asked why the media gave more coverage to its own victims of war in Iraq (most recently, ABC’s Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt shot; Jill Carroll kidnapped) than to the deaths of American servicemen. Again, Amanpour’s response was right on the money. “…of course we focus on very well known people and members of our own community. But the reason that the deaths and injuries of the American soldiers don't get as much publicity is because we are by and large banned from seeing it.”
“The United States government has made a decision that we are not allowed to see the coffins, that we're not allowed to see the burials, that we're generally not allowed to go to any of the areas where there are wounded, U.S. military hospitals. Perhaps you can see a little bit more in Landstuhl in Germany. Perhaps when we go to the hospitals in the United States. But it's very, very difficult to get close to that kind of real tragedy that the American servicemen and women are going through as well.”
CBS reporter Lara Logan agreed with Amanpour’s assessment. “And on top of that there's a real irony in that caller's question. Because it's the military themselves that pressure us not to keep reporting the deaths of soldiers, not to focus on the deaths of soldiers and Iraqis ever single day in this conflict,” Logan said. “They tell us you don't tell the good news, you don't show the schools that are opening, you don't do this, you don't do that, why are you always focusing on the death? And you try and say to them, it's because as a reporter I just feel like every time somebody else dies, I have a responsibility to make sure that death wasn't in vain. That somehow, in some way, it's acknowledged.”
Host Larry King asked, “So the lady from Ohio should take it up with the Pentagon?” “Absolutely,” Logan replied.
But the caller from Ohio had begun her comments praising the Bush administration’s performance in “fighting the war against terror in Iraq”----- even though all the evidence suggests the situation is worsening by the day, not only for American and British soldiers on the ground, but for Iraqi citizens and the media. It has been my observation that people who claim to be Bush supporters don’t always have a firm grasp on reality. In the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, I asked many so-called Bush supporters why they preferred him to John Kerry. And not one-----NOT EVEN ONE----- was able to provide a legitimate reason. If you’re going to take a political stand, surely you should know why you’re doing it!
For instance, my then 18-year-old relative said in an e-mail that she was proud of Bush and “supported everything he did in going to war.” “I think he’s doing a great job!” she exclaimed. Then she lamented that something was wrong if a “black guy was driving around town with a brand-new truck.” The inference was that because he was black, he wasn’t entitled to a new vehicle and couldn’t have possibly earned the money for the truck, as he was undoubtedly on government welfare. This is yet another example of subtle and uninformed racial stereotyping and prejudice that sadly still exists in many communities throughout the world.
When presented with specific examples of things going wrong because of the Bush administration’s actions (or inactions), i.e. faltering economy; massive debt; rising joblessness; my relative didn’t respond. Because this is a young woman who, like her parents and most of her neighbours, never reads a newspaper or pays much attention to what’s going on in the world outside her immediate comfort zone. She knows what they tell her at the conservative church she attends (blurring the line between separation of church and state). But she hasn’t learned to seek other sources of information and think for herself. Consequently she lacks the tools to defend what she says she believes.
In contrast, I have a lifelong friend who lives very comfortably. She and her investment manager husband travel the world staying at luxurious accommodations. In an attempt to inform my fellow Americans of how Europeans perceived the foibles of the Bush administration, I sent a series of news articles from The Independent, a London newspaper. My wealthy friend wrote back that she wouldn’t mind being removed from the list of recipients for my “Bush-bashing” e-mails. Note I was sending news articles reporting cold hard facts, not editorials or opinion pieces. But my friend didn’t like their tone, because they reported a reality she wasn’t prepared to accept. No doubt, she and her husband are among those benefiting from Bush’s tax benefits for the wealthy. But when pressed, she couldn’t or wouldn’t provide a single reason she supported Bush.
After Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast, my friend echoed Barbara Bush’s telling remark about New Orleans residents driven from their homes and their city and living in temporary accommodations throughout the US. “They were poor before and now these people are doing very well,” my friend asserted. At the time, we were having lunch at a Paris bistro. I was so floored by her remark that for a moment I couldn’t speak. And her older, wiser mother looked at me and said, “They don’t have a clue,” nodding towards her daughter and her husband encased in their protective bubble of wealth. Best to quickly change the subject, or risk offending our visitors.