Monday, November 28, 2005

Journalists are not "citizens of the world.”

Journalists are not "citizens of the world.”

To be a citizen implies there is some governmental structure with which you have a specific reciprocal relationship, where the behavior of each party is meant to support the other. There is no such world government. The United Nations is not by any stretch a governing body; it is a debate society of mostly hand-picked mouthpieces for brutal murdering thugs. The leaders of the great majority of member states have climbed mounds of corpses to claim dominion over a subjugated population of victims.

If the United Nations were a world government, citizenship mainly would consist of yielding up all rights and property, then shutting up and waiting patiently for your turn to be tortured, mutilated and thrown into a mass grave. This describes the circumstance of a substantial portion of the population governed by the member states of U.N. So it defies logic to assume a journalist’s press pass would provide any golden exemption.

Simply, there is no lofty, exalted, protected position for any journalist, from which they can view the events of the world with Olympian detachment, and convey their assessments to us mere mortals below.

Regardless of their posturing, journalists cannot be objective and detached from the events, processes, and people they observe and describe. Journalistic Objectivity were only possible if the observer had no interest in, or stake in, those things, and no vulnerability to the repercussions of the reports and descriptions that journalist publishes. The only substantial protection any journalist has is that provided by the strength of the national government that issued the journalist’s passport, aid and comfort from sympathetic individuals notwithstanding.

There is no trans-national body that guarantees the rights of its citizens. Look how the U.N. scurried away from Rwanda when ten U.N. peacekeeping soldiers were killed in the sectarian violence that went on to kill the better part of a million victims. Those soldiers were on loan from their own government, which may withdraw them at its discretion. This means that for better or worse, each of us is a citizen of some government more localized. You must make choices. It can be argued that the community of all human beings — or the greater imagined spiritual community — deserves some allegiance transcending the claims of any local government. But in the final reckoning we are left to work with what we have, not what we wish.

Journalists, like other humans, may see misbehavior by their own government that justifies defiance and resistance. There are many journalists that have risked and lost their lives courageously defying the monsters ruling their own countries. American journalists have enjoyed unusual immunity to threats and violence, thanks to the enduring strength and fundamentally unsordid nature of the U.S. government, despite its lapses and failures. Yet our American-based news services increasingly strive to present a public face of “neutrality” by which they disavow allegiance to or bias in favor of the government that is the ultimate guarantor of the freedoms they exercise.

This has been dramatically underscored by a number of developments and confessions by news organizations in the last few years.

• CNN's Eason Jordan admitted in a letter to the Editors of the New York Times following the U.S. deposing of Saddam Hussein, that for a number of years CNN had acquiesced to pressure from the Iraqi government to refrain from reporting atrocities known to be routinely committed against Iraqi citizens by Saddam's thugs. Jordan claimed that this was done to protect Iraqi employees of CNN who might be tortured or murdered by Saddam's agents. But even accepting this as a real threat, the unavoidable effect of that decision was that CNN presented SANITIZED portrait of life under the Ba’athist regime, which ideologues like Michael Moore used to delegitimize any opposition to Saddam.

I’m afraid it is even worse than Jordan admits. CNN, or any other news service, would have been blind and stupid not to see it was inevitable that there would soon be a military attack against Saddam. They were unwilling to risk losing the front-row view of the fireworks and high ratings that a Baghdad office guaranteed. That they would be safe from U.S. munitions was a given; the greatest danger would be from promiscuously sprayed Iraqi anti-aircraft rounds, which in fact accounted for most of the civilian casualties of the battle for Baghdad. Why the hell should we believe that Eason Jordan gave a crap about some hapless Iraqi assistant, when the reporting they actually broadcast could ONLY have the effect of legitimizing a regime that was daily murdering, torturing, raping, and brutalizing hundreds and thousands of Iraqis??

• Reuters admission that it has assured Palestinian terrorist groups it will not use the word "terrorist" to describe them, in return for which the Palestinian terrorist groups have grudgingly sort of promised to refrain from murdering the Reuters journalists. In an article published 20 September 2004, the New York Times reported that Reuters had requested its writers' names be removed from articles in CanWest Global Communications — Canada's most-widely distributed newspapers — when that publisher exercised its prerogative to insert the word “terrorist” to describe organizations that have routinely used terrorism against civilians. Reuter's global managing editor David A. Schlesinger stated that the practice could endanger Reuters' reporters. In various interviews, Schlesinger has made it clear that this policy is simply to avoid reprisals from actual terrorists who would be offended at being described so.

This is wonderful. I don't ask reporters to go out and risk their lives. I do ask them to tell whether their reports are fact or fiction. To sanitize reports and present them as accurate renderings of the events and people portrayed, utterly defeats the entire point of sending a reporter to describe events in the first place. We would be better served by a news agency telling us that it cannot responsibly describe the actual events witnessed without risking revenge killings by some of the participants being described.

Imagine checking the newspaper for local weather conditions before an afternoon outing, without the knowledge that the Mount St. Helens Daily Gazette has a policy against needless defamation of local volcanically-inclined mountains…

Hubby: "Say, dear, how would you like to pack a picnic lunch and drive up the slopes of Mount St. Helen's today?”

Wifey: “Sounds fun. Can you see what the weather report is for this afternoon...”

Hubby: "Mmmm. Okay, here it is. Looks like a slight chance of pyrotechnic flows, but it's expected to provide dramatic photo opportunities, then clear up quickly.”

Wifey: "Will I need a jacket? What's the temperature?”

Hubby: "Oh, the report just says it'll be unseasonably warm.”

Wifey: "Great! I'll bring some sunblock, and a windbreaker.”

Scale that up to decisions of national policy, on which the fate of many tens of thousands of lives may hinge.


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