The Good News about the Bad News from Iraq
Rochester, MN -- When I wrote last week that the reality in Iraq is
far better than the mainstream media makes it out to be, citing sources
including a Rochester man who talks to family members who live in
Iraq, I really touched a chord.
Right on!" one typical reader wrote me. "I hope your column
is widely distributed because the information you presented is getting
no play in the mainstream U.S. media." Many of you went further,
expressing deep skepticism and even disgust at how skewed a picture
of the world the American press is offering the public today.
In southeastern Minnesota, as in the rest of the United States,
distrust of the mainstream media has clearly grown to major
How did things come to such a pass?
To answer that question, let me pull back the curtain on the workings
of professional journalism for a minute. While legions of citizens
express mounting disdain for overly commercialized, over-sensationalized,
and overwhelmingly negative news, many professional journalists
are also warning of a growing crisis in their profession.
Abdication of Responsibility
There is corruption in our business," the Pulitzer Prize-winning
New York Times reporter, John Burns, told the authors of a new book
called "Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq, an Oral History." Burns,
who was posted in Baghdad before and during the war, said U.S. correspondents
paid Iraqi government officials -- Saddam's henchmen -- "hundreds
of thousands of dollars of bribes" to gain special
favors and access to interviews.
return, Burns said, those reporters turned a blind eye to Saddam's
worst atrocities in pre-war Iraq. Burns found
instance, who knew anything about the Abu Ghraib prison,
the vast Baghdad torture
center that held thousands of Saddam's political prisoners.
Nor did more than a few reporters make any attempt
to visit the prison. "In
the run-up to this war, to my mind, there was a gross abdication of
responsibility," Burns said.
CNN's chief news executive, Eason Jordan, wrote an infamous
article last April stating that CNN had known for many
years about Saddam's
extreme atrocities, including a Iraqi woman who had
spoken to CNN and then been murdered by Saddam's thugs, and
her dismembered limbs
on the doorstep of her father's home.
CNN, in order it said to protect its Iraqi employees,
never reported that atrocity or many other ones that
of, Jordan said.
In return for the network's silence, it had been allowed
to remain in
If we can't trust the news media to bring us the bad
news when it happens, how can we trust it to bring
us the good
the question that many of you, like John Burns,
are asking now, and rightly so.
For three principal reasons, the internal debate
within the news profession on these matters is
muted and contained.
It is not
widely known about
outside the news media, and there are few examples
of news organizations that have joined with customers
ground of common
first reason is the fierce competition all news media face today. With
so many news sources
outlets called "blogs" (short for
web logs), cable television, and dozens of
other sources, every media company is fighting
smaller pieces of the pie.
In such an environment a great premium is placed
on any journalistic device, such as sensationalism
and keeps an audience.
A second reason is that journalistic objectivity,
the ethical gold standard in journalism
for more than a
increasingly considered outmoded.
Fox and Henhouse
We are coming to the end of the era of objectivity," wrote Robert
L. Bartley, the former editor of
the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages, last July. Opinion, not
reportage, is what sells now, Bartley
says. Sharply-focused perspective
and invective is what grabs lucrative niche markets of conservatives
or liberals, or peaceniks or gun-nuts
or soccer moms.
third reason is that when it comes to news media malfeasance, the fox
is guarding the
the press constitutional
protection from government interference,
to preserve its function as a check
what if, as John
Burns says, "there
is corruption in our business." Who will watch the watchdog?
Absent significant efforts at news
industry self-reform, increasing
numbers of grass
roots and special
interest groups are springing
up. MediaReform.Net, FAIR, Media
Channel, the Center for Public
exposes of media bias,
industry conglomeration, and the
drift toward partisanship. They
use the Internet to build lobbying support,
and their memberships are growing
Which is really good news.
Copyright @ 2003 The McGill Report