MESSAGE ABOUT THIS SITE

THIS SITE IS CONTINUED AT A NEW LOCATION
www.TheGhouseDiary.com

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The road not taken

http://interjunction.org/article/the-road-not-taken/

Could the Iraq war have been prevented had the American media asked the right questions? How do conservative media commentators frame the actions of different religious communities? Does the media pay due attention to history? Mike Ghouse reflects on the political impact of mainstream media decisions.

Please visit the site: http://interjunction.org/article/the-road-not-taken/

The road not taken
By Editor on April 23, 2008 6:40 pm

Could the Iraq war have been prevented had the American media asked the right questions? How do conservative media commentators frame the actions of different religious communities? Does the media pay due attention to history? Mike Ghouse reflects on the political impact of mainstream media decisions.

INCREASINGLY FOCUSED ON competitiveness and profits, the mainstream American media is under pressure for its own survival. Indeed, it is at a critical juncture of having to choose between fulfilling its societal responsibility or succumbing to the political compulsions of our times. As a society we need to evaluate the importance of the media in our American system of governance. Does it still play the crucial role the founding fathers of our nation had envisioned for it?

Thomas Jefferson made a strong statement about the role of the media in a democracy when he noted, “If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Describing the role of the press, George A. Krimsky, the former head of news for the Associated Press’ World Services and co-author of Hold the Press, writes, “In the wake of America’s successful revolution, it was decided there should indeed be government, but only if it were accountable to the people. The people, in turn, could only hold the government accountable if they knew what it was doing and could intercede as necessary, using their ballot, for example. This role of public ‘watchdog’ was thus assumed by a citizen press, and as a consequence, the government in the United States has been kept out of the news business.”

Could one say that the government in the United States was kept out of the news business in the past, but not any more?

In the recent past, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams told host Howard Kurtz that the Bush administration had “the right” to pay a columnist to tout its views in his column. As this article notes, Kurtz spoke of the “Pentagon planting positive stories, in some cases paying for positive stories in Iraqi newspapers.” The administration also paid journalist Armstrong Williams to promote its No Child Left Behind education policy. The Government Accountability Office, however, determined that the Bush Administration was wrong in promoting its educational policy through Armstrong’s column.

The essence of democracy is the ability to question everything in fairness and without worrying about censure against such inquiry. How many journalists from the mainstream media have failed this test in recent times? Let us examine a few situations and see the specific failures of the American media in each case.

The qualities of a commander-in-chief

As we speak, the airwaves are saturated with coverage of the presidential nominees in both parties. Why aren’t journalists questioning the rhetoric from McCain and Clinton that they are fit to be the commander-in-chief of the nation? We are a democracy, and it is not essential that our government should be run by a military expert. That was not the intent of our system.

I do not expect my president to be an expert in nuclear, biological, botanical, or other sciences and certainly not a military expert. I want a judicious person who can call on real experts as the situation demands and make the right decision in each case.

Journalists can still ask the candidates this question. Will they?

Precedent and patterns in the Rev. Wright controversy

The second week of March 2008 witnessed relentless coverage of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon, “God Damn America,” in the American media. It was all one could hear on the cable channels. The pundits were suggesting that this might indicate the end of presidential candiate Barack Obama’s political aspirations, given that Wright was Obama’s pastor.

In the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ralph Luker pointed out that “the quotation comes not from Wright, but from the Rev Martin Luther King Jr’s first address to the Montgomery Improvement Association on December 5, 1955. Both African-American preachers have understood prophetic biblical preaching far better than those who feign shock at and condemn Wright’s words.”

“Obama’s Minister ‘Hates America’ But When My Father Said the Same Sort of Things He Became a Hero To The Republicans” wrote Frank Schaeffer in the OpEdNews. Schaeffer quoted his father, religious right leader, Francis Schaeffer, expressing similar sentiments. “Take Dad’s words” Frank Schaeffer went on to say, “and put them in the mouth of Obama’s preacher (or in the mouth of any black American preacher) and people would be accusing that preacher of treason. Yet, when we the white Religious Right denounced America, the white conservative Americans and top political leaders, called our words ‘godly’ and ‘prophetic’ and a ‘call to repentance.’”

The mainstream media largely failed to investigate if there was a precedent, if some one else had used this kind of language, if the reaction had been different, and why that might have been the case.

The burning of the US embassy in Kosovo

While driving around on Friday, February 22 earlier this year, I listened to every news channel. Our embassy was torched in Kosovo by radicals on that day. The media did not describe the violence as religiously motivated nor name any religious community as the culprit. I believe that was the right approach on the part of the media.

But I wondered: had those radicals been Muslims, what kind of demonization would mainstream conservative commentators like O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck, and Limbaugh have engaged in?

The war in Iraq

As the Bill Moyers Journal’s special edition program, “Buying the War,” compellingly demonstrated, the mainstream American media uncritically accepted the administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s ambition to acquire nuclear weapons and his links to Al-Qaeda. The five chapter report speaks for itself.

Had the media stood their ground, perhaps our administration would not have engaged in policies that have resulted in the deaths of over half a million Iraqis as per the figures provided by the medical journal Lancet estimate, 4,000 of our men and women, and a cost of anywhere from 1 to 2 trillion dollars.

Was their inability to ask the right questions of the administration not a colossal blunder on the part of the mainstream media?

Mike Ghouse is a writer and activist based in Dallas. He runs the blogs Foundation for Pluralism and World Muslim Congress.

### Another article one by Bill Moyers,
similar to mine, mine was published two weeks prior

Beware the Terrible Simplifiers

by Bill Moyers
I once asked a reporter back from Vietnam: "Who's telling the truth over there?"

"Everyone," he said. "Everyone sees what's happening through the lens of their own experience."

That's how people see Jeremiah Wright.

In my conversation with him and in his dramatic public appearances since, he revealed himself to be far more complex than the sound bites that propelled him onto the public stage.


More than 2,000 people have written me about him, and their opinions vary widely. Some sting: "Jeremiah Wright is nothing more than a race-hustling, American-hating radical," one of my viewers wrote. Another called him a "nut case."

Many more were sympathetic to him. Many asked for some rational explanation for Wright's transition from reasonable conversation to the shocking anger they saw at the National Press Club.

A psychologist might pull back some of the layers and see this complicated man more clearly, but I'm not a psychologist.

Many black preachers I've known—scholarly, smart, and gentle in person—uncorked fire and brimstone in the pulpit. Of course, I've known many white preachers like that, too.

But where I grew up in the South, before the civil rights movement, the pulpit was a safe place for black men to express anger for which they would have been punished anywhere else. A safe place for the fierce thunder of dignity denied, justice delayed.

I think I would have been angry if my ancestors had been transported thousands of miles in the hellish hole of a slave ship, then sold at auction, humiliated, whipped, and lynched.

Or if my great-great-great grandfather had been but three-fifths of a person in a Constitution that proclaimed: "We, the people."

Or if my own parents had been subjected to the racial vitriol of Jim Crow, Strom Thurmond, Bull Conner, and Jesse Helms.

Even so, the anger of black preachers I've known and heard and reported on was, for them, very personal and cathartic. That's not how Jeremiah Wright came across in those sound bites or in his defiant performances since my interview.

What white America is hearing in his most inflammatory words is an attack on the America they cherish and that many of their sons have died for in battle – forgetting that black Americans have fought and bled beside them, and that Wright himself has a record of honored service in the Navy.

Hardly anyone took the "chickens come home to roost" remark to convey the message that intervention in the political battles of other nations is sure to bring retaliation in some form, which is not to justify the particular savagery of 9/11 but to understand that actions have consequences.

My friend Bernard Weisberger, the historian, says, yes, people are understandably seething with indignation over Wright's absurd charge that the United States deliberately brought an HIV epidemic into being.

But it is a fact, he says, that within living memory the U.S. public health service conducted a study that deliberately deceived black men with syphilis into believing that they were being treated while actually letting them die for the sake of a scientific test.

Does this excuse Wright's anger? His exaggerations or distortions? You'll have to decide for yourself, but at least it helps me to understand the why of them.

In this multimedia age the pulpit isn't only available on Sunday mornings. There's round the clock media – the beast whose hunger is never satisfied, especially for the fast food with emotional content.

So the preacher starts with rational discussion and after much prodding throws more and more gasoline on the fire that will eventually consume everything it touches. He had help – people who, for their own reasons, set out to conflate the man in the pulpit who wasn't running for president with the man in the pew who was.

Behold the double standard: John McCain sought out the endorsement of John Hagee, the war-mongering, Catholic-bashing Texas preacher, who said the people of New Orleans got what they deserved for their sins.

But no one suggests McCain shares Hagee's delusions or thinks AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. Pat Robertson called for the assassination of a foreign head of state and asked God to remove Supreme Court justices, yet he remains a force in the Republican religious right.

After 9/11, Jerry Falwell said the attack was God's judgment on America for having been driven out of our schools and the public square, but when McCain goes after the endorsement of the preacher he once condemned as an agent of intolerance, the press gives him a pass.

Jon Stewart recently played tape from the Nixon White House in which Billy Graham talks in the Oval Office about how he has friends who are Jewish, but he knows in his heart that they are undermining America.

This is crazy and wrong -- white preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren't.

Which means it is all about race, isn't it?

Wright's offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently. He doesn't fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone's neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school.

What he does is to speak his mind in a language and style that unsettles some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship.

We're often exposed to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I've never seen anything like this – this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner played out right in front of our eyes.

Both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race.

It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said, "beware the terrible simplifiers."
_______



About author
Bill Moyers is managing editor of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.

_______

"Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence." -- Albert Einstein

No comments:

Post a Comment