Thursday, September 11, 2008

Journalist shouldn't be a dirty word

I'm an aspiring journalist. You wouldn't necessarily know it if all you read was this blog, seeing as how I use this space primarily for opinion writing, but it's true. So it is that I'm always looking around for reporters that I can look to for inspiration--both people out there doing the hard scrabble investigative journalism that seems so sorely underrepresented in the mainstream media these days, and also those folks just doing the day-to-day work of presenting the facts of any town or city as clearly and thoroughly as possible.

It's an essential job, an integral part of any really democratic society, but very often a somewhat thankless endeavor for those not actively seeking the limelight.

It would seem, sadly, that these journalists are the exceptions to the rule these days, especially when we cast our critical eye on the major networks and news outlets.

A hot tip lead me over to and Glen Greenwald's excellent piece regarding the state of modern journalism, specifically Fox News and their complicity in what appears very much to be a major (and sickening) government propaganda stunt. On August 22, an airstrike by U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan killed a large number of unarmed civilians in the city of Azizabad, including women and children, and this has since been well documented by a number of independent sources. The U.S. conducted an initial inquiry into what happened, and came to the conclusion that only "7 to 9" civilians and a lot of insurgent Taliban fighters had been killed, despite what villagers and other reports were saying.

In coming to that conclusion, the government used an "independent journalist" from (who else) Fox News to verify their version of the story. And who was this beacon of journalistic integrity? None other than Oliver "Iran-Contra" North, who has been working for Fox as a correspondent, despite (or perhaps because of) his nefarious past.

Yeah, not entirely the most trusted name in news.

Thankfully, through the hard, on-the-ground work of reporters like Carlotta Gall and documentary video evidence from the scene, enough pressure has been placed on the U.S. government that they are now going back to "reexamine" their original findings. Hopefully, appropriate restitution for this heinous mistake will be made, but no matter what, it will likely do little to ease the minds of those who suffered as a result of the attack, or to restore any sort of credibility to mainstream media in general.

In addition to this specific incident being a blatant example of the sickening consequences of lazy and/or complicit reporting, it also plays into a much larger debate about the duties of journalists and media networks in general.

Greenwald puts it well:
This is what I found so deeply bothersome and inane about this week's hand-wringing over the oh-so-"undignified" spats between various MSNBC personalities during the Convention and the Threat to the Integrity of American Journalism posed by such squabbling, or by the oh-so-inappropriate placement of "blatant liberals" in the sacred anchor chair. There is an entire cable "news" outlet, the highest-rated one in the country, which exists for little reason other than to amplify and certify false government claims -- it's literally nothing more than an outlet for state-issued propaganda -- and our leading news critics and even other "journalists" praise and treat its "news" anchors as legitimate and credible sources of news...

Way beyond Fox, this is the same thing that our media generally (and with some important exceptions) has been doing for years, at least -- mindlessly repeating and confirming false Government claims. That's what makes Carlotta Gall's on-scene actual investigation of the Pentagon's Afghanistan claims so notable -- it's so unusual. From Jessica Lynch's heroic Rambo-like firefight to Pat Tillman's murder by Al Qaeda monsters to pre-war claims of the Iraqi menace to post-war claims of Glorious Progress to current claims of the Grave Russian and Iranian Threats to the concealment and then justification of virtually every act of government radicalism over the last eight years, our media has, by and large, done what Fox News did in the Azizabad case -- offer itself up as an uncritical conduit for state propaganda.
This is one crucial part of the debate that we (as a country, as a planet) should be having with ourselves. It may be impossible for anything with a human source to ever be completely objective, but that's not to say that we couldn't be doing a whole hell of a lot better when it comes to the standards to which we hold our press and our government.

Do we really care more about lipstick and flag pins than you do about our government killing innocent civilians and lying about reasons for going to war? Good God, I sure hope not. And while those weird little stories have their place, the real estate currently being taken up by them is way out of proportion to what they deserve.

Thankfully, there are still a handful of good, dedicated journalists out there who are working hard to get the pieces of truth out there for all the world to see. What we do with what we're given, however, is up to us.

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