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Former BUFF driver; self-styled military historian; paid (a lot) to write about beating plowshares into swords; NOT Foamy the Squirrel, contrary to all appearances. Wesleyan Jihadi Name: Sibling Railgun of Reasoned Discourse

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Gitmo Torture and Journalistic Bias

In response to this post concerning Newsweek's little Koran-flushing embroglio, Chefjef offers commentary and excerpts from a WaPo article by E.J. Dionne. I have shortened the Dionne excerpt somewhat in the interests of space. As usual, my own comments follow


Interesting. I'm not a Newsweek fan. Nor do I care about the Koran. And I couldn't give a rat's a** about the Gitmo detainees, other than that they don't deserve a smaller portion of my tax dollars than they currently receive. But your delving into the "motives" of the media folk, with concomitant assertions that they lied - while offering as little empirical evidence as Newsweek offered in its hastily made assertion that the Gitmo guards, some of whom are friends fo mine and with whom I currently serve, mistreated the "detainees." Thus, I offer this piece written by a Washington Post (not my favorite rag) writer. I don't agree with everything in it, but I offer it as a counter-point:

E. J. Dionne, Jr.
Washington Post Writers Group

Power 101
Newsweek Flap Offers Lesson In Conservative Ethics

WASHINGTON -- So it turns out that the FBI has documents showing that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained about the mistreatment of the Koran and that many said they were severely beaten. The documents specifically include an allegation from a prisoner that guards had "flushed a Koran in the toilet."

And Thursday, Pentagon officials said investigators have identified five incidents of "mishandling" the Koran by military guards and investigators. It was the first time Pentagon officials had acknowledged mistreatment of the Muslim holy book, though they insisted that the episodes were minor and occurred in the Guantanamo facility's early days.

What, then, is one to make of the Bush administration's furious assault against Newsweek magazine for bringing allegations about the abuse of the Koran to popular attention?

The war on Newsweek shifted attention away from how the Guantanamo prisoners have been treated, how that treatment has affected the battle against terrorism and what American policies should be. Newsweek-bashing also furthered a long-term and so far successful campaign by the administration and the conservative movement to dismiss all negative reports about their side as the product of some entity they call "the liberal media."

I write about it now because of the new reports and because I fear that too many people in traditional journalism are becoming dangerously defensive in the face of a brilliantly conceived conservative attack on the independent media.

Conservative academics have long attacked "postmodernist" philosophies for questioning whether "truth" exists at all and claiming that what we take as "truths" are merely "narratives" woven around some ideological predisposition. Today's conservative activists have become the new postmodernists. They shift attention away from the truth or falsity of specific facts and allegations -- and move the discussion to the motives of the journalists and media organizations putting them forward. Just a modest number of failures can be used to discredit an entire enterprise.

But this particular anti-press campaign is not about Journalism 101. It is about Power 101. It is a sophisticated effort to demolish the idea of a press independent of political parties by way of discouraging scrutiny of conservative politicians in power. By using bad documents, Dan Rather helped Bush, not John Kerry, because Rather gave Bush's skilled lieutenants the chance to use the CBS mistake to close off an entire line of inquiry about the president. In the case of Guantanamo, the administration, for a while, cast its actions as less important than Newsweek's.

We now know that the conservatives' admiration for a crusading and investigative press carried an expiration date of Jan. 20, 2001.

When the press fails, it should be called on the carpet. But when the press confronts a politically motivated campaign of intimidation, its obligation is to resist -- and to keep reporting



"Furious assault"....."Crusading"....."Campaign of intimidation"...."Conservative attack on independent media." Everything but the scare-quotes around "ethics" in the title....

Note the breathlessness. E.J.'s got the vapors. Note also that "independent media" really means "media that agrees with my political point of view" (just as it does to many conservatives).

It is to Dionne's credit that he offers this disclaimer:

At this point, it is customary to offer a disclaimer to the effect that my column runs in The Post, is syndicated by The Washington Post Writers Group and that The Washington Post Co. owns Newsweek. I resisted writing about this subject precisely because I do not want anyone to confuse my own views with Newsweek's or The Post's.

But he doesn't tell the whole story. He doesn't mention that he's been one of the most vocal critics of the Bush administration in the MSM (even to the point of nearly becoming unglued). He is the very model of the modern big media hack. He speaks the talking points of his masters, the Lords of Establishment Journalism. I would be surprised and even somewhat worried if he were to be on my side on any issue. He exemplifies what is wrong with the MSM: the portrayal of a media establishment with overwhelming, undeniable ideological and political biases as "independent," balanced, and objective. In fairness, he probably really believes it's true. Many otherwise decent Russians believed to the core that scientific socialism was true, after all. E.J. probably doesn't actually know anyone with a different perspective. All those he grew up with, went to college with, practiced his profession with, and sipped Absolut with over the years agree with him. There are those of his crowd and then those poor benighted hoi poloi who don't live in DC, NYC, LA, or Miami. They drink beer. Oh my. The very idea that some of these proles think they can lounge about in their pajamas, eating Wheaties and drinking Bud, and "do" journalism on their home computers ("I'll bet they're not even using Macs!") is an insult to Dionne's High and Sacred Calling.

Chefjef should also have noted columns like the NYT's Dionne-clone, Tom Friedman, who says, "just shut it down." If there is a conservative "campaign" and "conspiracy" to undermine the "independent press," then there must equally be one on the left to undermine the war. I don't believe there is, but then I don't believe in a conservative "campaign" or in the existence of an "independent press"--at least, not one outside of the blogosphere--one independent of the media establishment, but not without political bias. There is no part of journalism that is without normative bias--it would be impossible to create such a thing, given human nature. Even if a few pristine souls attempted to set one up, it would eventually come to represent the institutional interests of the organization that produced the news itself, which would incline it to take partisan positions at least some of the time.

As to the issue that engendered the Dionne and Friedman screeds, I think this says all that need be said on the subject. Case closed. Questions?


Lileks today has a good take on the liberal journalistic attitude I was trying to describe in this post: not conspiracy, just arrogance, insularity, and cynicism:

I speak as someone who did four years duty in DC happy hours..... It's not so much that all DC journalists are rabid Democrats - it's that they're addicted to cynicism and bemusedly contemptous of anyone who isn't in the press. Except for thier sources, of course. And their spouses who have government jobs. Everyone else is an object of pity or contempt. You think DC journalists are doctrinaire liberals? Get them talking about DC city government, and stand back lest ye be singed.... The CIA airline story plugs into the general idea that the role of the press is to reveal government secrets, regardless of their nature. That the Republic is served not by men and women in offices figuring out crafty ways to confound headchoppers, but by men in parking garages who tell reporters that funds earmarked for vending machine repair are actually going to airlift terrorists out of foreign capitals without proper extradition documents. Boy! Stop the presses!

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