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  Stephen's Column Archive

January 22, 2007

Don’t Blame the Media for Reporting Truth


When Donald Trump was asked last week about his still-simmering public feud with Rosie O’Donnell, he responded incredulously that the two stars’ contretemps wasn’t his fault, or Rosie’s - in fact, it was “the media” that was to blame.


Trump does have a scintilla of a point, as the news media clearly gave considerably more coverage to his battles with O’Donnell than they probably should have. However, Trump is the one who went before the cameras several times, called O’Donnell a “fat pig,” and talked about how her girlfriend will soon leave her. This may not have been a particularly media-savvy moment for Trump, but he must have known from his years of scandals and other tabloid appearances, that reporters tend to write down those sorts of quotes.


It’s not just the Donald. Lately, when all else fails, all sorts of famous people have been blaming “the media” when things go wrong for them. The general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, for instance, expressed dismay at the “media coverage” of the team’s late-season collapse last fall in which they lost 9 of 11 games. Apparently the complaining helped, however, at least enough for the Cards to win the World Series the following month.


And, perhaps most loathsome of all, the president and some of his supporters - the relatively small group that hasn’t yet jumped ship over Iraq - are starting to form the argument that we’re sure to hear a lot more of in the coming months and years: That we would have won easily in Iraq, had “the media” not prevented it by aiding and comforting the enemy.


In other words, it’s the same argument that was made about Vietnam, one just as false now as it was then.


Now, modern-day right-wing politics requires quite a lot of false bogeymen, and the big, bad media are one of the most prominent, ranking just ahead of rampant child molesters, Mexican criminals, marriage-destroying gays, and Koran-swearing Muslim congressmen.


The argument now goes that the media has spent way too much time reporting on explosions, terrorist attacks, sectarian violence, the lack of security, the bungled execution of Saddam Hussein, and the lack of enough troops or any discernable exit strategy. Why aren’t they writing about all the new schools?


We hear that negative news about the war is “hurting morale” among the troops, as though our brave men and women - the ones dodging bullets and IEDs every day without complaint - are somehow rendered completely undone by something Katie Couric said. The media, of course, are also never less than completely complimentary about the troops themselves.


The media has simply done their jobs, and reported what they’ve seen. Some, most notably John F. Burns and Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, have been doing exemplary work from the start in Iraq. Numerous journalists have been killed, wounded and abducted while covering the conflict, many of them deliberately targeted by enemies who value a free press considerably less than we do.


As for “reporting more good news,” consider this hypothetical: If a new school was built in New York, and then a few hours later a bomb exploded five miles away that killed 200 people, which event do you think would lead the papers the next morning? If the New York dailies went with the bombing, would they be “defeatists,” guilty of “coddling the enemy”?


Those who have a problem with that they’re reading in the papers should avoid blaming the messenger and instead take note of the actual events. Blame the Sunni insurgents, Shiite death squads, Muqtada al-Sadr, and everyone else who wants to prevent the establishment of a free democracy in Iraq.

And after that, blame George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for going to war without a reasonable plan for the aftermath, for refusing to change course until years after it would have made any difference, and for baldly lying to the American people about the progress of the war.

Max Boot, as arch an arch-neocon as you’re ever likely to find, showed admirable honesty in a recent column in the Los Angeles Times, when he attempted to sink the blame-the-media movement before it could gain much steam. Newspaper correspondents, he wrote, have been a whole lot more honest – and a whole lot more right - about the war in Iraq ever since 2003 than the Bush Administration has.


It’s time for public figures – Donald Trump, Donald Rumsfeld and all Donalds in between, to start taking responsibility for their own actions, rather than passing the buck onto those whose only crime is having the temerity to report on said actions.


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