Of Whom Are The Newspapers Really Afraid?

Andrew Tallman
Posted: Nov 14, 2006 9:29 PM
Of Whom Are The Newspapers Really Afraid?

Recently, a certain Senator from Massachusetts made some rather uncharitable remarks about the educational level of our troops in harms way. The varying ways in which he chose to initially and then subsequently insult both their intelligence and ours are the parts of the story that have been widely covered.

What has not received much coverage is the fact that a few days after his remarks, some of our troops in the field decided they would reply to Senator Kerry as only military folks would. Their effort is represented in a picture that was all over the Internet but nowhere in the mainstream print media. The obvious question is, “Why was this widely available picture so blatantly ignored by newspapers and newsmagazines prior to a major election?”

I suggest there are five logically possible reasons:

Explanation 1.

All the editors and contributing journalists at all the nation’s major newspapers simply hadn’t seen the picture. If they hadn’t seen it, surely it would have been unfair to expect them to print it. Of course, given the nature of the Internet and email, this explanation is possible only in the logical sense, much like the way it’s logically possible that Bigfoot exists or that there’s really a rotund gift-giver up North.

Explanation 2.

They saw the picture, but did not consider it newsworthy. This is surely the most charitable interpretation, and I hope it’s the true one. Nonetheless, it speaks to a great incompetence in judging what is a good news story, deciding which stories demand a balanced perspective, and, most obviously, being able to understand the interests of the American public. Every person I showed this picture to found it highly entertaining and very newsworthy. Using the disconnect between the news editors and the American public as an excuse here seems like a dubious strategy for vindication given that it is essentially an appeal to ineptitude.

Explanation 3.

They saw the picture and considered it newsworthy, but didn’t feel that the military personnel portrayed should be allowed to exercise their free speech rights in American newsprint. At the risk of being juvenilely obvious, I would think that of all people our servicemen and women are entitled to the greatest regard for their views. Unless, that is, the newspaper editors all agree with the original content of Senator Kerry’s comments and were afraid that the people in the picture did not realize they were misspelling so many words.

Explanation 4.

They saw the picture, knew it was newsworthy, and believed the military should be heard, but they thought it would harm their preferred political party in the upcoming elections. I am reluctant to believe this because I prefer not to believe that there is such a widespread pattern of deliberate politically-motivated distortion of the news. Some of you may consider my preference naïve, but there it is. Given the proximity to the election and the further embarrassment which this picture would have given to the Democratic Party, I am troubled by my reluctant acknowledgement that this may be the most likely explanation.

Explanation 5.

They saw the picture, knew it was newsworthy, believed the military should be heard, and were willing to let it harm their party, but they were afraid of what their Democratic readers might do to them for such a breach of loyalty. Forgive me if I sound dramatic here, but this option sounds rather nasty. In fact, it sounds very much like the kind of reasoning which went into the decision not to publish another set of pictures not very long ago.

Even though the aftermath of the Danish Mohammed cartoons was covered widely in the news, the pictures themselves (which served as the convenient pretext for such outrageously disproportionate violence) were almost never printed. Whether for fear of the consequences or for fear that the patent mildness of the cartoons compared with the most ordinary of American editorial page drawings would further embarrass the reactionary Muslims, almost no newspapers or magazines in the United States reprinted them. Which I suppose leads me to my most sincere question. If the people running American news media had seen this picture, were not too dense to realize it was newsworthy, didn’t feel like censoring the military, and weren’t afraid to run content which might harm the Democrats in the election, did the decision to not print it mean that they were just as afraid of Democrats as they are of radical Muslims?

I suspect that many people will be considering whether they want to give their money, either by subscription or advertising, to newspapers and magazines who showed us something very troubling about themselves by failing to publish this picture prior to the election. It makes me wonder just what sort of free press it is that the very men in this picture are fighting to protect and export around the world. Then again, perhaps the freedom they fight for is poignantly demonstrated by the fact that we all knew about this picture in spite of the failure to publish it by those increasingly irrelevant sources of information called newspapers.