In the process of debating the merits of publishing, and now continually hyping, the Abu Ghraib photos, I keep hearing that it is contrary to the American journalistic tradition to let patriotism or concern about the negative effects of bad news interfere with coverage. I have no idea where this idea comes from.
Take Ernie Pyle, perhaps the most universally revered of America's war correspondents. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was not the sort of objective chronicler of the facts the Columbia Journalism School churns out today. No, he was the sort of ink-stained wretch who proudly put on a military uniform and wrote glowing tributes to "our" brave boys at the front for whom he used his column to agitate for higher pay. As Michelle Malkin wrote a few years ago, "The writing that earned Ernie Pyle a Pulitzer Prize in 1944 would have gotten him fired today."
Indeed, most of the press in World War II donned military uniforms - and proudly. They agreed to considerable censorship, which Walter Cronkite insists was fair and reasonable.
Ask yourself how that squares with, say, today's press corps which, after 9/11, agonized over the ethical quandary of whether it was appropriate to wear a tiny American flag on their lapels?
Or consider I.F. Stone. He wouldn't make my list of great journalists, but he's on many people's list. Peter Jennings dubbed Stone, "a journalist's journalist." The Los Angeles Times said he was the "conscience of investigative journalists." Former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis gushed that he was "the reporter who taught us to penetrate the squid-ink of official truth."
Well, be that as it may, he was also among the most partisan journalists of the 20th century, falsely accusing the United States of using chemical weapons during the Korean War and apologizing - if not openly rooting - for Stalin, Mao, the Viet Cong and Castro.
That such a man could be the "conscience of investigative journalism" should tell you where on the ideological spectrum the media's conscience resides and how the press came to redefine good journalism.
But my aim isn't to score ideological points about liberal bias. This isn't about attacking liberals. Most of the "giants" of journalism were, after all, liberals protecting liberal politicians and liberal objectives.
For example, for all the self-congratulation that's come with the press's "bravery" in running the images from Abu Ghraib, you might think the press has always stuck to a standard of telling hard truths during wartime. Nonsense.
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