Believing the worst

Posted: Jun 01, 2005 12:00 AM

There is an unspoken but real impulse in today's media to see themselves as "independent" of America, even above America, not so much because they are superior to America but because America is so egregiously flawed. It is their role to shed light on America's failings. They're not keen at being seen as Americans. They choke at the idea of wearing flag pins. ABC boss David Westin tried so hard to be above America that he wanted to stay neutral on the question of whether our Pentagon is a legitimate target for terrorists.

 It explains why so many reporters are willing to believe the absolute worst about our current government and its motives. So disdainful have they become that they are silent when fellow journalists claim -- without a shred of evidence -- that American soldiers are engaging in targeting and assassinating journalists hostile to America's foreign policy aims.

 When CNN Vice President Eason Jordan "exploded" earlier this year at a conference at Davos, Switzerland, in objection to liberal Congressman Barney Frank calling the death of journalists "collateral damage" in Iraq, there were no glaring mainstream-media spotlights on Jordan's remarks. When Jordan resigned, there was a tiny blip on the Feb. 12 Saturday "Today" show on NBC, a tiny blip on the Saturday night "CBS Evening News," and no mention on ABC until it was mentioned in passing on a March 8 "Nightline."

 The weirdest mention came on Feb. 20, when the CBS show "Sunday Morning" ran a commentary on weblogs by David Gergen, who was a central figure in the Jordan controversy since he was moderating that discussion in Davos. It was Gergen who recalled Jordan "exploding" in anger about journalist assassination, and then "walking back" the evidence-free allegation. But there on CBS, just weeks later, was commentator Gergen, with no mention from anyone of his role in the Jordan fracas, declaring the "dark side" of the Internet, where bloggers "act like vigilantes, hanging a public figure without a fair trial. Others disagree, but I believe that happened in the Eason Jordan case at CNN."

 But Eason Jordan wasn't the only journalist to make this scurrilous charge.

 Linda Foley, the leader of the Newspaper Guild, echoed the Jordan line at a leftist conference in St. Louis on May 13. She charged that the U.S. military "target and kill journalists from other countries, particularly Arab countries" and, in the case of Al-Jazeera, "they actually target them and blow up their studios with impunity."

 The evidence presented? None. But outside of Fox News and Thomas Lipscomb of the Chicago Sun-Times, the major media are taking a holiday on Foley's remarks.

 When blogger Hiawatha Bray contacted Foley, he was told only that Foley said, "I am not going to discuss this with you on the eve of Memorial Day weekend." How would Ms. Foley's guild react if politicians were to take this attitude in response to every reporter inquiry? How would she respond to how she's mangled the Guild's mission statement to "raise the standards of journalism and ethics of the industry"?

 Just as bloggers discovered that Eason Jordan had made this journalist-assassination charge more than once, a weblog called The Dusty Attic found that Linda Foley didn't make this mistake just once, either. Two days earlier, at another leftist media conference, this one in Champaign, Ill., Foley repeated allegations of "targeting journalists, um, both physically, in places like Iraq, where a record number of journalists have been killed, um, 63, I think, was the last count." She complained, "You can't keep targeting reporters and news people and expect them to do their jobs in a way that is conducive to public discourse."

 Joining Foley on that Champaign panel was Orville Schell, dean of the graduate school of journalism at Berkeley, who expressed the dominant media ethos well: "What we need is a news service that doesn't belong to any country." They want a People's Republic of Medialand, a stateless organization of anti-war activists -- the journalistic equivalent of the United Nations, Amnesty International, and a World Court of Public Opinion rolled into one.

 I have heard from many soldiers who have seen the way the American media have ignored their medal-winning heroes while they made household names of the sliver of sickos at Abu Ghraib; who have seen the media spend weeks laboring over the minutest "mistreatment" of the Koran; who have seen their rebuilding deeds and anti-insurgent victories ignored while media outlets tout the efficiency and well-organized nature of insurgent violence.

 I suspect that if you were to ask them about the proposed People's Republic of Medialand, they would respond: Yes, please leave and form your own country. And who would you find to defend you when some insurgents decided to overtake you by force? Probably us.