American journalism's true colors

Posted: Oct 03, 2001 12:00 AM
The media snobs are at it again. Wrinkling their noses at flag pins and patriotic ribbons. Tiptoeing around the word "terrorist." Preening about their precious "objectivity," "neutrality" and "independence." Hey, newsies: Get off your high horses. Impartiality is no excuse to behave like four-star ingrates. Stacey Woelfel, news director at KOMU-TV in Columbia, Mo., directed his staff to "leave the ribbons at home" in order to show viewers "that in no way are we influenced by the government in informing the public." ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider told The Washington Post: "Especially in a time of national crisis, the most patriotic thing journalists can do is to remain as objective as possible ... (W)e cannot signal how we feel about a cause, even a justified and just cause, through some sort of outward symbol." Reuters infamously refuses to describe the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as terrorists. And the headline above Seattle Times executive editor Mike Fancher's column last weekend pronounced loftily: "We serve public best by clothing ourselves in neutrality, not pins." These TV news directors and newspaper editors act like they're lethally allergic to red, white and blue. Do they plan on boycotting the Fourth of July, too? Wouldn't want to give the appearance of endorsing either side of that little armed struggle between Mother England and the rebel colonies, right? Seriously, the hypocrisy is nauseating. "Ethical" news editors wave the high-minded banner of objectivity in wartime. But in peacetime, they don't think twice about allowing -- even encouraging -- their reporters to participate in such highly politicized activities as AIDS fund-raisers, race-based affirmative action lobbying efforts, anti-gun proselytizing, pro-abortion rallies and environmental propaganda. The media backlash against public displays of patriotism reveals a lot about modern American journalism's true colors. Many of today's leading purveyors of journalism are simply embarrassed to identify with the average citizen. They view flag-waving as a maudlin exercise; gun ownership as fanatical; national pride as politically incorrect arrogance; and the U.S. military as an outdated, hierarchical, racist, sexist, homophobic and imperialistic institution. Well, it's those brave men and women in uniform who risk their lives everyday so we can sit back and gaze at our navels. It's those intrepid soldiers who will leave their families, their security and their way of life behind to defend all of ours. What's wrong with showing a small token of solidarity and appreciation? This country's greatest wartime correspondent, World War II newsman Ernie Pyle, embodied the spirit of journalist as compatriot. He didn't wear a tiny pin. He wore a uniform -- an Army private's uniform. Pyle went through basic training and braved the front lines in Britain, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Japan (where he was killed on the battlefield by a sniper's bullet to his head). Pyle's respect and gratitude for American soldiers was unabashed. "I love the infantry because they are the underdogs," he wrote. "They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can't be won without." Pyle wasn't ashamed to share his emotions, to call the enemy the enemy, and to show allegiance to our country. Instead of preaching from the ivory tower about the media's hallowed role in society, he always showed professional humility. "You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don't ask silly questions," Pyle wrote in his award-winning column, "The Death of Captain Waskow." He referred to American troops with a collective "we." And he lobbied successfully in his column for extra fight pay for combat soldiers. The writing that earned Ernie Pyle a Pulitzer Prize in 1944 would have gotten him fired today. There will be no 21st century Ernie Pyles in our war on terrorism because modern journalists wouldn't be caught dead in a foxhole, wearing a military uniform, bravely recording and communicating the hopes, fears, dreams, anger and pride of the American soldier. Oh, no. That might give -- heaven forbid -- the wrong impression.