Thursday, April 26, 2007

Can You Help Me Find the Free and Independent Press?

Bill Moyers Journal aired a great program last night called "Buying the War," a commentary inquiring how the press got Iraq and the WMDs so wrong in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion. You can see more about it here:

I had the unique angle of living in Amsterdam from November 2002 until September 2003, so I was OUT of the US press' reach during the time that Moyers covers, the time when the Administration was building the case for war. While Americans were bombarded with ominous messages of fear and imminent danger, I was in a place where the messages were ones of incredulity at the U.S.'s lone ranger arrogance in the face of the wishes of most of the international community. After the invasion, the European voices turned to anger and defiance, and poured into the streets and squares.

Major European cities, including my own Amsterdam, held anti-war rallies involving tens and even hundreds of thousands of people in those first months after the invasion. It has taken America 4 years to get to that point. While a small remnant of Americans had the principle and foresight to be against this war from the beginning (including some in the Christian community), it has taken the general public nearly four years to reach the level of disapproval and outrage that Europe has had since the moment "shock and awe" hit the ground in Baghdad over 4 years ago (and even before). That begs the obvious question of input - what were the messages being fed the American public at a time when the rest of the world was seeing things very differently? As Moyers points out in this piece, dissenting views in mainstream American media were hard to come by back in 2002 and 2003. While now it might be more "in vogue" for mainstream press to question the war, the question remains, where were those voices four years ago?

This is a serious indictment of our supposed free and independent press, especially during times when it matters most. It is not that some news sources wouldn't have understandably towed the Administration's line in the months leading up to the war, but most dismaying is the point Moyers brings out that any dissenting views were marginalized or wiped away altogether. Dan Rather, who - as did all major network anchors - supported the invasion and bought the "evidence" the Administration was peddling, had some telling quotes when he said that the unspoken pressures in the newsrooms were that no network wanted to be perceived as unpatriotic or, even worse, supportive of terrorism. Questioning the Administration's "evidence" would have been immediately seen as just those things, and concern for viewership and the bottom line overrode concerns for truth and fairness in reporting. Waving the flag loudly and proudly is simply better for ratings, and that remains true today.

Those dissenting voices existed four years ago, but they were not allowed to speak on the biggest stage during the most critical time. Four years and thousands of body bags later, we are the worse off for it. Where was the free and independent press when we needed them?


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