Subject MORTGAGING THE FOURTH ESTATE Written 413 pm Feb 25, 1991 by christic in cdpchristi
Subject: MORTGAGING THE FOURTH ESTATE
Written 4:13 pm Feb 25, 1991 by christic in cdp:christic.news
COVERING THE GULF CRISIS, MORTGAGING THE FOURTH ESTATE
Project Censored: Nomination for the "Ten Best Censored Stories of 1990"
With the benefit of hindsight, we can safely say that the mobilization of
U.S. troops in Vietnam, Grenada and Panama have taught us a rather sobering
lesson: When armed conflict is on the horizon, press skepticism is the first
casualty. The Gulf crisis indicates that the press has still not learned its
What is plain is that many journalists became so carried away by the blare
of the bugles in Saudi Arabia that, instead of being the honest, skeptical
brokers of information they should be, many fell into that unseemly role of
Perhaps this jingoistic abdication of journalistic responsibility is not
surprising, but to those who believe that the press is supposed to serve as
an adversarial check-and-balance on the government, it is distressing.
As in Panama and Grenada, journalists and news executives took their cues
from government officials, rather than thinking for themselves.
Surprisingly, Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams concurred,
admitting that, "the reporting has been largely a recitation of what
administration people have said."
Meanwhile, dissent from official policy was all but nonexistent in news
coverage. In the opening weeks of the crisis, the media focused on the two
major questions: "Will we go to war?" and "Will we win?" Far less attention,
however, was paid to two other equally vital concerns: "Should we go to
war?" and "Can war be avoided?"
While the press was busy christening Hussein as "the new Hitler," they
were slow in uncovering the fact that just days before the invasion of
Kuwait, the White House was lobbying Congress not to apply sanctions against
Iraq and that U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, was telling Hussein
that the U.S. had "no position" concerning Iraq's border dispute with
Kuwait. Nor was there any coverage of the August 23 secret offer by Iraq to
pull out of Kuwait and release all hostages (which Bush rejected).
President Bush told the nation that there was no decision more difficult
than sending young Americans into a combat situation. The press should feel
an equally grave obligation--to scrutinize such a decision and make clear
its human and political costs. Journalist Mark Hertsgaard points out that
"in our democracy, the press should be responsible above all to the people,
not to the president. A journalist who loves his or her country therefore
has a duty to question the dictates of the armed forces and the wisdom of
going to war."
In the final analysis, if we do go to war and the body bags begin coming
home to America, journalists will be among the first to say, "We should have
asked the hard questions."
SOURCES: IMAGE, 10/14/90, "The First Casualty," by Mark Hertsgaard, pp
6-9; EDITOR & PUBLISHER, 10/20/90, "Storytelling from the Persian Gulf," by
Debra Gersh, p 7.; THE QUILL, 10/90, "Imperial Thoughts,"by Mike Moore, pp
16-21; THE SPOTLIGHT, 10/8/90, "Saddam Was Bush-Wacked On Invasion," by John
McBrien, p 1.
End of text from cdp:christic.news
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