Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Press Failed-Iraq 03-09-23

Popular "media" Failed

Mirza A. Beg

Written, September, 6th 2003
Second Flag Salute Sept.9th, 2003
Tuscaloosa News, Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003
Birmingham Post Herald, Wednesday, October 1st, 2003

Eons ago while scolding me for some minor infraction, my mother told me a story. A man was given the death penalty. His last wish was to see his mother. The distraught mother came, wailing to hug her son. To her and the spectator's shock, he slapped her. His last words were, "Had you stopped me from lying and stealing as a kid, I would not be here today".

To keep powerful politicians, especially the President in check and people informed, the press is supposed to act as a stern surrogate mother. Most Presidents make decisions with an eye on the voters, political contributors and the next election. With powerful advisors and handlers, it is tempting to rush or delay policies to fit the election cycle. The events are molded, "Spun" to mislead the electorate. The spinning degenerates into half-truths and finally lies. Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and now Bush are perpetrators and victims of this syndrome.

The press is free in the US. Information is available to those who want to know. National Public Radio and many sites on the Internet are a great source of news, but most people do not rely on multiple outlets for news. An overwhelming majority, gets the news from television or local newspapers, in effect they are the opinion makers. Therefore in this article the term "media" refers to them.

People burdened by daily lives to pay scant attention to the events that shape the world. The shocking news intrudes as interruptions in the chores of living, escapist TV programs and whatever scandal is gripping the airwaves, be it O. J. Simpson or Kobe Obrien. The free market compels the news outlets to compete for people's attention, expressed by ratings.

In a crisis, first reaction is to rally behind the President. The “media” follows the lead of the people, lest they loose the market share. The more sycophantic the media the better the ratings, helping the likes of Fox News get in the driver's seat. Others have to follow suite or risk the ire of the populace and the shareholders.

It will be ludicrous to equate Iraq completely with Vietnam. But foreign policy disasters have some similarities. Misleading by the President, abdication of congressional oversight, and Complacency of the " media" are the important common denominators.

The world’s admiration of the US as a bastion of democracy and freedom received a jolt by the US support of the French colonialism in Vietnam, engineered by the Euro-centric lobby to fight the spreading communism. US involvement in a big way started with the1964 passage of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution based on manifest falsehood.

Similarly, under pressure from the Neo-Conservatives and the Israeli lobby, Iraq War resolution was passed in October 2002. Iraq was attacked under the contrived accusation of helping Bin Ladin and of imminent danger to US by Iraq's WMD's.

Many in Congress took the populist way out in both cases, shirked their responsibility of careful advice and consent, to regret later.

In the early years of the Vietnam War "media" were the cheerleaders. The reports of Vietnamese killed, cumulatively in time surpassed the population of Vietnam. It soured on Vietnam after a substantial number of US citizens turned against the war and made it safe for the "media" to be critical.

In case of Iraq the Fox Network swallowed the administration "spin" hook, line and sinker. Others have been timid in view of the public mood after 9/11, but fortunately not completely imbedded with the administration. Bold columnists warned the people, but the majority does not read columnists. It is the newspaper editorials that set the tone for the public opinion. With notable exceptions, the "media" has supported the untenable administration line with tepidity or simply kept quite, reporting the news mostly spun by the administration.

For the US to loose the peace in Iraq will be disastrous. It requires honesty and transparency of purpose. It is not too late yet, for the "media" to be the stern mother, and inform the people about ill-conceived policies that have resulted in this looming abyss. It is important to ask the President to accept the blunders, fire those who insisted on the misinformation and clearly state the aims and policies in Iraq, the Middle East and Korea. Don’t let Afghanistan slip off the Radar screen either. Populist crass nationalism appeals to baser instincts, patriotism requires adhering to the ideals of the constitution to save the country from spiraling into a morass.

Mirza A. Beg. E-mail

No comments: