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The Bulwark of Democracy?

April 7, 2010

An oft-repeated refrain in the ongoing newspaper crisis is that democracies need a vibrant and free press that aggressively questions power. This is a noble notion, but scratch the surface and the dysfunctional underbelly emerges. The credentialed press only gains access to information by playing nice with those in power. Ask the wrong questions or probe too deeply, and one can find one’s access to power cut off. This takes on absurd and obvious dimensions in the pop culture arena, such as with the distasteful Tiger Woods soap opera of recent months, where his handlers hand-picked “reporters” who would “interview” him so he could show “contrition.” It is sad when it occurs in such cases, but takes on tragic dimensions when dealing with weightier issues.

Only those living under large rocks could have missed the recent WikiLeaks release of the decrypted US Army video showing the murder of civilians by Apache helicopters. As one would expect, many in the mainstream media are taking a cautious approach, asking that people consider the context and the job that the Army has to do in Iraq. Given that the US is an invading force holding all the cards, I think it opted out of the “second chance” club, and, really, let’s call a spade a spade: regardless of context, what we witness in that video is desensitized helicopter crews killing at random without doubt or question, and finding humor in the carnage they have created. As the saying goes, if one is not outraged, one is not paying attention.

Of course, one cannot allow oneself to be outraged when one desperately needs the Army to grant their reporters and photographers access to military sites and officials. Reuters’s response to the video is that it wants a meeting with the Army to discuss how to avoid future such events. Wow, what courage the media shows. The Reuters Website does not link to the story (date: April 7), other than under the “most discussed” and “most popular” headings. Even though readers clearly want information, Reuters would rather deemphasize the murder of their own employees to avoid alienating one of its many powerful masters. NBC News features such gripping stories as Prince William’s future marriage and the death of the inventor of box wine, but does not offer any sign of what is arguably one of the stories of the year. Ditto for CNN, Fox (duh), and other mainstream outlets. While newspapers such as the Washington Post and the LA Times at least wrote about the release, these notices are buried deep inside their Websites.

This is not an accident. It is evidence of how little mainstream media does to pursue its purported role as the watchdog of democracy. The irony here is that it was journalists who were murdered, journalists of the type lionized whenever one laments the demise of mainstream media: fearless, dedicated, and willing to put themselves at risk for a story. Too bad their employers do not embody the same traits.

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  1. Wikileaks, Germany, and Herr Westerwelle « Eintauchen

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