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Saturday, December 03, 2005

War, again, plus good news

This post has two purposes.

One is to commend some parts of the mainstream media. CSPAN and CSPAN2 can be as dull as watching paint dry, or riveting, depending on what's on, but they perform a vital service, and I am grateful that they exist. Then there's CBS's Sunday Morning. Since we got a VCR, I've taped that more than any other program. Granted, there are lots of advertisements, and that there is usually a segment on some popular entertainer that I fast-forward through, but this program does good things. For example, last Sunday there was a segment on good news, pointing out that it doesn't get much coverage, and showing three examples. Simple stuff, but powerful: an 11-year-old who raised $5,000 for surgery for a dog at the city pound; a public school cafeteria who had a fancy chef change their menus (the kids claim they like tilapia); a police force that stops bicyclers at night and puts on bike lights, free. There are thought-provoking commentaries, as good as Andy Rooney. There's Bill Geist, wandering the country in search of oddball people and events. There's coverage of the arts. Last Sunday they reported on the 75th anniversary of American Gothic, and on a recently discovered Beethoven manuscript. There's poetry by the host, Charles Osgood, and, finally, there's a brief segment, with no music or narration, of some natural area, for example the first snowfall in New England, or wild turkeys somewhere. Thanks, CBS!

CNBC has a program entitled "Tim Russert" on Saturday nights. Again, lots of commercials, but, around them, Russert spends the entire hour talking to some author. He does a wide variety, and, by the time he's through, you really know something about that person or persons.

Then there's PBS's News Hour. I know, mostly talking heads. But these people are given more time than the commercial networks usually would give them, and they are queried and rebutted.

That brings up the second purpose of this post. Last night, on the News Hour, two war-related questions were debated, and both had serious moral questions related to them. Is it right to pay for news coverage favorable to the US, in Iraq? Should torture by intelligence agencies be allowed? There were experts on both sides of both questions, and I think I understand the argument. Here's my opinion. I don't want my country to be buying news reports, whatever the reason. I don't want my country to be using torture, whatever the reason. If we claim to be an example for others, we need to set a good example.


cameron said...

It's kind of refreshing to hear someone talk about the things they like in the mainstream media. Seems like people are always pointing out the parts they hate (which, no doubt, is due to the plethora of not-so-commendable aspects of the mainstream media!). I have to admit that you are a much more positive thinker than I am!

Why do you think it's wrong for the military to pay for news coverage in Iraq? The LA Times article that first reported on it called the contents of the news reports "basically factual" which is just a more negative sounding way of saying "true". So we're not paying for lies to be printed, we're paying for the truth to be spread among the population - which can only help our men and women on the ground. If paying is the only way to get the truth out, I say we should put it in the budget. My guess is the enemy is paying to print quite a bit of nasty things about us in Iraq, would it not be worse for our soldiers, and perhaps for Iraqis as well, if we left the Iraqi media out of our battle plan?

How do you think this method of disseminating information would compare to dropping leaflets on enemy territory from the sky (which of course is common practice in several militaries, including our own)? I suppose one benefit would be the enviromental impact. Does that help lessen the ethical dilema any?

Iraq is still a battle field for us, and in war a minor ethical question like "should we be paying a journalist to print the truth of our side of the story" should not be allowed to limit our military and therefore possibly increase the risk to soldiers. Or at least that's my opinion...

Martin LaBar said...

Apparently the articles were factual.

A free press is one of the main protections against possible excesses by those in power.

This country (according to our news media) has set an example by having a free press, which has, ideally, meant that you can't buy news coverage, even if it's for facts. Once you have governments, businesses, political parties, whoever, paying for "their facts" to be published, it's going to be difficult or impossible to stop falsehoods from being published for pay. If we can't tell infomercials from news programs, we're in deep trouble.

As to dropping leaflets, I have no problem with that. The source should be recognizable, in that case, and readers can take that into account. But if the front page article in the New York Times was, say, written and paid for by the Hilary Clinton (or Condoleeza Rice) for President committee, without any identification that that had happened, we wouldn't be able to believe the New York Times anymore. (I know, some people have questions as to whether it is now or has ever been believable, but I'm trying to present a example.)

Thanks for commenting!

cameron said...

I certainly agree with the principles behind your comments, and thank God that (for the most part) America's press exhibits those principles.

However, I still think that under the circumstances, what allegedly happened is acceptable.

And I would argue that news coverage can be bought in America, even if not with money. For example, a politican can easily "purchase" news coverage for their opinions by making sure that their comments are a little more outlandish than everyone elses. Or, a little closer to Iraq, a terrorist group can quickly get their message out by doing all the horrible things they do to get attention. Whether it's good or not, that's the way the media works.