JOURNALISTS FIND IT HARD TO STAY 'UPSTREAM FROM THE HER=
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- To explain the philosophy that underlies a culture of=
conformity, the Japanese say that the nail which sticks out attracts the h= ammer. In America since Sept. 11, we have seen that fear of hammers throw a= lmost the entire American media into a paroxysm of censorship and self-cens= orship.
Look at the evidence. Columnists have been fired for questioning the eva= sive actions of President George W. Bush in the hours after the attacks.
The U.S. State Department killed Voice of America's exclusive interview= with the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar. (After some protest, the in= terview was partially aired. The acting director of VOA has since been repl= aced.)
CNN reporters have been ordered to balance images of civilian casualties= and devastation in Afghanistan with reminders about the World Trade Center= .
The comic strip "Boondocks" was pulled from more than one newspaper beca= use of its dissenting politics.
Talk show host Bill Maher lost advertisers when he referred to past U.S.= military actions as cowardly(Grenada and Panama come to mind). The editor = of The New Republic ruled that "domestic political dissent is immoral witho= ut a prior statement of national solidarity, a choosing of sides."
Late last month, ABC News President David Westin was at a Columbia Unive= rsity journalism school forum -- where you'd think you could speak your min= d freely -- where he was asked whether "the Pentagon was a legitimate milit= ary target."
"I actually don't have an opinion on that," he said, "and it's important= I not have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now." He = later had to apologize for trying to make a point about journalistic object= ivity.
"I was wrong," he said. "Under any interpretation, the attack on the Pe= ntagon was criminal and entirely without justification." You would think th= at went without saying.
Newspapers have been branded "terrorists" when they draw attention to th= e vulnerability of our nuclear power plants. As if terrorists, who understa= nd complicated airline schedules and shop at Wal-Mart, couldn't figure it o= ut for themselves.
"Wouldn't it have been wonderful," said I. Michael Greenberger, a counte= rterrorism expert in the Clinton administration who is now at the Universit= y of Maryland law school, "if at the end of August someone had written abou= t the vulnerability of the World Trade Center to hijacked planes? Maybe we = could or would have taken steps to prevent the attacks. Ican understand peo= ple's anxiety, but my bottom line is the greater dangeris not being aware o= f our vulnerabilities."
Not even pop music has escaped. In September, Clear Channel Communicatio= ns, a company that owns and programs 1,000 U.S. radio stations, sent out an= e-mail hit list of songs with "questionable lyrics" that should not be pla= yed.
The list ran to several pages and included John Lennon's "Imagine" as w= ell as AC/DC's "Shot Down in Flames," Van Halen's "Jump,"Talking Heads' "Bu= rning Down the House," Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell," and,of all things, the= Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian."
I could make an argument for not playing Jerry Lee Lewis' immortal "Gr= eat Balls of Fire"right after the attacks, but why Cat Stevens' "Peace Trai= n?"
Later, Clear Channel denied the existence of the list, which was publish= ed in full by Eliza Truitt in her Slate column of Sept. 17. Her piece was = called, "It's the End of the World As Clear Channel Knows It," and yes, tha= t REM song was also on the list.
But the most insulting censorship of all= , however, has come from the Bush Administration, which warned television n= ews to stop showing taped interviews of Osama Bin Laden. And television new= s agreed to stop!
In disgust, Mark Bowden wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "I'd = like to see a cable channel devoted to him -- all Osama, all day, seven day= s a week. Every new tape provides clues to his whereabouts and intentions.= Every new appearance further demystifies him. Much as been written about t= he man's supposed charisma and public relations genius. I don't see it. Gra= nted I'm viewing him from across a great cultural divide, but to me he look= s like ZZ Top in army surplus."
Bowden points out that despite Bin Laden's frequent calls to all Arab na= tions to join him in jihad, none have.
"The more Osama bin Laden and his band of so-called holy warriors preach= ... the more they inevitably isolate themselves," Bowden wrote. "The vast = majority of Arabs and Muslims have no desire to return for the seventh cent= ury, to forbid education to women, to deny freedom of speech or worship, or= to crash themselves into tall buildings. Their aspirations are not unlike = our own."
The American media, suddenly afraid of its own shadow, is walking in loc= kstep into an abyss and taking us with it. Dissent is seen as disloyalty. H= onest disagreements are seen as unpatriotic.
This is a time when we need as much news and information as possible. Lo= ve of country means being honest about its strengths and shortcomings. If y= ou don't see what's wrong, you can't fix it. If you don't admit to making m= istakes, you can't learn from them.
America is not -- yet -- a totalitarian state where anyone who deviates = from the party line can be imprisoned. Yet, "If you're not with us, you're = against us," remains the Bush Doctrine.
"Implicit in their denunciation is a demand for uncritical support, for = a love of government more consonant with the codes of tsarist Russia than w= ith the ideals upon which the United States was founded" wrote George Monbi= ot in The Guardian of London. "The charge of 'anti-Americanism' is i= tself profoundly anti-American... . If we are to preserve the progress, plu= ralism, tolerance and freedom of thought which President Bush claims to be = defending, then we must question everything we see and hear."
America is about freedom and tolerance and diversity. These ideals aren'= t always upheld, but they are what makes us different from, say, the Taliba= n and Osama bin Laden. Theirs is a world where you think as they door you d= ie.
British essayist G.K. Chesterton once said: "'My country, right orwrong'= is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in adesperate case= . It's like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.'"
The media could learn something from Texas journalist Jim Hightower, who= says, "Always drink upstream from the herd."
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes aboutculture, politics= , economics and travel.