Terror & The Press
OUR MEDIA'S BEEN INCURIOU.S. ABOUT TERRORISM=
by Ron Kenner
American Reporter Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD -- Since last week's terrorist attack on America, the media ha= s demonstrated the extraordinary skill, talent, dedication and perseverance=
of sleepless and caring, decent journalists. I subscribe to the Los Ang= eles Times and The New York Times, and both (along with many Int= ernet publications) have offered much useful coverage.
In the broadcast industry the listener-sponsored public stations, especi= ally, offered good coverage; Frontline, I thought, offered a high quality d= ocumentary on Osama bin Laden. I particularly enjoyed Randolph T. Holhut's = "A Time to Think Clearly," in the American Reporter (9/16/01). And of cours= e, scattered about, there have undoubtedly been many other fine articles.
Despite the immense tragedy our society has come together and, to a degr= ee, benefited from some awesome news production; including a mountain of im= aginative and relevant onscreen and print side bars with more honesty and a= ccuracy in reporting than the public generally gives the media credit for. = So far so good -- but hardly good enough!
Amazingly -- or it ought to be amazing -- with few exceptions (especiall= y prior to Sunday's speculations and opinion pages) America's mainstream te= levision, press and radio have largely ignored the relevance of history, ge= ography, globalism, Third World conditions, the CIA-funded training of Bin = Laden, the prior missile bombing of Bin Laden's camp, and, not least, large= ly failed to even ask just what really brought on the worst terrorist attac= k in world history.
Admittedly the media coverage has not been merely puff or hype. The ter= rorist devastation this time is really something! So you'd think the media= would wonder about it. Even as we start now to raise questions in our Sund= ay opinion sections and tv programs, the delay must say something about our= media and our society being in serious denial about some of the larger rea= lities, perhaps somewhat the way certain survivors, unable to deal with the= terrible reality and loss of a loved one, remain in denial. Except that in= the case of our supposedly hard-nosed media, there seems far less justific= ation for such remarkable myopia.
My own sense of it is that such myopia probably comes less from denial = and more from a kind of self-imposed thoughtlessness as one tries to be obj= ective and fair and to stick to reporting the facts. Several years back in = Chicago I enjoyed a brief chat with the noted journalist John Hockenberry, = author of Moving Violations.
I mentioned to John that I'd been a reporter at the Los Angeles Time= s at the time of the Watts Riots and how I had complimented Jack Jones = on the Pulitzer Prize=winning series of articles he'd written (using mate= rial collected from the staff) on those riots. I did, however, have one ser= ious criticism, I told Jones, and that was my sense that the article probab= ly should have, been written 10 or 15 years earlier.
"Yes," Hockenberry replied, seeing the problem. "The press has never bee= n idea-driven."
Of course, one might well argue the advantages of not getting too far = ahead of ourselves and "just reporting the facts," but now it seems we've c= ome to where the media somehow doesn't even want to look backward.
Imagin= e suddenly someone steps on your toes, doing so without offering any apolo= gy or explanation. The first thoughts are obvious. "What's going on?" Or, = "Hey, why'd you do that?" It hardly seems fair, so you might even ask -- "= Hey, what did I ever do to you?" Undoubtedly, you'd want to know.
Meanwh= ile, two giant buildings -- pushing up higher and more awesomely toward the= heavens than any Gothic church ever dreamed of -- come crashing down, alon= g with a good part of our supposedly impregnable Pentagon destroyed elsewhe= re. Yet beyond the most mechanical or "Who done it?" aspects, we don't even= ask why. As with the prophet Job, we've not hardly questioned God.
Adm= ittedly, in anguish and frustration we've sometimes asked of the presumed o= r wispy perpetrators, "How could you do this?" Or "How could anyone do suc= h a thing?" Yet rarely do we ask of the presumed perpetrators, "Why would = you do this?" Short of pure revenge, it's the kind of thing you ask when s= omeone or some group is called to judgment. And this time the crime is so u= nimaginable you'd think we'd be all the more curious.
But except on rare occasions the media has relatively few pertinent ques= tions this past week about our relations with the third world, or about the= U.S. history of training terrorists, or about the anger of people when we've= overthrown democratically elected governments. Nor have we much questioned= what we might have done ourselves even inadvertently to contribute this ti= me to such a monstrous calamity as visited New York. Nor has the media inqu= ired much -- or does it seem inclined to do so -- about what we might do di= fferently (other than going to war) to reduce such costly terrorist outrage= s in the future.
Over five days, viewing many hours of conventional television, nice guys= all, real professionals from Peter Jennings to Dan Rather to Ted Koppel an= d others, I heard only one mention that previously we exploded a missile in= Bin Laden's camp, reportedly killing 24 of his people. Bin Laden may well = have had it coming, a response to earlier terrorist actions he reportedly d= irected. But it does seem worth mentioning in the current moment on tv or i= n the press now that he's our prime suspect.
It would also seem relevant to at least question on occasion the wisdom = of our supplying arms and support to help hold up corrupt regimes in Kuwait= and Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Or we might even express curiosity about t= he legacy of the many cold war tyrants we've armed and supported over the y= ears -- Mobuto, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and more, including our Cold War role in= pushing into power the Shah of Iran until he was ousted by the revolution = in '78.
Not least, in seeking out possible sources of terrorism, we might consid= er the tragic reality of something like a billion people on our planet, one= in six, living on a dollar a day or less; or we might get curious about th= ousands or tens of thousands of people dying daily from hunger or disease o= r even from a lack of clean water. Or we might consider those who see thems= elves as losers, with nothing to lose, as the rich grow richer and the poor= grow poorer.
Until this past Sunday, practically the only announced or reported mains= tream media speculation on the cause or causes of the terrorist attacks has= come -- as though in comic relief -- from the Rev. Jerry Falwell, attribut= ing the massive disaster as God's punishment on America because of the Amer= ican Civil Liberties Union and because we've become a nation that practices= abortion, drugs, illicit sex, and, surely in there somewhere, other such e= vils emanating from our "pinko" attitudes.
Probably most in the press and public think of Falwell as a near miracul= ously successful opportunist, but still a complete idiot, especially when y= ou consider that, as one New York Times letter-writer noted, God's p= unishing the ACLU for its defense of civil rights would undoubtedly put muc= h of the blame on our Founding Fathers and on our legislators, too. Well, = at times like this we need some comic relief!
Most of us can readily see through Falwell, yet the standard alternative= the incurious media seems to have left us with is something on the order o= f Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" -- only without the empire; somewhat as tho= ugh the evil or the pathological outrage producing such terrorist carnage e= merged, miraculously, full blown out of nowhere. I don't think so.
So far, one of the more perceptive, fuller visions to appear in print co= mes from Iran -- quite remarkably, given Iran's recent years of fundamental= ist and much overly simplistic oppression and sheer outrageousness -- from = a brief translation of the Iran News just noted in the Los Angele= s Times.
The excerpt reads, in part: "Punishing the culprits responsible for Tues= day's tragedy is fully justified, but it only deals with the effect rather = than the cause."
Such comments from the Iran News might serve as a= n ironic reminder of our decades-long failure in our overly simplistic War = on Drugs.
As many of us now realize, despite the best efforts of our intelligenc= e agencies, of the military, of the police, that we've focused near-entirel= y on the suppliers while ignoring near-entirely the causes for the demand f= or drugs. If we ever did solve the drug problem we'd probably just increas= e our alcohol rate, suicide rate, divorce rate... .
Seemingly we've ignored in both thought and action what might have been = done by society, and what might be done, to minimize these causes and trage= dies. The end result of our half-measures in dealing with the drug problem= has been a phenomenal, catastrophic, death-dealing failure -- to the point= where we arrest one drug dealer and two more fight over the newly availabl= e corner. Or we manage to cut down on the supply some and the price goes up= and attracts yet more dealers to fight over the corner.
Now, as things rev up again, Henry Kissinger writes that in our approach= to terrorism, "Half measures won't do." That might make sense if it weren'= t coming from a "half-measure" man whose political career has focused to ex= ceptional degree solely on military solutions.
We may well be justified in attacking these latest terrorists, presuming= we can identify them and presuming our focus is on retaliating against the= bad guys and not against innocent victims. We ought to keep in mind the mu= lti-billion or multi-trillion dollar failure of our War on Drugs before emb= arking too heavily once more on a similarly incurious and lopsided war -- a= War on Terrorism that so far has raised too few questions in the public ar= ena and is likely to be near completely military.
That is, a deja vu war, one that for all its billions might accom= plish relatively little while harming even more innocents than does our cos= tly and ineffectual War on Drugs, and costs more than our questionable and = costly "Star Wars" missile defense program.
As the Iran News put it, "To remove the cause [of terrorism], wor= ld leaders must set aside their individual, narrow nationalistic interests = in favor of the interests of humanity as a whole."
That's a tough, maybe impossible, order. But so would it seem ultimately= impossible to win a war on terrorism if we proceed in outrage full force a= head with our eyes closed.
The recent terrorist attack is truly inexcusable, outrageous, monstrous.= And so we may already be at war. If so, let's hope that we conduct ourselv= es more successfully than in our simple-minded War on Drugs.
Ron Kenner is a former Los Angeles Times reporter and widely published f= reelance writer. He is editor of RKedit, a book editing service based in Ho= llywood. Visit him at http://www.rkedit.com.