Saturday, October 15, 2005

Journalism and Patriotism Part II

Probably the most ironic thing that I have seen since I started writing this blog is a journalist asking rhetorically if my 11 OCT post caused journalists to be targeted on the battlefield. Keep in mind, that this is the same post where I describe journalists interviewing Al Queda terrorists, the same terrorists who are responsible for the placing mines in girls schools, assassinating truck drivers, indiscriminately firing rockets into populated areas, and ambushing and killing American soldiers. I remain wholly unconvinced that journalists have ever been targeted, but somehow I don't think that my writing is what sparks or furthers the animosity of service members towards journalists. Somehow I don't think I'm the only one who finds something fundamentally wrong with American journalists interviewing the most wanted man in an Afghani district while Soldiers and Marines are humping the mountains day in and day out in search of bad guys. Somehow, I don't think I'm the one not seeing the forest for the trees.

Just this and then I won't say any more on the subject, hopefully, because I truly do not want this to turn into a political blog. The answer to the question in my 11 October post regarding journalism and patriotism being mutually exclusive, is no, they absolutely are not, but it's unfortunate that some journalists act as if they are.

I have met and talked to a great number of journalists who want nothing more than to report the truth. They would not hesitate to report fraud, or incompetence, yet they hold the utmost respect for public servants, military and civilian, who do out of conviction and character the jobs most people shy from. I have the utmost respect for these people like Sean Naylor whose book "Not a Good Day to Die" demonstrates the ability to be respectful of an institution and ideals while being sharply critical of many individuals and their actions.

In an effort to further explain my position here, my research brought me across this posting on Jay Rosen's blog from the NYU journalism department in which he discusses New York Times reporter Alan Feuer's book "Over There: From the Bronx to Baghdad". Now this book has come under a lot of criticism, even from the New York Times, for being "recollected memory, not recorded fact", and yet there is a very telling passage when he describes an argument he had with CNN's Bob Franken where Franken allegedly states:

"How can you be a patriot and a journalist? They're mutually exclusive occupations."

According to Feuer, Franken further declared that America was not his country, he was a citizen of the world and goes on to say that the New York Times would be horrified to hear that Feuer believes he can be both a patriot and a journalist.

When questioned about this quote in Feuer's book, Franken clarified, “What I said and what I meant is you can be a patriot and a journalist. My point was and is that we exhibit our patriotism by being journalists — that is, skeptics… What I said was, ‘When I’m reporting, I am a citizen of the world.’”

In Franken’s view, “Wearing an American flag while on the air leaves the impression that we are believing the U.S. government and not believing those who challenge the U.S. government, and that is a lesson we should have learned a long time ago from Vietnam — that we have to be skeptical about claims no matter who makes them.”

This is a fascinating albeit confusing read and I find it particularly telling when it's coming from NYU's journalism department that it includes the statements:

Franken seems like a good journalist of the old school — a tradition that lives according to certain dogmatic principles...(such as constantly placing oneself in opposition to the government, seeing ones role as journalist as “carrying the mantle of the downtrodden,” etc.) are held to be “non-political” beliefs.

In fact, these beliefs are laden with political implications. As frequent NRO contributor Tim Graham put it when I asked him about this story, “Readers expect a certain amount of American-ness in their reporters. They expect that since the source of these reporters’ liberties is the U.S. Constitution, then perhaps they owe the U.S. a tiny bit of loyalty.”

Jay Rosen goes on to ask some very interesting questions regarding what he describes as the journalist's dogma or religion, but my point is made above. While this certain population of journalists believe that their professions and actions are non-political, they intuitively have to know that they are acting, as though by virtue of a journalism degree and the first amendment, as if they have been appointed as some pseudo 4th branch of the government, the final check and balance.

The problem with maintaining a constant skepticism though is that it prevents an open mind. The world is viewed through the myopic sense that there is always an underlying evil plot; the sense of objectivism, the truth and fairness that people turn to journalists for, is lost.

It is possible to maintain an healthy skepticism of the government, the administration, or the military without harboring a fundamental distrust. It is possible to point out falsehoods and fallacies within the government without maintaining the belief that it is inherently evil. The Newsweeks, CNNs, and New York Times, will learn this when people begin to vote with their subscriptions and viewerships. They will learn that people are beginning to hold them accountable for their actions. They will learn that people will hold them accountable when reading their casual interviews with the same people that ambush, and behead their sons and daughters.

Freedom of speech is one of the very basic tenets that this nation is founded on, and the ability of the press operate freely and un-coerced by the government is paramount to the ideals of our constitution. Voicing a constant disdain and distrust for those who protect the source of that freedom is counter-productive at best.


devildog6771 said...

YOU COMMENTS ARE COMING OUT BLACK ON BLACK! I can only read your post if I highlight the text as if I am going to copy it!

Now, this is a beautiful post. I have struggled to say what you have so eloquently said with such clarity. I can't get that link to come up on that other site. I would like your permission to put these two posts or at least this one on my blog as a quote with full credit. If you prefer not, that is ok too. Do not let anyone stop your words. You are right on target, fair, and you need to be heard.

Thank you for all you do. Thank you and your family for all your sacrifices. God Bless you and be safe.

Beth* A. said...

I agree, beautifully put. The black on black text thing is hard to figure out at first, so hopefully it's correctible. Thanks for writing this.

Daniel Levesque said...

Journalism and patriotism are most certainly not mutually exclusive. The perception of this comes from the saturation of unpatriotic journalists in the public eye. Personally, as a member of the US Army I am disgusted by the journalists who have access to terrorist leaders and won't share the information with our good fighting men.

Anonymous said...

If the 'journalists' believe that becoming a reporter means abandoning their country of birth, then they should stop voting. And advocating policies. And editorializing on candidates.

Or perhaps start being equally skeptical of Democrats.

Or do I ask for the impossible?