Posted: Tue – November 23, 2004
On the Fourth Estate
Have you noticed since the election ended that all of the people who actually make a living being partisans have pretty much gone back to the business of running the government, or running the opposition? All of the wilder threats and accusations have pretty much faded into dark. No one’s talking about the draft, or gran’s social security or taxing and spending. It’s an off year, and we’re back to the business of governing.
But a lot of folks have opined that the real losers in the latest election weren’t the Democratic party, JFK or even Tom Daschle. Sure, a lot of those folks gave some ground, but they’ll be back next year (or the year after, anyway). And as partisans on the left can now point out with some satisfaction, this is all on the President and his party from now on. The economy, the war, all of it. You could maybe blame the Clinton recession for the first few years of stock market crash-driven wealth evaporation and recession. And if you were one of the non-trivial numbers of folks on the right inclined towards your very own brand of tinfoil hat couture, you could even maybe think that the whole 9/11 thing came back to WJC. What, you thought that I thought that all the loonies were on the left?
But if by the end of the next term the Republicans haven’t made pretty good progress on the trade deficit/balance of payment issue without losing control of the dollar’s downward slide, not to mention getting their arms around domestic spending and/or receipts, and haven’t made a long march towards turning the Iraqi security issue back over to the Iraqis, then I’ll be first in line asking for a change of leadership.
No – the smart money says that the big losers weren’t the actual political gladiators, those in the arena, faces marked in dust and sweat and blood, etc, etc. It was the press, the media, the Fourth Estate.
So what of them? Shall we tour their shattered battlements, throw our imperious glance across their diminished formations, view the inner workings of the rooms where the rhetorical improvised explosive devices are manufactured?
I want to open with Dan Rather , but I won’t. For one, it’s too easy, and for another, it’s frankly too ambiguous. And he’s an old man, and it doesn’t feel right to kick him when he’s down. There’s the door, Dan. See you on Sunday evenings, maybe – Courage, mm-kay?. Or not.
We’re not done, gentle reader. Oh, no.
An interesting vignette today on NPR San Diego. Luis Sinco of the LA Times, the photographer who took that rather famous (infamous?) photo * of Marlborough-smoking LCPL James B. Miller after a few days of finding, fixing and finishing jihadis was being interviewed. He seemed like a pretty sympathetic guy, embedded with the troops, familiar with their life stories, effusive about their sacrifice and heroism. The interviewer asked Sinco if he was going to go back to Iraq to follow up on the story, and Sinco, clearly unnerved by what he’d seen and done over the last two weeks, demurred.
No. He wasn’t going back.
Couldn’t say I blamed him. You want to go to a war zone, you join the Marines. Or the Army. You want to take photos, you go to photojournalism school. Sometimes the two paths intersect, but the Ernie Pyle example shows that bullets don’t discriminate between soldiers and photographers. Being mortared and having RPG’s shot at him wasn’t what he joined the photojournalist ranks for. Totally valid point.
But then he went on to say that the reason he’s not going back is because they’re “not changing any minds back home.” That “the election was proof of that.”
Eh. I see.
The interviewer didn’t drill down on that particular point. I would have liked to: So, if I understand you correctly, your job, as you understand it, or as it has been explained to you, is to change peoples’ minds? That if the election had gone the other way, then you’d know that your “sacrifices” had borne fruit and were worth it? That absent that, you’d go back to covering garden parties or weddings or whatever?
Some people should know when to stop talking. That’s all I’m saying.
Another example? Sure, just for you :
“We’re absolutely reviled around the world, as we should be,” Hedges said. “Our only friends are war criminals” — a reference, he explained, to Ariel Sharon and Vladimir Putin.
America’s amoral, bloodthirsty ways and the hate they generate would be much plainer to the American people, Hedges said, if only so many journalists weren’t “trapped” by the government’s war clichés and oriented to a Washington-centric view of the world. This group, he said, included his bosses at the Times.
“There was absolutely no interest in my newspaper in presenting the views of the French” as the U.S. moved toward war in Iraq, Hedges said. Instead, there was lots of guffawing over anti-French jokes, which he termed “racist.”
That’d be Chris Hedges, of the NYT of course. Yes, you are right: He’s the same guy that got booed off the stage at the commencement of Rockford College in Illinois after delivering what can fairly be described as an anti-American screed. Actual text here , for those who insist on being fair to the man. Summary: War is bad. Death is painful. Friendship is good. What, was there something else?
But I just want to stop and savor the feeling of having someone declare that anti-French jokes are somehow “racist.” Someone who writes for the paper of record. It’s almost too rich, my taste-buds rebel, tickle-tickle.
And the NY Times, it turns out, is simply too enthralled by the Washington-centric view of the world. Honestly, I never even suspected. Not for a moment.
Like Yassir Arafat, Hedges is an award winner: He received the Pulitzer Prize.
I’m not sure exactly how I come down on the whole Stiles video thing, that shooting in Fallujah. Hook and Blackfive do a far better job than I every could trying to explain how a young man who’s been locked in mortal combat with an enemy that just wants to die anyway over several sleepless days and nights might affect one’s cognitive ability. I couldn’t say, I’ve never been there. Fighter combat is different, very different.
Stiles could have been a stand-up guy and just gave the tape to the USMC leadership to figure out what the hell happened, and how, and what to do. But he doesn’t get paid to be a stand-up guy, he gets paid to capture powerful video and sell it to the news outlets. The people have a right to know, and all that. His is a higher calling, after all.
Who knows? Maybe he can change some minds, back here.
Read this letter home, if you haven’t already. It may help clear your head, after all that moral ambiguity.
** Original picture gone; substituted (I knew the one he spoke of 😉 ) – Ed.