Media Failure

Usually, listening to Cal Thomas on WTOP just gets me upset, and this morning was no exception. But today, instead of being mad at him (and his ilk), I found myself largely in agreement with him (true, he went off on his usual rants about the “liberal media,” but hey, he is a wingnut, and he wasn’t as nutty as usual). Specifically, he was going off about the now-somewhat-discredited Newsweek article that led to riots in the Muslim world.

I say somewhat discredited because it’s worth noting that the allegations — that inquisitors at the Guantanamo gulag flushed a copy (or copies) of the Koran down a toilet — haven’t been disproven by any stretch of the imagination. And it certainly seems perfectly in keeping with the Bush regime’s standard policy of overtly encouraging any means necessary against those it arbitrarily designates “enemies,” coupled with an overwhelmingly arrogant (if “willfully ignorant”) contempt for the beliefs of the Muslim world.

I am not saying that the allegations are true; in fact, the latest reports smack of the mindless repetition of urban legend. But at this point, the truth of the allegations is largely irrelevant. Newsweek had no story to report. These same allegations had come up without evidence before; the only story here would have been if some evidence had in fact been uncovered. Such evidence may in fact exist (the original story alleged that such documentation could be found in a governmental investigation report), but Newsweek certainly didn’t find it — they just fell into the way-too-common trap of quoting another “anonymous source.” The anonymous source — the most potent tool by which a corrupt government takes advantage of a complacent media system. And here, yet again, it’s come back to bite them in the ass — and incidentally killing people in the process.

(The Pentagon, of course, is denying the story, but this constitutes no evidence whatsoever. They deny everything as a matter of policy.)

Yes, the duty of any news organization is to uncover the truth, particularly as a counter to the excesses of our own government — a duty which has never been more critical than now, with unprecedented power being wielded by the most secretive, corrupt and unethical government in U.S. history. But as Thomas readily pointed out by citing the most famous exposure of Repubican corruption in memory — the Watergate investigation — it is incumbent upon those news organization to be absolutely sure of their stories before going to print.

I’m reminded of an Astro City story (yes, I’m pulling out my geek credentials here) in which a new reporter witnesses an extradimensional battle between superheroes and supervillains, in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance — but the story that ends up being printed is an innocuous little blurb about a commuter train being delayed. Why? Because that’s the only part of the reporter’s story — true though it may be — that can be independently verified.

Truth is a noble and necessary goal. But the goal of our news media is to report fact. History is written by the victors, true, but verifiable facts are the only counter to deliberate misinformation on the part of those victors. Doing anything less dramatically undermines the ability of the fourth estate to fulfill its goal, and plays right into this regime’s hands.

A regime, incidentally, that is probably unsure how to feel right now. Sure, they’ve just gained more ammunition in their battle against any media that would dare to question their benevolent leadership, but at the same time, their efforts to build a stable government in Afghanistan have suffered a serious blow. Then again, since they no longer really give a rat’s ass about Afghanistan — having moved on to more news-bite-friendly targets like Iraq — perhaps they’re enjoying a celebratory cigar after all.

Cal Thomas didn’t say anything about that last part, but I’m sure it was implied.


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