FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Press Harder on Afghanistan

by Robert Jensen And Rahul Mahajan

At at time when U.S. journalists could hardly have fallen in line more quickly and completely with government officials, it’s ironic that the most common criticism of the news media has been that they have “gone negative” and been too critical in their reporting on the Afghanistan war.

The problem isn’t that journalists have been asking too many critical questions but that they have not asked enough of the right critical questions. The Northern Alliance entrance into Kabul doesn’t change the importance of those questions.

We all have a stake in this. A more independent press would better serve the most hawkish Americans as much as the doves. As citizens in a democracy, we all need the most complete information possible if we are to participate meaningfully.

For more than a month after Sept. 11, reporters rarely challenged administration claims about the need for war and the initial war effort. In television interviews, it was often hard to tell government spokespersons and journalists apart. In recent weeks, as the administration’s conduct of the war in Afghanistan and handling of the anthrax crisis at home made some critical questions unavoidable, reporters have started asking officials – in extremely polite fashion – for explanations.

At the moment, however, most of the questions have been about the wisdom of particular tactics: Has the United States been bombing too much or too little? Should the United States launch a ground offensive? Going unasked and unanswered are more basic questions.

For example, international relief workers have made it clear that the U.S. bombing, which temporarily halted food distribution and continues to disrupt that work, risks precipitating an enormous humanitarian disaster as winter approaches. The retreat of the Taliban to their southern stronghold reduces, but does not eliminate, the problem.

However the conflict plays out in weeks to come, the question remains: Why has the United States taken such risks with the lives of the 7.5 million Afghans estimated to be in danger of starving?

It’s not that the U.S. news media have made no mention of this issue, but that journalists have downplayed its importance and refused to press when officials brush off the questions with nonresponsive replies.

What if journalists were really committed to reporting all the news, instead of the news filtered through U.S. government spokespeople? Then perhaps the call for a bombing halt last month by Mary Robinson, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, which was echoed by numerous other UN officials and private aid agencies, would have been a big story. It was – in the foreign press. In the United States, it was either ignored or buried.

That lack of attention has real effects. In Great Britain, more than half the people support a bombing halt, perhaps in part because they have heard much more in their news media about the impending humanitarian catastrophe.

This is not an argument for advocacy journalism, but simply for independent journalism. An independent press must be a reliable source for all relevant information. To be that, an independent press must be skeptical and critical. No matter what one’s position on the war – pro, anti or confused – we all should want, and demand, such independence.

Journalists say that is indeed what they do, but the evidence so far suggests that skepticism has yet to be applied to basic ethical questions about this war.

The argument for a journalism that presses harder is rooted in the idea that in a democracy, we the people actually have a role in determining policy and don’t simply follow the leaders. That means people need an independent source of information from a press that does not accept the statements of government officials as gospel.

Most people would agree with that during peacetime, but many argue that such journalism is a luxury we can’t afford during wartime. Just the opposite is the case. If anything, a critical press is even more important during war because so much is at stake.

So let’s stop sniping at journalists when they do ask critical questions, and press them to go even deeper. It may be that not only the vitality of our democracy but the lives of many innocent Afghans depend on it.

Rahul Mahajan serves on the National Board of Peace Action, and is author of the forthcoming “The New Crusade: America’s War on Terrorism” (Monthly Review Press). Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas and author of Writing Dissent (Peter Lang). Both are members of the Nowar Collective. They can be reached at rahul@tao.ca.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix the ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
David Yearsley
Haydn Seek With Hsu
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail