FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Are You a Patriot or a Journalist?

by Robert Jensen

‘Are you an American first, or are you a journalist?”

Unfortunately that question–posed to a journalists’ meeting in Salt Lake City in April by distinguished newsman Bill Kovach–is necessary after Sept. 11, as the few who dared critique the rush to war were attacked for being insufficiently patriotic. Too many journalists responded to the post-9/11 hyper-nationalism by waving the flag, literally and figuratively.

Even Dan Rather, perhaps the most vocal journalistic patriot after the tragedy, has had second thoughts, confiding in a BBC interview May 16 that “patriotism run amok” has led to self-censorship by journalists, himself included.

Kovach’s challenge and Rather’s confession are compelling, but unfortunately formulated in a way that diverts journalists and citizens from a more crucial question: Are you an American first, or are you a human being? That’s the question for everyone after Sept. 11.

The answer depends on the meaning of patriotism. Two definitions competed after the terrorist attacks. One was the patriotism of President George W. Bush: “You are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” meaning “get on board with plans for war, or …” Or what? The implication was that real Americans rally around their government and traitors raise critical questions.

This poses an obvious problem for journalists, who get paid to raise questions. But for anyone–journalist or not– such a crude patriotism abandons moral responsibility. What if a war violates international law or is prosecuted using immoral tactics? Nations–including ours–are not benevolent institutions, and U.S. history is replete with inhumane acts. If patriotism requires we support such acts, then patriotism becomes inhumane.

An alternative, kinder-and-gentler patriotism is offered by others, especially war opponents: patriotism not as reflexive support for a policy or leader, but allegiance to American ideals of freedom and democracy.

Freedom and democracy certainly deserve our allegiance. But what makes them uniquely American? Is there something about the United States that make us better able to achieve freedom and democracy than, say, Canadians or Indians or Brazilians? Are not people around the world–including those who live in countries that do not guarantee freedom– capable of understanding and acting on those ideals?

If the justification of this notion of patriotism is that these values are realized to their fullest extent in the United States, then there will be questions from the people of Guatemala and Iran, Nicaragua and Vietnam, East Timor and Panama. Victims of U.S. aggression–direct and indirect– might wonder why our political culture, the highest expression of the ideals of freedom and democracy, overthrows democratically elected governments, supports brutal dictators, funds and trains proxy terrorist armies, and unleashes brutal attacks on civilians in war.

Before claiming America is the fulfillment of history, the ultimate expression of liberty and justice, we might think a bit about our history–the near extermination of Indians, for instance.

At its worst, patriotism can lead people to support brutal policies. At its best, it is self-indulgently arrogant in its assumptions about our uniqueness. But rejecting patriotism isn’t moral relativism. We should not be afraid to judge systems and societies, using principles we can articulate and defend–so long as they truly are principles, applied honestly and uniformly, including to ourselves.

And we should maintain a bit of humility. Instead of claiming, “America is the greatest nation on Earth,” we might say, “I live in the United States and have deep emotional ties to its people, land and ideals, and I want to highlight the many positive things while working to change what is wrong.”

We can say that without suggesting other people are less capable of understanding democracy or defending freedom. We can believe that and encourage spirited debate about policy.

In such a world, the question by Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, would be irrelevant; there would be no conflict between being an American and a journalist. Journalists would simply pursue professionally– with the extra time, training and resources they have–what everyone would pursue privately: questioning those in power and challenging ourselves.

Everyone, including journalists, needs to ask: Can we move beyond being American?

Given the destructive capacity of the United States–and our history of using it in the interests of power, not people–never before has our answer been more important.

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream.

His pamphlet, “Citizens of the Empire,” is available at http://www.nowarcollective.com/citizensoftheempire.pdf.

Other writings are available online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/freelance/freelance.htm. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

 

 

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba after Fidel: Interview with Professor John Kirk
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewable of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail