FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Press Harder on Afghanistan

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:
August 16, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
“Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare
W. T. Whitney
New Facebook Alliance Endangers Access to News about Latin America
Sam Husseini
The Trump-Media Logrolling
Ramzy Baroud
Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege
Larry Atkins
Why Parkland Students, Not Trump, Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize
William Hartung
Donald Trump, Gunrunner for Hire
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Morality Tales in US Public Life?
Yves Engler
Will Trudeau Stand Up to Mohammad bin Salman?
Vijay Prashad
Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist
Binoy Kampmark
Boris Johnson and the Exploding Burka
Eric Toussaint
Nicaragua: The Evolution of the Government of President Daniel Ortega Since 2007 
Adolf Alzuphar
Days of Sagebrush, Nights of Jasmine in LA
Robert J. Burrowes
A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail