. . . Tuesday August 17, 2004

Unchanged by Everything Changing?

From Jay Rosen over at PressThink: “When we’re in a permanent state of war against terror, are ethics the same kind of ethics that were adequate in journalism before we realized the war had come? Do law and reason, truth and obligation, news and opinion, politics and statecraft, citizenship and loyalty, information and ideology, conflict and dissent mean what they meant before the planes hit? Do you report on war, politics, diplomacy, elections with the same templates? Or is something decisively different?”

Rosen’s piece is interesting and certainly worth a read. I find that the most interesting questions raised have to do with the role the press currently plays as a sort of PR department for terror groups. If a terror group beheads a person and we never see the video or images, then are we as terrrorized as they hope we’ll be? Remember, terrorizing is one of the key goals (one assumes) of terrorism. Another example. Do we need to know how much money the Greeks spent on security at the Olympics? It was a lot. So much that Al Qaeda leaders and others must realize that they are in our psyche at these Games even if they don’t necessarily have a presence there.

A lot of news is PR. A publicist pushes a story. An adminstration hones a message. But what if the American press said, “You know what? We’re not taking any stories from Al Qaeda. Period.”

I’m not sure that’s the best idea, but it’s worth considering. It’s certainly worth considering whether or not we need special reports on our most vulnerable targets.

Update: Since I first posted this, I’ve also been thinking about this debate from a slightly different angle. Maybe it is the job of the press, in the post 9-11 age, to be even more cynical and even more aggressive when it comes to covering our national leaders.

Here’s the theory. The actions of 9-11 (that justifiably changed everything) likely made our leaders more aggressive when it comes to pushing the limits of their own powers and testing the limits of personal freedoms. And this makes sense. If you are tasked with protecting the country that suffered that kind of a blow, you’d be quite likely to want to pull out all the stops to prevent further attacks and to punish those who committed the one that succeeded.

And that’s where the press comes in. Maybe their post 9-11 role is to serve as even greater defenders of personal freedoms and as even more harsh critics of political power and executive decisions. Maybe what we need from the press is an even greater check to balance out what is an understandable and predictable shift by the administration tasked with dealing with 9-11′s aftermath.

Concentration is important!