Occasionally, a national news organization will take a step away from advocacy and attempt to present useful news. Brian Lehrer who hosts his eponymous show on NPR and WNYC, in conjunction with Bobby Ghosh, the Baghdad bureau chief for Time magazine, deserve credit for attempting to shed light on the current status of the troop surge in Baghdad. Ghosh is in Baghdad and made his first report last Thursday; today was Part II, with two more to follow. Brian Lehrer asked about the comments made by several of the Democratic candidates to the effect that we need to withdraw most of our troops and confine our efforts to fighting al Qaeda. Ghosh's response was surprising and should receive wide dissemination.
Ghosh started by describing how the Sunni tribes have been breaking their ties with al Qaeda and forging alliances with the Americans in Iraq. He offers several reasons for this and does not hesitate to describe the current alliances as based more on bottom line utility than any profound philosophical awakening to the value of Democracy. He also points out that the recent statements repudiating al Qaeda by the leader of the Sunni scholars and Imams in Iraq is extremely significant. His conclusions are striking. He makes it quite clear that any efforts to withdraw would endanger all of these advances. The tribes, for purposes of self preservation, would not only immediately drop out of the fight against al Qaeda, but the Sunni provinces would in short order become al Qaeda mini-states, offering a source of manpower, training, funding, and support that they currently do not have anywhere in the developed world.
Anyone want to give odds that we will actually see these conclusions addressed to the Democratic candidates at their next debate? Or that such facts on the ground will actually be part of the debate over the war sure to follow General Petreaus's report on our progress due in September?
The bad news comes courtesy of Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley. You might think the headline offers more good news, but you would be mistaken:
SEOUL, South Korea - The Internet is bringing numerous changes to the media industry, but the fundamentals of newsgathering remain the same, Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley said Thursday.
"As we consider the digital future though, let’s be very clear about one thing: Technology may change how journalists work, but it has never changed what journalists do," he said in a speech to the Seoul Digital Forum 2007.
"Speaking truth to power or acting as the watchdog of the powerful is one of journalism’s enduring values," Curley said.
Curley gave his speech at this years forum, "an annual three-day gathering of leading technology and media industry figures sponsored by South Korea’s SBS television network, this year drew Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, among others. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer attended last year."
The rest of the article describes how the news industry must find new ways to get their product to the masses, who have been spending less and less time reading paper and more and more time on the Internet.
The saddest and most dangerous aspect of Curley's remarks are that he seems so utterly unaware of what a perversion they are. I use the word purposely; a perversion is an activity that misuses a healthy drive in order to attain destructive gratifications. "Speaking truth to power" may be an enduring value of certain types of advocacy journalism but it is never an appropriate goal of a news gathering and disseminating organization.
I have no problem with people interpreting data in ways inimical to my point of view; it happens all the time and is a healthy part of political, indeed of any human, discourse. However, when our news gatherers distort the news in the service of a desired outcome, it is no longer news but propaganda; Curley supports the AP in committing the most egregious of journalistic sins.
News organizations are certainly under tremendous pressure from the Internet, yet by destroying their product and making it indistinguishable from the advocacy we can find in myriad other places, they are opening the door for newcomers to perform the more traditional and unique functions that the AP was once set up to do, gather and disseminate news.
The fact that it is impossible for anyone to be completely objective and report a news event without any bias is incontestable. However, that does not rationalize eschewing the attempt and adopting the posture that slanting a story in ways which best propel one's agenda, all the while professing to be a disinterested observer, is dishonest, propagandistic, and advances the agenda of the worst evils of our time. Curley and his AP are beneath contempt.