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Is the Pen Mightier Than the Sword? Or is Objective Journalism Dying?

By       Message michael payne     Permalink
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That famous phrase about the power of the pen, coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, has been used time and again to describe how the presentation of rational, intelligent solutions to disputes is more effective than military force or other forms of violent actions. In the past courageous American journalists have spoken out strongly about societal abuses or questionable military actions and have actually altered the course of history. From those days in which journalism was at its peak to the present, journalism has slowly fallen into a state of mediocrity.

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In times past when America needed them, journalists were there to provide factual and objective reporting in order to resolve difficult situations involving domestic disputes or questionable military actions. And that's all we expect from journalists and their profession; to be there to challenge those who would wield the sword to achieve their own interests at the expense of the American people.

Journalism once performed a kind of watchdog function over the government that often brought strong influence to bear on important issues. Several notable examples come to mind. When things were turning against America during the Vietnam War in 1968, and the great Walter Cronkite became a strong opponent of further escalation, President Lyndon Johnson was quoted as saying: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America." Shortly thereafter, in deep frustration, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection. There are few if any fearless journalistic watchdogs in America today but there are plenty of lapdogs.

Then there was the Watergate political scandal of the 1970's when the relentless investigative reporting of the Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, among others, exposed the aggressive, arrogant attempts by President Richard Nixon to cover up the truth. Their brilliant reporting was the main reason why Nixon, threatened with impeachment, resigned his presidency.

The brilliant radio and television commentator, Edward R. Murrow, challenged Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin in 1954 while the latter was conducting special hearings to investigate alleged communist sympathizers in Washington. Murrow, through intensive investigative reporting, produced a series of television news reports with such powerful evidence against McCarthy's contentions that it led to the senator's congressional censure and the end of the hearings.

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If you are looking for factual, objective reporting in American newspapers, magazines, on the radio or TV you're in for a difficult time. There are some exceptions but very few. You won't find any modern-day versions of Thomas Paine, that great patriot and famous author and writer who was so influential during the American Revolution, in the ranks of today's American media. Here is an interesting quote from Thomas Jefferson, who in 1796 sent a letter to Paine in which he wrote: "Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword."

While journalism in America has fallen into a state of ineffectual, shallow reporting you can still find some excellent examples of great writing on the internet, including in-depth analysis of America's wars, if you check out articles originating in other countries. Forget about finding factual reporting about these wars in our national media; what you are more likely to find is a deliberate shading of the facts, or what might be called "media brought to you by Corporate America."

Here are those writers that regularly inform readers about important events occurring in the Middle East and Central Asia that you won't find in your newspaper: John Pilger an Australian born independent journalist and documentary maker, Eric Margolis, an independent writer, formerly with the Toronto Sun, Pepe Escobar of the Asian Times, and Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the U.K. Independent; they exemplify journalism at its best.

The national media and its collection of pseudo journalists have largely become facilitators of war. When G.W. Bush was fabricating his reasons for attacking Iraq, these controlled pundits were busy beating the drums of war to generate public support. Never mind that there was plenty of evidence that indicated that there were no weapons of destruction in Iraq; the media ignored all the facts and shamelessly did the bidding of Bush and his cadre of war hawks. And this media continues to do the same thing with regard to the illogical, irrational wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, plus the latest target, Libya.

Why is it that I find these foreign-based writers and others like them to be so much more factual and objective in their reporting of events, specifically military conflicts? It is simply because they are either independent writers or they work for news organizations that are still dedicated to the principles of truth in reporting. They do not have to live in constant fear of losing their jobs as those in the American media do.

So as America continues to sink deeper into the quagmires of war don't expect the mainstream journalists of this nation to report events factually and truthfully or to analyze and debate the wisdom of continuing the agenda of war. They are not going to do it, it is not in their blood, and they will simply not jeopardize their livelihoods to become modern-day patriots.

To be fair I need to identify the one element in journalism that is still reporting the facts and the truth to the American people, be it about the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the fraudulent banking system or the corruption in Washington D.C. These are the many respected authors of books who are able to do this because of their independence and the fact that there are still publishers who stand by free, independent thinking. The only problem is that these many great books do not have the circulation to make a major impact on conditions in America.

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What we badly need is a revolutionary new form of journalism that is free of the constraints that currently plague this profession. The good news is that it's already here in the beginning stages; it's the massive power of the internet and it's being aided and abetted by the exploding growth of the social networking services Twitter and Facebook that are connecting many millions of people around the entire world. This combination of the internet and social networking has a tremendous potential for restoring the power and the credibility of the journalism profession.


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Michael Payne is an independent, progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues. He is a featured writer on Opednews and Nation of Change and his articles have appeared on many other websites (more...)

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