Could the Iraq war have been prevented had the American media asked the right questions? How do conservative media commentators frame the actions of different religious communities? Does the media pay due attention to history? Mike Ghouse reflects on the political impact of mainstream media decisions.
INCREASINGLY FOCUSED ON competitiveness and profits, the mainstream American media is under pressure for its own survival. Indeed, it is at a critical juncture of having to choose between fulfilling its societal responsibility or succumbing to the political compulsions of our times. As a society we need to evaluate the importance of the media in our American system of governance. Does it still play the crucial role the founding fathers of our nation had envisioned for it?
Thomas Jefferson made a strong statement about the role of the media in a democracy when he noted, "If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." Describing the role of the press, George A. Krimsky, the former head of news for the Associated Press' World Services and co-author of Hold the Press, writes, "In the wake of America's successful revolution, it was decided there should indeed be government, but only if it were accountable to the people. The people, in turn, could only hold the government accountable if they knew what it was doing and could intercede as necessary, using their ballot, for example. This role of public 'watchdog' was thus assumed by a citizen press, and as a consequence, the government in the United States has been kept out of the news business."
Could one say that the government in the United States was kept out of the news business in the past, but not any more?
The essence of democracy is the ability to question everything in fairness and without worrying about censure against such inquiry. How many journalists from the mainstream media have failed this test in recent times? Let us examine a few situations and see the specific failures of the American media in each case.
The qualities of a commander-in-chief
I do not expect my president to be an expert in nuclear, biological, botanical, or other sciences and certainly not a military expert. I want a judicious person who can call on real experts as the situation demands and make the right decision in each case.
Journalists can still ask the candidates this question. Will they?
Precedent and patterns in the Rev. Wright controversy
The second week of March 2008 witnessed relentless coverage of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermon, "God Damn America," in the American media. It was all one could hear on the cable channels. The pundits were suggesting that this might indicate the end of presidential candiate Barack Obama's political aspirations, given that Wright was Obama's pastor.
In the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ralph Luker pointed out that "the quotation comes not from Wright, but from the Rev Martin Luther King Jr's first address to the Montgomery Improvement Association on December 5, 1955. Both African-American preachers have understood prophetic biblical preaching far better than those who feign shock at and condemn Wright's words."
The mainstream media largely failed to investigate if there was a precedent, if some one else had used this kind of language, if the reaction had been different, and why that might have been the case.
The burning of the US embassy in Kosovo