Friday, October 27, 2006

Faith-Based Journalism

Earlier this week, Bryan Calame, the New York Times's public editor, engaged in a fit of self-flagellation for supporting the paper's decision to publish the Swift banking story. Right-wing bloggers responded by calling for Calame to resign; and accused him of "blowing an important national security program" out of "Bush hatred." One particularly enthusiastic supporter of the First Amendment wrote, "... [T]hey need to revisit their policies that suggest it's ok to reveal sensitive information in a time of war to the public. The NYT simply does not know how to balance the public's 'right to know' with the government's obligation to protect the American people."

I must have read that sentence about six times, marveling that such a profound failure to understand the meaning of press freedom could coexist with such noisy support for "freedom" and "democracy" in places like Iraq. But it does -- because to Bush worshippers like these, "responsible journalism" is code language for compliant journalism, obedient journalism, submissive journalism -- journalism that supports partisan political policies and unquestioningly assumes that if the government says "national security requires [fill in the blank]," then it must be so.

Which surely helps explain why the United States has dropped from 44th place to 53rd place in Reporters Without Borders' latest ranking of global press freedom:

The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of "national security" to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his "war on terrorism." The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media's right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.

Some say that "Do as I say, not as I do" is bad policy -- but obviously, given the military might of the United States and the lack of any serious competitors, it's much easier for us to impose our will on the world by force than to gain uncoerced support from other countries by modeling our values and letting them speak for themselves.

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