Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Two Sides of a Dirty Coin

The most recent boil-up over the Newsweek article about desecration of the Koran provides an interesting window into the current public psyche.

Depending upon your political persuasion, there are two entirely different ways to read this episode.

If you are one of the growing hordes of Conservatives, particularly right-wingers with access to the internet bloggoshpere, this incident is a signature for mainstream media hubris, neigh - nearly treachery and anti-U.S. animus. The lesson is that the mainstream media will do anything to "get the goods" on the Bush Administration/U.S. government, even if it means fabricating an "irresponsible" incendiary story. The resulting deaths in Afghanistan - whether or not directly the result of this story - are therefore ON YOUR HEADS and you should be ashamed. (No one in this camp wonders if in fact the deaths ought to be on the heads of the military commanders who allowed the Abu Ghraib scandal to happen and the high level of distrust to occur in the first place.) In this reading, the story could not possibly be true, and it's the motives of the reporters that are immediately questioned. This is a knee-jerk suspect-the-messenger response where all non-conservative reporting is biased, if not oughtright fabrication, with patently disasterous consequences that are the responsibility of those who wrote the story.

However, if you are NOT one of these hordes (let's say a liberal, moderate, libertarian, or just plain out-of-touch stoner), then I think your read of the situation is completely different. In this case, this story is a prime example of Right-wing censorship (akin to what's going on at NPR and PBS): a prime example of Right-wing government pressure to silence the mainstream media, to bury the story and deflect blame for anit-American sentiment onto anyone but themselves. In this reading, the story is likely most definitely true - the delayed reaction from the government merely a response to the deaths in Afghanistan and the quagmire they face: divert the issue from their own incompetence to a "mistake" of the media, and demand an apology. (Where's the apology for Abu Ghraib? Huh?). In this reading, the responsibility lies squarely in the lap of the administration, who will stoop to anything to defelct the attention onto some other issue, and Newsweek, in retracting the story, has caved to the pressure "to save its own hide," as Daily Kos puts it.

While I might be more inclined myself to prefer the latter reading, I have to admit: I honestly don't know. The facts are mysterious. Deliberately mysterious, no doubt. The mainstream media, if they are going to go after the excesses and mistakes of this administration, really needs to get their ducks in a row and come up with a bulletproof story, not some half-investigated innuendo.

I think the problem is that the mainstream media don't really realize the seriousness of the threat. This right-wing mood in the country is dangerous, and this administration's (and their pseudo-Christian-right backers) thirst for power rather boldfaced. Our freedoms have been under attack for a long time, and eroding day by day. Now, they have a large and vocal public chorus helping them along. Trading on half-baked stories of innuendo and salaciousness is just playing into their hands. It's time for some real journalism that can convince not just liberals and moderates but open-minded conservatives as well. And if they can't do it...we're all in trouble.