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News ::
Media Outcasts Speak Up
14 Sep 2001
Modified: 17 Sep 2001
As it is important for the nation to join together in the wake of this week's events, it is even more important for this nation's media to report the days' events as carefully as possible, casting a discerning eye on all reports, breaking news, and talking heads.
A terrible crime was committed against the citizens of the United States Tuesday. This cannot be denied by any civilized person in the world, without confusion or doubt. What is not so clear is the context in which this crime occurred. As clouds of smoke and debris settled on New York, Americans wade through a desperate atmosphere of 24-hour news coverage by a media system more designed to cover instant sensations like Clinton scandals and the Chandra Levy murder than events that require context, patience, and understanding. This week's tragedy most definitely falls under the latter category. Z Magazine's Michael Albert wrote Tuesday that "today's terrorism was horrendously vile. It arose in a terror-infested world."

Experts and pundits have lined up at broadcast reporter's feet for airtime and sound bites, telling us about the madness and tragedy of the disaster (as if we need to be told this) and how the nation is sure to get its revenge. "Politics is off the table," said Sen. John Kerry. Debates, for the most part, explore whom the U.S. should strike, how early, and with what force, without asking the question of "Why did the attacks ever take place?"

As it is important for the nation to join together in the wake of this week's events, it is even more important for this nation's media to report the days' events as carefully as possible, casting a discerning eye on all reports, breaking news, and talking heads. Dan Kennedy of the Boston Phoenix wrote Thursday that "after the initial attacks, very little information was getting out, leaving room for commentators to speculate--always a dangerous proposition." And the majority of the day and night was spent speculating, commenting on speculations, and chasing down new speculations, waiting for the next government spokesman to offer a press conference. Kennedy quotes Bob Steel, a media critic at the Poynter Institute, as writing "news organizations must honor the principles of independence during these difficult times. We should not be swept up in the patriotism nor the criticism. We should be professional and dispassionate in our reporting even when we have strong personal feelings."

Indeed, many voices have struggled to rise about the white noise that is all-day TV news. Some are steadfast and experienced critics of U.S. policies and media coverage. Some are regular people with level heads who decided to speak up by writing to their editors, calling radio talk shows, and posting to websites like Indymedia.

Many of these commentaries have proven to be the most factual and sobering accounts of this week's news. Matthew Berliant wrote on the IMC newswire: "I think it is of the utmost importance that the people of this Nation pause, take stock, and meditate on what part we've had to play in this most terrible of violent displays against our fellow citizens."

Michael Moore, of Roger and Me and TV Nation fame, in an off-the-cuff email distributed through his listserv Tuesday and, subsequently, throughout the world, wrote "We paid and trained and armed a group of terrorists in Nicaragua in the 1980s who killed over 30,000 civilians. That was OUR work. You and me. Thirty thousand murdered civilians and who the hell even remembers!"

The Boston Globe's Letters to the Editor on September 13 were full of cautious analysis of U.S. policy that has yet to be presented on network television news. Bill Israel wrote "How can we fail to see that our policy has created zealots and suicide bombers, willing to attack us on our own soil?" Edward M. Fergusson wrote that the U.S. must "get our so-called 'President' Bush and his sycophants to get off their collective behinds . . . and stop thumbing their noses at the world community" if the U.S. is to "cease to be at the center of the bull's eye and will be able to proudly rejoin the community of man."

Meanwhile, essays and editorials have been springing up wherever they can find room, usually on "alternative-media" web sites like and, largely in response to overwhelming calls for revenge. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair wrote a scathing critique of not only the media but of federal officials' attitudes as well. "Absent national leadership," they wrote, the burden of rallying the nation fell as usual upon the TV anchors." They recall President Bush arriving at his first stop in Louisiana on the way to Washington, "Where he gave another flaccid address with every appearance of being on tranquilizers." This is certainly not the kind of commentary we were hearing from our television sets.

Bush disappointed Robert Jensen as well, whose piece "Stop the Insanity Now" notes that the country's anger was "compounded by hypocritical U.S. officials' talk of their commitment to higher ideals, as President Bush proclaimed 'our resolve for peace and justice.'" He writes of past and ongoing American actions that clearly don't comply with this "resolve," actions noted in several pieces written about constantly for decades, only to be brought up again this week in hopes that people will pay them more attention.

Derrick Jackson's op-ed in the Globe Wednesday proclaimed that "America must find itself, too. The targets clearly represented America's global power, a power that is not innocent of arrogance, either militarily or economically." Jensen concurred in his piece, with a nod to the 60s peace movement: "We must demand of our government--a government that the great man of peace Martin Luther King Jr., once described as 'the greatest purveyor of violence in the world'--to stop the insanity now."

But not many of the authors are hopeful. Rahul Mahajan wrote that "unfortunately, it seems that most Americans are choosing to learn the wrong lessons from this," a fact heard quite clearly when listening to the constant stream of gung-ho and racist calls to radio talk shows in the area, many of which made "Boston's Bad Boy" Howie Carr blush and reprimand the caller. "Instead of learning," wrote Mahajan, "that the imperial fantasies of being able to destroy entire countries . . . have crumbled when brought in contact with reality, they have decided that what we really need is more of a failed and completely untenable policy."

Noam Chomsky gravely concluded that "in short, the crime is a gift to the jingoist right, those who hope to use force to control their domains. . . The prospects ahead appear more ominous than they appeared before the latest atrocities."

Despite this week's blur of destruction and confusion, it is evident when reading the words of these and many others that it is understandable, and that is something which should not sit well with any human. Saska Sassen wrote Tuesday that "the attacks are a language of a last resort: the oppressed and the persecuted have used so many languages to reach us so far, but we seem unable to translate the meaning. So a few have taken the personal responsibility to speak in a language that needs no translation."

Here's hoping that it's not too late for everyone else to understand.
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17 Sep 2001
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