Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Journalistic responsibility

Claudia Rosett has a new column on Opinion Journal that urges the U.S. press to use its freedom and strength to report not only from a U.S. focus. Her conclusion:

The tragedy in all this is that while the entire world is by now acquainted with tales — true and false — about Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo Bay, the information pretty much ends there. When it comes to the Islamic world's most despotic states, almost no one outside their borders can reel off the names of the prisons they run, let alone tales of what happens within. Afghanistan is still recovering from the Taliban blackout of the human soul — which at the time received almost no coverage. Saudi Arabia--whence the Arab News, in its disquisition on Newsweek's story, denounces the U.S. as "ignorant and insensitive" — provides no accounting to the world of its dungeons. Can anyone name a prison in Yemen?

The point is not to engage in a tit-for-tat recitation of prison management, or invite a reprise of those absurd old Soviet debates, in which Moscow's reply to charges of millions dead in the gulag was that America had street crime.

But to whatever extent the press is engaged in the business of trying to report the truth, or contribute to the making of a better world, it would be a service not only to U.S. journalism, but to the wider world — including Muslims — to spend less effort dredging Guantanomo Bay, and more time wielding the huge resources at our disposal to report on the prisons of the Islamic world. It is in such places that the recent riots had their true origins.

If you're willing to believe that the U.S. press in general is motivated primarily by a desire to report the truth, then it is plausible that Ms. Rosett's call could be heeded. But if you're as cynical as I am, and you believe that the U.S. press is motivated primarily by ideology, then it seems likely that Ms. Rosett's plea will fall on deaf ears. More specifically, if Newsweek's motivation is ideological, then reporting on the prisons of the Islamic world will not help them achieve their goals. Implying that the current administration allowed (or even encouraged) desecration of the Qu'ran would.

Let's see if their behavior changes.

I'm not holding my breath, though.

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