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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Is truth a victim of the war on terror?
One of America's foremost newscasters says press freedom is being undermined by the wave of patriotism which has swept the US since 11 September.
Dan Rather of CBS says that fear of offending the politicians "keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions".
He adds that journalists are finding it extremely difficult to verify information provided by the US Government.
"There has never been an American war, small or large, in which access has been so limited as this one."
Rather is also critical of "Milatainment" - entertainment programmes about the military, which are produced in conjunction with the Department of Defence.
Is truth a victim of the war on terror? Have the media become too soft since 11 September?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Rich, Texas, USA
It seems that the events of 11/09 have favoured those who want to grab or stay in power at all cost. And it's a shame that people are being manipulated by a shameful government turning its former enemies into friends and vice versa to suit the interests and greed of few.
As a US permanent resident currently working 'back home' and having lived through the past 11 years in the country, I believe that US media reporting has nothing to do with what's actually happening in the world. It has to do only with what is currently affecting US interests. Even then 'World News Tonight' is generally 90% about what's happening within the 48 states and maybe 10% about what's happening in the rest of the world. The US media has made its own bed, now it must lie in it.
Mary Sturgill, USA
People are still free to speak their mind, yet they want to blame the public because they are too cowardly to say things that are currently unpopular. Dan Rather and others of his ilk are just upset because they have to adhere to a trend instead of setting it.
Truth has become a commodity that can be bought by those with the money and the power to determine whose version of it will win. If the peoples of a nation forget the past and the lessons to be learned from it, then it would be extremely easy for any group(s) or government(s) that would seek to manipulate those citizens with propaganda in such a way as to achieve a sinister objective.
Dan Rather is upset because people's current opinions are not in agreement with his own.
Peter Grimes, Gerrards Cross, England
I gave up on the mainstream media years ago. Instead offering diverse views and opinions, they all seemed to be talking the same. I rely on the alternative weeklies (still diverse) and the net. I don't trust much of anything I read in the papers at home. That's why I come here to the BBC
The USA championed the free press until the press hit back. Ever since Watergate and the Vietnam War, subsequent US governments have fed the press their own version of events and US governments are not alone. With media outlets coming under the control of large corporations, they work hand in glove with governments. Both need each other.
I used ABC during the Sep 11th aftermath, and they were actually quite balanced and informative. Unfortunately they have since retrograded their service to fluffy journalism that hardly penetrates the surface. From this aspect I think Mr Rather may have a point. There seems to be a similar pattern occurring in Israel. I used the excellent Jerusalem Times as a primary source of Middle Eastern news. However in recent months it seems to have lost its neutrality, possibly for the same reasons (fear of patriotic fervour) as the US services. I am sure there are politicians who are savvy enough to play to this phenomenon.
The first casualty of war is truth.
The second is the First Amendment.
As a long term Brit expat working in Bahrain, with all the news channels available on Satellite TV, just watch Fox news. You would not know they are talking about the same thing. It is not news, it is pure propaganda.
The US media is a mix, like that in many other countries. It runs from the good (ABC), to the bad (CNN), then the ugly (Fox).
Some programmes present a reasonably balanced view of the world, such as ABCs World News Tonight (also aired on News 24 I understand), others such as CNN continually commit the sin of omission, but when your get to the likes of Fox you're no longer watching a news bulletin, but rather a Nuremberg rally!
To Aron Hsiao: I wonder what town you live in, where people are allegedly beating you up in the produce aisle? Funny how the only American who has had such an experience is you. As for Rahul, UK, it's obvious you've never taken the time to get to know any Americans. Look at the opinions in this poll, and you won't see a bunch of morons who want to run roughshod over the rest of the world. You're paying too much attention to propaganda and missing reality right under your nose.
The truth in US media can only be a victim if the media was ever truthful to begin with. The media here has always been biased. Editors decide which facts to tell, and which to ignore. We here in the US have never gotten both sides of any story; the media has always been biased towards the US and its foreign policy.
For an insightful commentary on the tenuous relationship between Dan Rather and the truth, could I recommend the book 'Bias' by Bernard Goldberg.
Here in America, we know better than to believe anything we are told by the government, media, advertisers, businesses, religious leaders, or anyone else. As George Carlin says "Our whole system is based on bullshit." Anyone with any sense takes that into account.
Note the disappearance of CNN's bulletin boards. All of them questioning the administration were removed within a few weeks of the attacks, then all of the other boards were taken down. People here are told to equate patriotism, a love of a country, with nationalism, a love of a government.
Rick Paden, United States
In an environment in which France, Germany and the UK are being called "terrorist-supporting states" by the man on the street and in which any negative comment about Bush while buying groceries is likely to lead to a public punch-up in the middle of produce, it's no surprise that the US media (who depend on public viewership for profits) are intent on delivering the most patriotic, propaganda-heavy coverage possible right now.
Truth? What is that? The American people don't want truth, they don't want facts, and they don't want tough questions - they want images of the flag majestically waving in the breeze!
Governments always seem to use propaganda to make people think a certain way. We have the values that we do because they have been indoctrinated into us from a young age. Hardly anyone in the USA even questions the foreign policy that lead up to the whole world, bar UK, despising them. That is not what I consider a liberal democracy.
Dan Rather isn't interested in the truth. As demonstrated by his recent speaking appearance at a Democratic fundraiser, he's only interested in advancing his own political agenda.
Max Blinkhorn, UK
The mainstream US media has gotten any worse since September 11, 2001. One need only look at the coverage of 'Desert Storm' and the Intifada to figure this out.
It would be quite understandable if it was simply a matter of being discrete about operational matters but there is something far more subtle going on here. Dan Rather's point is that the USA is gripped by a "witch hunt" type hysteria in which anyone who dissents from the standard line is immediately dubbed an appeaser or an American hater. A good example was a recent CNN program which discussed Noam Chomsky's latest book about the so-called "war on terror" by inviting a Republican senator along to say what an anti-American tome it was. Not even an attempt at balance!
A global war cannot be continuously carried out for so long without reasons for the war, real or made up. I feel at first the Americans where willing to believe anything (such as a passport from one of the hijackers escaping the burning inferno to reach safety at the foot of a FBI agent) but now as the pain reduces and as does the anger two things will happen. One: the American government will create or "remind" people of the reasons why they are sending their sons and daughters to fight in a foreign land. Two: the American people with a now clear mind will be less likely to just believe everything.
Truth is always lost whenever conflict begins. In the case of the latest project of the government of the USA, the "war on terrorism", - in the thrall of a handful of transnational corporations, has diminished the efficacy of the United States of America's constitutionally guaranteed human rights.
As well, virtually all media in the USA is dominated by a handful of media corporations that serve up a daily diet of pap, with little substantive reporting of issues, including the entire array of issues involved in the Middle East conflict and the terrorist attacks on the US. Yes, truth is a casualty in this 'war', because power is still valued over freedom and truth.
It is obvious that Mr.Rather in his usual self-cantered manner just refuses to see the obvious. While the press and media have the responsibility to report the news they do not have a right to it. The first responsibility of a government is to preserve the nation and to prevent it from attack. The fact that jackals such as Mr. Rather would report and have reported information that could damage his county's mission and purpose is outrageous. The government, by protecting information of a vital nature from Mr.Rather, protects us all.
If someone in power, or in position that has enough moral integrity, would just shout out " the emperor's not wearing any clothes!" in public, then people would take the ball and run with it!
Rather is 100% correct. The attitude here is such that to question the government's actions is to be labelled an 'America Hater', 'Taliban Lover' or as having 'Terrorist Friends'.
The media have been war-mongering since 12 September and stirred up an incredible level of xenophobia towards all other countries. It's simply a right-wing version of political correctness.
The War on Terrorism hasn't killed off free speech, that died a long time ago in the United States.
So now the media is crying foul! What a bunch of hypocrites! I remember early in the summer of 2001 that the airlines had discussed among themselves security issues as they relate to government warnings about possible terrorist plots. When the media got wind of this story, there were numerous stories and editorials about how the big bad airlines were secretly plotting to use racial profiling in assisting with security. Any given articles' content was derived from 90% "anti-racist" groups (i.e. NAACP, Arab justice groups, etc.) and about 10% from the airlines. So to me, most of the media has been bent on giving what they feel is the truth. Perfect example is Jenin: the UN had a judge, jury, and executioner all ready to go based on the media accounts of what happened there. And that includes the BBC.
For Dan Rather, a notoriously partisan newscaster, to be lamenting the hindrance of truth during this time of great national crisis is almost comical. Remember, this is the same person who, during a 1993 interview with then President, Bill Clinton, told Mr. Clinton at the conclusion of their interview that "if we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary have been in the White House, we'd take it right now and walk away winners...Thank you very much and tell Mrs. Clinton we respect her and we're pulling for her". As that above quote clearly demonstrates, objectivity and cogent, responsible news reporting has never been a strong suit of this man.
I think both sides of this war have mixed more propaganda than usual into the media formats seen around the globe in this time of war. However past wars have shown that not all information will (or can) be concealed forever. And in time more and more facts about the history of this war will eventually be unveiled to those who seek it.
Brigitte Haas, UK
Dan Rather is correct in his assessment of the behaviour of the US media after 11 September. American journalists and the wider public as a whole are not questioning their Government as they did prior the WTC attacks. I think this is totally understandable. If such attacks do not affect you directly you can ask any "Tough Questions" you like, but if the very heart of your country is so viciously struck by terrorist, then the natural behaviour would be to seek revenge, and to punish those who are guilty of such horrible crimes, not to be worrying about "asking the Government tough questions". At least not now.
Due to 11 September, people are afraid to criticize our government because they don't want to seem unpatriotic? I disagree. I think this is the time when we should question our government the most, and as a citizen, it is not only our right to find out the truth, it should be our duty.
One truth is that having all eyes focused on the "war" on terrorism has kept attention away from the fact that this administration seems to be incompetent at running the country.
Truth and press freedom became victims long before the "war on terror" allowed the holders of power to unleash their current wave of propaganda on the American public in order to create fervent nationalism and a social climate favourable to growing intolerance of differing points of view. Since 1900, the biggest business in America is the "manufacture of consent," which allows the rich and powerful to stay rich and powerful, primarily by manipulating public emotion and opinion through ownership and control of the media. Until people in the US stop allowing themselves to be seduced and numbed by sound bites and trivia, good reporters and their articles will continue to be squashed.
This "love it or leave it" attitude of many in the American media makes me sick. The average person I run into every day does not display the kind of fervent nationalism we see in a lot of the media. Typical of the simplistic, dumb-it-down nature of our culture.
I find it interesting that Dan Rather speaks of "freedom of the press", when no one at CBS seems to talk about "Bias"/ One of the best selling books in the country details a history of a reporter at CBS news distorting the truth to fit a political preference.
Truth is definitely compromised during a war. One particularly difficult thing about the current war on terrorism is the fact that, when a government has evidence against a terrorist group and is trying to explain their actions, they can't reveal the evidence because the terrorists will know how they acquired it and intelligence will be compromised.
Our government is in a bit of an awkward situation on this matter. America's people want the terror to stop; they don't want to know the grisly details that come when a government goes and pulverizes another country. Honestly, most people really have no idea just how powerful a 500lb. bomb really is, much less the effects of some of our more "specialized" munitions. War is about killing people, but in order to drum up support for such gruesome undertakings a country (particularly a democratic one such as the US) needs to have the support of its people and that simply cannot be obtained by being so blunt as to say "We dropped our bombs, sent in our troops, and now there are vast areas of dismembered body parts and gore." Propaganda and political doubletalk are needed to whip up the population.
What is truth? It is the perception of reality, as viewed from someone's viewpoint.
I wonder whether truth ever exists in the public domain, war or no war. It's certainly true that the USA has been at war, literally or metaphorically, with someone since 1940, and 'truth' has been a severe derailer of careers for those brave enough, or foolhardy enough to stand up for it during that period....
Perhaps we should try and content ourselves with being truthful to our family and friends, whilst accepting that we will have to read between the lines in more public fora?
Editorial decisions on the content for US TV News is solely based on its ability to generate ad revenue. A handful of companies own the TV News networks, and these are supported by a handful of major advertisers. Nobody in their right editorial mind would air "news" that offended these companies or the advertisers. Therefore truth, fact, fiction, propaganda are all the same when viewed as a commodity.
The real question for the Dan Rathers' of the world is: Does the media have a right to know in detail all discussions, all preparations, all recommendations all planning and all decisions concerning the conduct of a war? The answer should be obvious even to a media that has become overtly politicized and more interested in demeaning the messenger than informing the public.
The media just cannot grasp that some things are best unsaid. Often during the Falklands war sensitive information was mistakenly given on the TV that put our servicemen in grave danger. To often I see TV reporters asking the most sensitive questions that are beyond belief. Do they not realize that both sides watch the same programmes? I believe that freedom of the press is a given, but not where terrorism or war issues are concerned.
The truth is the first victim in any war, whether that is fighting a conventional enemy, a terrorist group or fighting some "war on drugs".
US media has really shamed itself since September 11. In some ways, I don't blame the individual reporters because I'm sure there was fear of losing their job if they appeared unpatriotic. It's a sad time in the United States. I rely on the BBC and others for balance to the US propaganda/media machine.
The recent Cuban bio-weapons red herring would suggest that truth has sometimes become secondary. A war cannot be won in the long-term unless the moral high ground is maintained. The focus should be on defeating the real enemy not making new enemies. We need better access for trustworthy war reporters that will not compromise the operation.
Yes definitely it has suffered badly. Since the US won't let reporters near anything and the Israelis are following the US lead which is too bad, it is a sad day for mankind to let this slip away so easy.
Truth has to be undermined in war if you want to win. Its an unfortunate fact which is left for future historians to debate about. Every country since the turn of the eighteenth century has used propaganda to create purpose and the desire to win.
Judging by the conversations I've had with friends in the USA, there is some truth in this assertion. I'm also interested in the fact that the "My country -right or wrong" view being expressed by some media in the USA makes people feel as if they will be branded as unpatriotic if they voice any concern or criticism, no matter how constructive.
During virtually every war in history, all sides put more effort into explaining themselves than understanding others. It is harmful to the truth, but causes more harm by polarizing and alienating the societies on either side of the conflict. This is called propaganda, unfortunately it doesn't have to be organized to happen. Populations seem perfectly able to do it to themselves with minimal help from any government.
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