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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card October 22, 2001

The American Media and the War

So I was watching Channel 12's news last week. They showed Democrat Tom Daschle declaring, "We aren't Democrats, we aren't Republicans, we're Americans."

Then they had a story about our Democratic Senator Edwards coming to North Carolina to try to build support for the airline safety bill that is designed to prevent further airplane takeovers, including provisions for better-staffed security checkpoints and federal marshals on some planes.

Here's how WXII played the coverage of that airline safety bill. We were told that "Democrats" were pushing the airline safety bill, which a hundred senators had already voted for. It was being held up by Republicans in the house, who were quibbling because they didn't want the federal government to pay for the air marshals.

The picture painted for us was that noble Democrats were watching out for our safety, while Republicans were nickel-and-diming the Democrats' bill to death.

But ... how does a bill get the votes of a hundred senators if only the Democrats are pushing for it? Forty-nine of the senators are Republicans.

And if the Democrats and Republicans in the house are at a stalemate over how some of the safety measures are to be funded, doesn't that imply that both sides are being stubborn about wanting to get their way over funding?

After all, while it is true that the bill would sail through if the Republicans gave in to the Democrats on funding, it is also exactly as true that the bill would sail through if the Democrats gave in to the Republicans on funding.

Yet WXII's news writers made the Republicans the stubborn ones.

And John Edwards was not in North Carolina building support for the air safety bill. He was in North Carolina trying to build support for the Democratic position on the air safety bill. Nobody opposes the air safety bill. Both sides oppose the other side's plan for funding it.

Did WXII lie? No. Did they tell the truth? Not really.

So much for "We aren't Democrats, we aren't Republicans, we're Americans."

Don't misunderstand -- I agree with the Democratic position on the bill.

Related Links:
Apparently somebody else agrees with OSC
But I also think that when a news organization pretends to be impartial, they shouldn't indulge in such outrageous slanting of a story that didn't need a slant at all.

It harks back to the days of budget crises. You remember -- that's when the President and Congress couldn't agree on a budget, so in order to keep the federal government running, they had to keep passing temporary "continuing funding" bills. It became a crisis when one side or the other refused to allow the continuing funding, so the federal government "shut down."

Of course, vital services never shut down at all. But there was always a rash of stories in the American media about federal workers suffering because of a late paycheck.

When the President was a Republican and the Congress was run by Democrats, the media played it as a crisis caused entirely by the stubbornness of the President. When the President was a Democrat and the Congress was run by Republicans, the media played it as a crisis caused entirely by the stubbornness of Congress.

The situations were identical in every particular. Only the slant changed.

Likewise, I remember hearing an NPR reporter talking about the recount in Florida a year ago, and he actually said, "The reason the recount is going so slowly is that Republicans keep challenging so many ballots. We could meet the deadline if the Republicans didn't keep obstructing the process."

Well, duh. The reporter was so obviously completely on the Democratic side that he could not even see how ludicrously slanted his statement was -- how obvious it was that he completely believed the Democratic position and disdained the Republican one.

Not only is the American media way to the left of the American people in their personal politics -- a fact, not an opinion -- but also their slant shows up constantly in the way they cover political news. The bias toward the Democratic party and its positions on every issue is obvious to anyone who cares to look beyond the surface. More to the point, mainstream media coverage is never biased in favor of the Republican position.

Which would be fine if they'd just admit it. After all, the esteemed editor of this weekly paper has a definite attitude that shows up in his local news coverage as well as on the editorial page. But he doesn't make even the slightest effort to conceal the fact that he has an attitude.

It actually makes him more credible, because he then has to bend over backward to present the other side's point of view as well. Even if he then ridicules it, we at least get to hear it, because he knows that if he doesn't tell both sides, we won't trust his reporting.

Whereas the "mainstream" (i.e., left-wing) media get away with far more slanted coverage, while claiming credit for being "impartial" and "telling the truth" while doing the opposite.

There is no such thing as "impartial coverage of the news." Whenever you hear someone making such a claim, what you are really hearing is either gross self-deception -- they think they are impartial, while in fact they are merely unaware of their own biases -- or they are flat-out lying, because they know they are slanting the story but they want you to think they are not.

This has been going on for years. But the war, if it goes on long enough, is going to change things.

It's already happening, actually. Several newspeople and news organizations have made it a point not to display the American flag in the aftermath of 11 September. That's fine -- I didn't fly a flag from my house or car, either, preferring to show my support for the war and solidarity with the American cause by writing about it. But I've been moved by the outpouring of healthy patriotism and can't think of any reason to disapprove of it.

But these non-flag-displaying newsfolk actually made a point of saying that they thought it was "inappropriate" to display the flag because it would compromise their "impartiality."

That is so howlingly stupid that it almost doesn't need answering. Impartial about what, exactly? They are American papers and stations and news readers, speaking to American audiences. Are they actually trying to pretend that they do not actually favor our side? Our soldiers? Our cause in the war?

And if they really are impartial, making no distinction between the American side and the pro-terrorist side in this war, do they think somebody in America will actually value their news coverage more because of this?

Americans do not want "impartial" coverage of a war in which our soldiers are at risk of death. We want accurate coverage, yes, but not impartial coverage. We want the truth, yes, but we want to hear it from people who are on our side.

And since the news media can never be impartial anyway, I am flummoxed in my efforts to make any sense of this position at all.

They could have said that they did not display the flag because they did not wish to appear to be trying to capitalize and profit from the events of 11 September. That's a legitimate position that people might understand. "Since we sell advertising time, to display images of the flag might be seen as an attempt to boost our ratings and make more money, and we don't want to make more money because of the actions of these terrorists."

People might not agree with that decision, but it would at least be seen as a legitimate position for Americans to take.

But to say that they did not display the flag in order to remain "impartial" is infuriating in its dumb smugness. Didn't the media learn already from Peter Arnett's coverage of the Gulf War from Baghdad that the American people don't want to hear one of "our" newscasters spouting the enemy's official line?

Even though CNN kept reminding us that Arnett was operating under strict Iraqi censorship, it still caused severe backlash among viewers. And it was not the viewers, it was CNN that was in the wrong.

Especially because Arnett's coverage added exactly zero to the accuracy of our picture of the war. Since he was forbidden to tell us the truth, all he could really accomplish was to tell us the official line of the Iraqi government, disguised as an American news report. Precisely whose interest did that serve?

Not the American people's interest.

In wartime, those American soldiers are the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters, the mothers and fathers of all of us in the viewing audience. If you want us to trust your stories, you'd better make it plain that you are not even the tiniest bit impartial. You'd better make it plain that you are on our side, or we'll tune to stations and subscribe to papers that are.


Speaking of media bias, is Fox News the only place we're going to be able to see the clip of Hillary getting booed off the stage at a concert to benefit WTC victims? If it had been a Republican senator regarded as a front-runner for the next presidential nomination getting booed by a home state crowd, wouldn't we be seeing it over and over again everywhere?


Taliban Howler of the Week. Past winners in this category have been the claim that "We don't know where Osama is, and we won't turn him over to you" and the ever popular "Osama didn't do it, and he was completely justified in doing it."

The Taliban topped these with their response to the U.S. Special Forces attack on Taliban bases last week. Their claim: "We repelled the attacks, and the forts were empty anyway."

Hmmm. Who, exactly, repelled the attack? Apparently they have higher technology than we suspected. Automatic self-defending forts that repel attacks even when no defenders are present! Why don't we have any of these?

Copyright © 2001 by Orson Scott Card.

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