The Los Angeles Times, War, and the Reckless, Arrogant News Media

The Los Angeles Times feels that you need to see this photo, and sensationalism has nothing to do with it. No, really.

Our national news media, which is as biased as ever, more untrustworthy than ever, and less professional than ever, is also more self-righteous than ever, which, I suppose, figures. The most recent display of self-righteousness, along with gratuitous recklessness and arrogance, is the Los Angeles Times’ decision to publish photos of American soldiers posing happily next to the bloody mess that had been the bodies of Afghan suicide bombers. The Pentagon asked the Times not to run the photos, for obvious reasons. The mission in Afghanistan is hanging by a thread as it is, our relationship with the government and the populace serially wounded by a series of unnecessary events that placed the U.S. in a terrible light: in January, a video of Marines urinating on dead Taliban soldiers; in February, the botched disposal of copies of the Quaran, and shortly thereafter, the rampage of a deranged U.S. soldier, who went door to door killing Afghan civilians. Such episodes, and the publicity they receive, jeopardize American interests and cost lives, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta explained while condemning the Times’ irresponsible decision.

For the LA Times to take such action, which supposedly followed days of deliberation, it should have been able to come up with a powerful and persuasive rationale why the publication of two-year old photos was essential enough to outbalance the likelihood that the publication could kill people and undermine the suppression of the Taliban. It could not. The justification, when all was said, boils down to “we did it because we can, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.” The excuses from various reporters, staff, and unethical journalism apologists:

  • “It’s our responsibility to report fully on the mission in Afghanistan, and it was important to publish these photos to tell the full story of the war….” Boilerplate. It’s also your responsibility to be responsible. The photos were two years old, not breaking news. Reporting is not supposed to interfere with events; reporting on a mission is not supposed to sabotage it. This was not a new development or anything that educated the public about the war; there was no urgency or overarching reason why the public had a need to know this, now.
  • “…the soldiers’ actions violated the U.S. military’s general code of conduct.” Yes it did, and if those photos could have been published without causing more problems than they solved, I’d agree that this makes them newsworthy. This, however, was not an atrocity or a war crime, like Abu Ghraib, or the desecration of dead combatants, which violates the Geneva conventions. These were G.I.’s mugging by an enemy victim of his own fanaticism, who just as easily could have blown up one of the soldiers. As military misconduct goes, this is jaywalking.
  • “[T]he insurgents don’t need any extra motivation to attack us. It’s a very dangerous place over there. They face a lot of risks already.” This jaw-droppingly stupid excuse from David Zucchino, the reporter responsible for the story, demonstrates the astounding arrogance of the media. This isn’t Zucchino’s judgment to make: the professionals in Afghanistan and at the Pentagon, who are charged with running operations in war, told his paper that the photos would endanger U.S. personnel. Their expertise is worthy of respect; his is not. He just wants to get his big story published, and is searching for rationalizations. He came up with a whopper, too: “thinks are bad already; nothing I do can make it worse, so it’s OK.” That one gets added to the list.
  • The photos “remind us that war is terrible.” You know, I think we’ve got that by now. If necessary, you can remind us later, at a time when it won’t make this war more terrible.

And finally this, from Seymour Hersh, an important muckracker, reporter and journalist: “It’s not our job to be on the team. “

Wrong. It may not be the news  media’s job to be on the team, but they are on the team, and their job, a hard part of it to be sure, is to know when their duty to their nation trumps their narrower duties as journalists. Journalists are still citizens and Americans, with the same duties and loyalties of the rest of us. I have no doubt that had the current crop of journalists been our burden during World War II, Nazi Germany would rule the West today. Some arrogant and self-righteous reporter like Seymour Hersh would have discovered key details about the Normandy invasion, or the cracking of the ENIGMA code, or the plans to drop the atom bomb, and gleefully put it on page 1. Millions of lives would have been lost, whole races exterminated, and the journalists would just shrug and say “the public had a right to know.” Our Constitution grants journalists nearly unlimited privilege and power because of the essential nature of open communication in a free society. Unlimited privilege and power, however, is a menace in the hands of arrogant, self-righteous fools who either refuse to exercise responsible judgment or who are incapable of it.

These photos were sensational and inflammatory, and nothing else. They tell us nothing about war that we didn’t know before, but their publication should enlighten us further about how irresponsible our news media has become.

19 thoughts on “The Los Angeles Times, War, and the Reckless, Arrogant News Media

  1. YMMV on that one.

    Such Journalism caused Germany to declare war on the USA.

    The Rainbow 5 contingency plan was leaked to the anti-Roosevelt press just before December 7, and published December 8th IIRC.

    This highly classified document was used by the Republicans and America Firsters as “proof” that “Jewsvelt” was trying to involve the US in the war against Germany, and to score political points.

    In fact, it was a contingency plan. like others. War Plan Red was the contingency plan for war against the UK and Canada, for example.

    Germany had access to the US press. They believed what was said – that the US was going to attack Germany. Hitler therefore declared war to get a blow in first.

  2. I was waiting for you to weigh in on this. I concur this was completely irresponsible and dangeous and the worst kind of exploitive journalism.
    I do, however, remember the NY TImes acceding to the wishes of the Pentagon to not publish info about the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, even though they knew about it in advance – and the TImes did not publish.

    But I am also disturbed that our military leaders are not adequately admonishing our troops to avoid any inflamatory idiocies.I think this is unethical. I served in the Army many years ago in Thailand, and we did receive cultural briefings about local sensitivies, e.g. never point or show the bottom of our foot to another person – extremely insulting. Maybe they didn’t think it was necessary to say, try to avoid taking amusing photos with dismembered enemy combatants.
    The real yardstick for me is the “Shoe is on the other foot” comparison, What if it were victorious Afghan troops mockingly posing with the remains of Americans?

    • Wholeheartedly agree. As I wrote regarding the pissing episode, this is bad stuff, and it shows a chain of command problem.

      I very much doubt if the press would protect a Bay of Pigs-style operation today. Some reporter and editor would decide that it was their “duty” to sabotage it.

      • I very much doubt if the press would protect a Bay of Pigs-style operation today. Some reporter and editor would decide that it was their “duty” to sabotage it.

        Then they would deserve to be shot for treason, as Jonathan Pollard deserved to be shot for treason.

      • It wouldnt have made any difference anyway. The Cuban goverment knew it was coming, as did almost anyone in the South east, and JFK canceled the air support dooming the invasion from the begining.

  3. A very interesting article. The freedom of the press act has been abused since it first came in to infuriation in 1735. Freedom of any kind can only cause problems, this is due to the fact that there are two types of constants in this world, good and evil. Good people will use the freedom given to them to do good and the evil of course will do the later. Then there is the fact that the western world works with one ultimate goal… to make money.

    • 1. That’s a word I’ve never seen in print before.
      2. Freedom always causes “problems.” Slaves only cause problems when they revolt.
      3. Money facilitates freedom.
      4. The West’s ultimate goal is to facilitate freedom. There are other goals as well, easily recognized by non-ideologues.
      5. I suspect this message is spam. You owe me your whole name before your getting another comment posted.

      • My whole name is Tearmatt, and you’re suspicions are correct, this is spam. On the subject of spam and leaving comments. The fact that you can only leave comments if you’re a member of wordpress thus having a blog yourself means that all comments are spam, we would be naive to think that peoples comments are made without wanting the person that wrote the post, to leave them a comment too! Nevertheless you will see that I wrote an article along the same lines and I read yours and found it to be very enlightening. You don’t have to post my comments if you want. Happy Wednesday 🙂

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