Friday, January 9, 2015

Why American journalists have nothing to fear from a Charlie Hebdo style attack.

The journalists, cartoonists and editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo were known for defying convention, unwavering principles, having staunch convictions,  courage, and had a commitment to telling a truth they felt that needed to be told  and did it with unflinching resolve and without fear or concern for who they might offend.  Characteristics that are precisely the opposite of 99% of all mainstream American journalists and has been for almost 20 years .  Which is why American journalists have nothing to fear from the kind of attack that hit the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Because they are and always have been  congenitally too afraid to do anything that might provoke it. Or even provoke criticism. 

Mainstream American journalists back down or water down the truth every day so as not to offend somebody or some group on everything  from Washington politics and policy to the events in Ferguson and protests in New York.  And it's most prevalent everyday on cable news. 

In Washington D.C. for example, the coin of the realm for journalists is "access". Access to higher ups or key people in government who might be willing to give an exclusive. Be too tough on an administration and your access dries up. Which is  why trying to get American journalists to report the unvarnished truth  is like pulling teeth from someone who doesn't have any.   Because American journalists are generally toothless except when they feel it's safe to go on the offensive.

They are notable for caving in whether its to the Bush administration over WMD in Iraq and the non-existant connection between Sadaam and 9/11, the Obama administration and serial lying and ineptitude about policy from health care reform to a  foreign policy that resulted  in the resignations of 3 Secretaries  of Defense and a Secretary of State, and media dishonesty over events in Ferguson and any issues concerning race.

In other controversial issues, such as the release of documents last year  by Roman Catholic dicoceses in Los Angeles and Milwaukee as part of two separate court orders that revealed the sexual abuse of literally tens of thousands of children,(8,000 incidents in Milwaukee alone)  the news media virtually ignored it and its contents.   But Wolf Blitzer had no problem getting tough in attacking Anthony Weiner for not admitting to his  consensual online sex chats.  And it was only because the news media didn't think Anthony Weiner could cause them any damage.

Back in 2012, when the offices of Charlie Hebdo was  bombed for publishing cartoons that poked fun at aspects of Islam, Jay Carney,  Obama's spokesman, criticized the newspaper for what he called "bad judgement" in publishing the cartoons in the first place which is a little like blaming the rape victim for having the "bad judgement" to wear a short skirt.  No one in the White House press corps criticized Carney or Obama for their blaming the victim point of view at the time.

News organizations in Europe have been publishing the cartoon images from Charlie Hebdo that prompted the attack. That has important news value. It points out  and heightens the absurdity that cartoons ignited the killers, motivated their mission, the mission of others like them and  why they were willing to kill and for what. CNN on the other hand made an editorial decision not to publish the images and gave an official "explanation"as having something to do with not wanting to offend people.  Which is exactly what has made them useless as journalists for years.

The New York Times also refused to publish the image of the cartoon that motivated the attack. Their stated reason? The cartoon was "intentionally offensive". The terrorist attackers thought so too. Which means that the New York Times editorial board has more in common with the terrorists than they do with their readers. 

When you live in a democracy you have the right and sometimes the duty to say anything you want even its offensive to some.  You can offend anyone and anything including the president, congress or any other thing you choose without fear of someone killing you for doing it.  And that is what the American news media should be standing up for. It's what the French people have been standing up for. Its what American journalists run and hide from.

CNN had no problem showing 15 seconds of video of the terrorists and their attack including the killing of a helpless French policemen and showing it about 2000 times over the last 24 hours, repeating it constantly over and over practically non stop while others spoke or gave opinions or analysis off camera. They showed that footage  like it was on a loop, their own special brand of journalistic peep show that CNN pioneered. Which in its own way glorified the terrorists by showing their attack repeatedly, something Al-Qaeda must have loved,  but unlike the European press, too cowardly to show  the cartoons that motivated their murders,too afraid to show the cartoons behind the terrorists desire to shut down freedom of expression that they didn't like.

CNN's stated reason for not showing the cartoons because they didn't want to offend sensibilities is true.  But the sensibilities they were most concerned about offending were those of the terrorists. And if CNN can't be honest about itself is no wonder they can't and don't report the truth about other things.

The real reason CNN and other American outlets didn't show the cartoons  was and is their own fear which is the single biggest operating principle in mainstream American journalism.
And when American journalists do that and act like cowards as they so often do, then terrorists win in trying to suppress free expression.  

What happened to Charlie Hebdo is a good time to remember what was courageous about them in the first place and cowardly about mainstream American journalism. There is a reason Edward Snowden turned over all his files and information on the NSA to Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for The Guardian, a news organization in the UK, and not any American media organization.

Journalists who are afraid have no business being journalists. Because they are useless. Maybe the outpouring of solidarity in France by French citizens in support of freedom of expression and the courage of those killed at Charlie Hebdo will give some American journalists a backbone. If not, at least they won't  have to worry that standing up for principles will be put them at risk.  Just like always. 

But they should keep in mind that while CNN, the New York Times and other news outlets make editorial decisions based on what they think might be offensive to some, what people really find most offensive is the way they report the news. 

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