Everyone with a civilized bone in his or her body thinks the prisoner abuse is unwarranted, unacceptable, and in our most idealistic moments, un-American. There, I said it. Now let me say this: The arrival of the Iraqi prisoner abuse story shows what Jim Wright once called "mindless cannibalism" can overtake the media's war reporting.
While reporters murmur about the White House trying to do "damage control," they do not describe their own activity, best defined as "damage overdrive." There is nothing sicker than to see the Katies and Matts clucking about how these pictures will do us great damage around the world - and can we show them to you again, for the fifty-seventh time, for the fourteenth straight day? The media's concern for America's image is no match for their power lust to rid Washington of Donald Rumsfeld, and - they dream - eventually President Bush as well.
Does America have the "right to know," to see every image of smiling American morons at Abu Ghraib? To see every image of the horrors of the war? Contrary to what they might say on the chat-show circuit, the media themselves do not have an absolute position on that. Look no further than March 31, when a vicious mob shot four American contractors, mutilated them, burned their corpses, dragged them through the streets, and hung body parts from bridges. Like the prisoner-abuse story, this was the ugliness, the horror of war. But in this case, most in the media determined the public did not have a right to see the pictures.
Notice the great irony behind the Abu Ghraib pictures. Because they are less graphic and disturbing, since the prisoners are being humiliated, and not killed, they are more acceptable for airing, and then more acceptable for complete over-airing. The end result is that Americans are inundated with visuals of injustices committed by Americans, and lost is the reality of far graver and more frequent atrocities committed against Americans. Reality gives way to the perception of reality, all in the name of "news."
Now, the media elite are showing us the most remembered gloomy images of Vietnam, the war America lost when Americans lost heart. By putting those Iraq pictures next to these, the media are vying for similar results. If not, why make all the comparisons? Why are our media taking sexual humiliation and comparing it to the Kent State shootings, or more outrageously, the mass murder at My Lai? Do they have no ability to distinguish between these, or do the ends justify the means, with one image just as good as the next one?
Our networks are good at broadcasting how we have stoked the outrage of the Arab world. But those same networks never used the butchering of our contractors in Fallujah to discuss how the Arab world has stoked our outrage.
Our enemies get no media investigations, no media scrutiny. Our carping critics in the "world community" - from the Europeans with their buddy-buddy Baathist relationships to the corruption-plagued United Nations - get no media investigations, no media scrutiny. There is no feeding frenzy on anyone who has opposed the Iraq war. They are all immune. We are the only failures. We are the only ones worth criticizing. Even our enemies get more credit for effectiveness than we do.
On the night of the contractor-killing, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw on three occasions used the words "barbaric" or "barbarism" to describe the event. But he also mentioned "the sophisticated and effective hit and run tactics of the insurgents" and described the attacks as "a classic example of asymmetrical warfare, which has been so effective for the insurgents."
CBS used the Fallujah attacks on contractors for a more desperate political ploy: to portray Bush's economy as sinking. Dan Rather asked: "What drives American civilians to risk death in Iraq? In this economy, it may be, for some, the only job they can find."
But the Fallujah attacks were a two-day story at best, quickly abandoned for a fraudulent story of a Wisconsin girl who claimed to be abducted because she knew the TV networks would take the bait. And now the networks are back on Iraq, babbling endlessly, passing moral judgment, touting their own moral authority. They have none. They tout the "right to know" as they exploit the right to sensationalize and propagandize. In return, we get the right to lose the war.