April 18, 2006

Media Mischief

Iran's Got Nukes?

(What, me worry?)

Iran's nuke-loving mullahs can take heart in knowing that Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell is calling on America’s newspaper editors to marshal their resources to stop the possibility of military strikes against Tehran’s bomb-making facilities. His comments reveal much about America's mainstream media.

By David Paulin

Iran’s wacky President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raves nonstop about building nukes, destroying Israel, and waiting for the coming of the “Twelfth Imam.” Perhaps he’s playing to the local crowd. Perhaps not. Clearly, Americans and their elected representatives have lots to consider in the face of such batty fanaticism in a post-9/11 world.

How should thoughtful Americans stay informed?

Sorry to say it but forget about reading any balanced reporting in America’s newspapers if Greg Mitchell, the editor of the influential trade magazine Editor & Publisher, gets his way.

Who is Greg Mitchell?

For starters, what Mitchell says is noteworthy: Go to any newspaper and you’re likely to see “E&P” on the desks of top editors. And judging from the popularity of Mitchell’s columns, he carries some clout among those editors.

From his E&P soapbox, Mitchell regularly echoes the themes of the angry left: Bush lied about Iraq; the war is a lost cause; the war on terror is a sham.

Now that Iran looks scarier by the day, Mitchell has taken up another cause: He argues that the press must muster all its resources to stop – yes stop -- air strikes or military action against a “trumped up Iran threat.” No matter that neither Mitchell nor any of the media elite he’s addressing were elected to anything.

“Will Press Put out Fire on Iran?” is the title of Mitchell’s April 13th column. Who else but the press can stop Bush? he asks.

Expanding on his claim that the media has such a decision-making role, Mitchell’s reasoning is revealing. “To those who would say that this inflates the power or even role of the press in America today, I would reply: You don't expect the Democrats to keep us out of war, do you? Just as they would not stand up to the president on Iraq for fear of appearing "weak on terror," they would likely be wary of appearing "weak on the Tehran Bomb."

Spicing up his argument with baseball jargon, Mitchell adds that “the media, usually only a middle-reliever or in a mop-up role on this playing field, might have to pitch with the game on the line.”

Say again? One would think America’s editors ought to be considering how to write balanced stories presenting all sides of the issue - so that Americans can make informed decisions in a post-9/11 world filled with abundant dangers: nukes, terrorism, rogue states, Islamist fanaticism.

Certainly, plenty of facts and issues on Iran must be considered – all revolving around what level of risk and instability Americans, Israel, the Middle East and international community are willing to accept.

But to Mitchell, it’s a closed case. Citing varied reports suggesting that Iran is no big deal, Mitchell says a media-sponsored lobbying effort is needed in order to stop the possibility of military action.

Iran’s mullahs must be pleased at winning over E&P.

“The media dropped its guard in the run-up to the attack on Iraq,” Mitchell argues. “Will they redeem themselves if pressure builds for an air strike or war against Iran?” Answering his own question, Mitchell praises some recent reporting that he claims has cast doubts on the need for military action – reporting, to be sure, that agreed with his own views.

Two themes run through Mitchell’s thinking: First, media elites know what’s best for the public. Second, the public is uninformed and stupid.

Regarding the second point, he writes: “Surely the public would not go for a U.S. attack on Iran, given the Iraq disaster? Think again. A new Los Angeles Times poll - taken before the nuclear news from Tehran this week - found that 48% said they would support military action if Iran continues to produce material that could be used to develop nuclear weapons; only 40% said no. One in four would back use of ground troops.”

In many cases, Mitchell is probably speaking to the converted: senior editors like him who came of age during the trauma of the Vietnam War and 1968 Democratic National Convention. Those were indeed troubled times -- an era when more than a few college kids called cops “pigs” and returning Vietnam vets “baby killers.” That’s when journalists like Woodward and Bernstein were heroes: They inspired a generation of kids to go to journalism school.

Now, many of those journalism grads are in top media positions. Unfortunately, many are still living in the 1960’s. Somebody ought to tell Mitchell and his elitist media pals that the mainstream media long ago used up whatever laurels it had.

Times change, something that’s underscored by the top ten jobs Americans now regard with the greatest respect. According to a recent survey by Salery.com and America Online, soldiers come in No. 2 (after physicians). Police officers were No. 8.

And where were journalists? They didn’t make the list. No wonder the public is skeptical about news coming out of Iraq.

How to explain this reversal of fortunes?

The rise of the Internet and blogs, of course, has much to do with it. Both have had a beneficial and democratizing effect on the flow of information -- helping to expose everything from Jayson Blair to Rathergate and untold other instances of shoddy journalism.

E&P Online Editor David S. Hirschman acknowledges as much in a April 14th column that debates the pros and cons of the rise of bloggers and web sites -- whose rising popularity, he notes, has coincided with the mainstream media’s decline. Its title:
“Creeping Democracy of Web Influences Print Coverage.”

No kidding.

What caught my eye, however, was this zinger: “So what can newspaper editors and publishers do to reclaim their power as arbiters of public taste? So far that's unclear.” David, I see why Greg hired you.

(This was posted on April 23, 2006, at 4:30 a.m. CST. It's nearly identical to my April 18th post except for some light editing and the addition of hyperlinks.)

No comments: