The News, It Is a-changin': bin Laden and the Mass Media


 

by Walter Brasch

 

It was a little before 9 a.m.

 I was chatting with two students.

 Another student came in, and asked if we had heard a plane had hit a building in New York City.

 We hadn't, but I assumed it was a light private plane, and the pilot had mechanical difficulty or problems with wind turbulence.  

 A minute or so later, another student came in. It was a passenger jet, she said.

 The first student had read the information in a text from a friend, who had received it from another friend, who may have heard it somewhere else. The second student had read it while surfing a news site on the Internet. In a few moments I became aware of how news dissemination had changed, and it was the youth who were going to lead the information revolution.

 A half-hour later, in an upper division journalism class, we were flipping between TV channels, and students were texting with friends on campus and in other states.

 By 12:30 p.m., the beginning time for my popular culture and the media class, every one of the 240 students heard about the murders and terrorism that would become known as 9/11. Most had not seen it on TV nor heard about it from radio. There was no way I was going to give that day's prepared lecture. The students needed to talk, to tell others what they heard, to listen to what others had heard. To cry; to express rage. And, most of all, they needed to hear the conflicting information, and learn the facts.

 For the first century of colonial America, news was transmitted at the pace of a fast horse and rider. But even then, most citizens read the news only when they wandered into a local coffee shop or tavern and saw the information posted on a wall. The first newspaper, Boston's Publick Occurrences, lasted but one issue, dying in 1690. The next newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, wasn't published until 14 years later. Fifteen years passed before there was another newspaper. By the Revolution, the major cities along the eastern seaboard had weekly newspapers, with news from England taking up to three months to reach the American shores and be printed. News from one colony to another might take a couple of weeks or more. All of it was subject to censorship by the colonial governors.

 By the Civil War, reporters in the field could transmit news by telegraph—assuming that competitors or the other side didn't cut the wires. Even the most efficient operation took at least a day to gather, write, transmit, and then print the news.

 Radio brought World Wars I and II closer to Americans. Photojournalists—with film, innumerable developing chemicals, and restricted by the speed of couriers, the mail service, and publication delays—gave Americans both photos and newsreel images of war.

 Television gave us better access to learning about wars in Korea and Vietnam.

 And then came the Persian Gulf War, and the full use of satellite communication. Although CNN, the first 24-hour news operation, was the only network to record the destruction of the Challenger in January 1986, it was still seen as a minor network, with audiences of thousands not millions. The Persian Gulf War changed that, along with the nature of the news industry. CNN built an audience during Operation Desert Shield, from late Summer 1990 to Jan. 16, 1991. On that evening, the beginning of Desert Storm, CNN was the only American-based news operation in Iraq. From the al-Rashid Hotel, its three correspondents and their teams transmitted news and video as the U.S. sent missiles into Baghdad.

 Two decades later, individual media have almost replaced mass media as sources for first information. Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, and innumerable ways to text message now link individuals and groups. Individuals can also transmit photos and video from cell phones to You Tube and dozens of other hosts, making everyone with a cell phone a temporary reporter or photojournalist. It also leads to extensive problems in discerning the facts from rumors and propaganda. The media—individual and mass—have united a world's people.

 In Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt, it was Facebook and Twitter, not state-run mass media, that gave the people communication to launch their protests that would lead to the fall of two authoritarian governments.

 On May 1, in a nine-minute television address beginning at 11:35 p.m., EST, President Obama t old the world that Navy SEALs had successfully completed their mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Those not at their radio or TV sets learned about it from messages and video on their cell phones or computers.

 It is still be the responsibility of the mass media--of radio, television, newspapers, and magazines--to give in-depth coverage and analysis of the events. But, for millions worldwide, it is no longer the mass media that establishes the first alerts.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, the author of 17 books, and a retired university journalism professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow.]

 

 

Brewer joins list of politicians embellishing war records

This week, Gov. Jan Brewer was at the center of yet another firestorm, this one ignited by a story in the Arizona Guardian, which pointed out Brewer had inaccurately claimed her father “died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany.” National media and blogs had plenty to say about Brewer’s comments. In their words:

The Huffington Post reported:

Gov. Jan Brewer is the latest political figure to come under fire for making conflicting statements about military service. In this case Brewer appears to have misstated her father's military record.

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Brewer joins list of politicians embellishing war records

This week, Gov. Jan Brewer was at the center of yet another firestorm, this one ignited by a story in the Arizona Guardian, which pointed out Brewer had inaccurately claimed her father “died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany.” National media and blogs had plenty to say about Brewer’s comments. In their words:

The Huffington Post reported:

Gov. Jan Brewer is the latest political figure to come under fire for making conflicting statements about military service. In this case Brewer appears to have misstated her father's military record.

There's more...

March Madness Strikes the Terror Debates

The Wall Street Journal is absolutely right thatLindsey Graham is tossing up an embarrassing air ball. Graham's effort to get the administration to abandon legitimate federal court trials for suspected terrorists in exchange for the funding needed to close Guantanamo Bay is headed nowhere fast, predicts the Journal.

As I've noted before, Graham doesn't have support for his scheme from either side of the aisle.

Senators with any respect for the U.S. justice system, let alone real concern for national security, know that it's absurd to bargain away the requirement that the 9/11 suspects get a legitimate trial. That means a trial that not only convicts the guilty but reveals what really happened when the United States was ruthlessly attacked on September 11, 2001, and showcases our respect for the rule of law over brutality and political expedience. After all, the US constitution is no bargaining chip - it's survived 223 years, through war and peace, for good reason.

Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and others know that any cheap political points lawmakers might score by abandoning American principles will come back to bite them - particularly if military commission convictions are reversed on appeal. They'll be even more embarrassed when the country looks back a few years from now and wonders how Congress came to abandon the most basic American principles because it was cowed by a handful of thugs eager to be seen as warriors for Allah martyred by the United States government.

Lawmakers speaking out against civilian trials, meanwhile, are so intent on undermining the Obama administration, regardless of their impact on national security, that they're obstructing justice to score political points. Not only do they oppose federal trials, but they won't agree to closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay so long as President Obama remains in office. No matter that scores of military leaders, in addition to former President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain - when he was a presidential candidate - agreed that Guantanamo must be shuttered.

So the Journal's right that Graham can't possibly deliver victory on his proposed compromise. But the paper's conclusion -- that military commissions are the place for KSM & Co. to go -- is based on assumptions wholly divorced from the facts.

Military commission proceedings "since September 11 have been serious and even-handed," writes the Journal in its endorsement of those trials.

Really? Three convictions in eight years - only two of which followed trials that were even contested -- hardly backs that claim up.

Take the case of Salim Hamdan, who military prosecutors characterized as a "hardened Qaeda member" and bin Laden's right hand man. The military jury acquitted Hamdan of all conspiracy charges and three of eight charges for "material support for terrorism." The result was a sentence of only five and a half years - most of which he'd already served. And that was a case that government officials had said was "one of their strongest" against any of the Guantanamo detainees, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have convicted more than 195 terrorists in federal court.

Even Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes and former Bush administration official Jack Goldsmith, writing in the Washington Post last week, acknowledge the weakness of the military commissions. The two note that "serious legal issues remain unresolved, including the validity of the non-traditional criminal charges that will be central to the commissions' success and the role of the Geneva Conventions." Sorting out those issues "will take years and might render them ineffectual," the authors add. They also note that the commissions lack international legitimacy.

Wittes' and Goldsmith's solution, however, is even worse than the Journal's. "Don't bother trying them at all," the two scholars pronounced. "Domestically, the political costs of trying high-level terrorists in federal courts have become exorbitant," they argue, while the "public relations and related legitimacy benefits" of a military commission trial aren't great, either.

So there we have it. Whether and how to try a group of men who are believed to have orchestrated the worst terrorist attack and mass murder ever on U.S. soil has come down to a question of pure politics. "It is time to be realistic about terrorist detention," write Wittes and Goldsmith, and to concede that the time has come to do away with our quaint notions of justice in favor of a new system of indefinite detention without trial. That should be supported, they argue, with new legislation codifying its legitimacy in U.S. law.

To be sure, that's been the de facto response to many of the suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay for the past eight years.

A similar course was briefly considered after World War II, when Winston Churchillreportedly told Joseph Stalin that he'd rather just execute Nazi leaders upon their capture. Stalin, of all people, insisted that they deserved a trial.

Historically, the United States has prided itself as being several steps above Stalin in terms of its respect for the rule of law. But these latest proposals make one wonder just how low some American opinionators and policymakers may be willing to sink.

The 66th anniversary of Pearl Harbor

A portion of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's address to Congress:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

Today we remember those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor 66 years ago.

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