Terrorism and Media Responsibility

The beheading of Nick Berg will undoubtedly cause the usual suspects to claim we had it coming, due to the Abu Ghraib abuses. This is, of course, a ridiculous comparison. If the terrorists wanted actual revenge, they could have stripped Berg and led him around by a leash. Tit for tat. Instead, these cowards took things to an entirely new level. While their heads were covered, they removed Nick Berg’s.

The media are being played by the terrorists here. Will they react by repeatedly airing photos of the beheading? After all, the photos from one prison are have been aired so many times that it has been made into an international incident. I mean not to minimize the wrongful actions of the dim-witted, sick-minded American soldiers who committed the acts, nor to excuse the cowardly murderers of Nick Berg, but the media has had the wrong focus. The Abu Ghraib photos or Iraqi prisoners were shown by American media who in doing so help America break the Geneva Convention. The focus of the media investigation should not have been on the Iraqi prisoners but on the behavior of the soldiers. How many photos does one need to see to get the idea that the MP’s behaved badly? Jonah Goldberg makes a good point:

CNN’s Aaron Brown defended the release of the first wave of pictures, in response to my column, saying, “You don’t appreciate what happened in that prison until you see it.”

Maybe so. But that is a new standard for the media, one that is rarely applied evenly in all cases. If showing snapshots and images reveals the truth better than words, then why do networks refuse to show “so-called” partial-birth abortions? After all, that whole debate is over the nature of the procedure. Going to the videotape would surely settle it better than any news anchor.

The Abu Ghraib images are so shocking, so offensive, and so sensational they will in all likelihood make America’s job in Iraq and the Middle East immeasurably harder for a long time to come. That means more American deaths — such as Berg’s — more Iraqi deaths and a diminished future for that country and that region.

I don’t support censorship. The government has almost no role in this. But if CBS showed the same self-restraint it did for, say, the Danny Pearl video, it could still have reported the story shedding light instead of heat.

I originally wrote that CBS should be “ashamed” for airing the photos. I now concede that might be too harsh. But, in conceding that, I’m showing more reflection and self-examination than I’ve seen from the entire media establishment amid the Abu Ghraib hysteria.

In an attempt to be unbiased in reporting, CBS and the other media who have sensationalized the photos have played more than an impartial role.

As we saw from the cowardly acts of yesterday, there is more at stake than just a presidential election. Impartiality does not equal “against America.” The media is not responsible for Nick Berg’s death—that dishonor goes to his hooded murderers, but the media do need to realize that there is a difference between ability (to show photos, etc.) and obligation.