?Izzies? for the Unsung Heroes of War Journalism
With Time Magazine honoring three women for blowing the whistle on corporate illegalities and FBI incompetence, perhaps it is time to broaden the frame and single out some journalists and media makers who are sounding the alarm about the rush to war in Iraq. Their work deserves attention too, as the stakes may be much higher.
The Hollywood awards season is now abuzz with speculation. The Golden Globes and Oscars honor excellence in films of the imagination. Maybe it is time for a new award, ?The Izzie,? named after the American journalist I.F. Stone (aka Izzy Stone) who, as columnist and reporter for his independent I.F. Stone?s Weekly, was more consistently right about events in Vietnam than most of the mainstream outlets of his time. Everyone in the news business knows that truth is one of the first casualties in any armed conflict. But knowing that does not seem to inform or improve most conflict reporting.
What would the categories be? There might be the Emperor Has No Clothes Prize. Paul Robinson of the conservative Spectator magazine is already in contention for heresies such as this: ?There exists no legitimate reason for us to wage or threaten war against Iraq,? he wrote recently, ?Saddam Hussein poses no threat to us.?
?As recently as 10 years ago, it is unlikely that any British government would have considered taking military action unless there was a genuine threat to our national security.? Robinson writes. ?Today we are reduced to twitching over fantastic delusions of enormous enemy capabilities and make-believe scenarios of future holocausts, and Tony Blair can drive us inexorably toward an unnecessary and quite unjust war. When we were fighting the Cold War, the British Army Intelligence Corps used to produce a marvelous magazine called Threat. Full of grainy pictures of the latest sexy Soviet equipment, articles about the newest variant of the rear sprocket of the T-80 or BMP-2, and depictions of Motor Rifle regiments attacking from the line of march, Threat drew its readers? attention to a serious danger existing just beyond our borders. The point about Threat is that the capabilities described were real. The equipment actually existed. The tactics had been used in recent military operations. By contrast, the threat? from Iraq is a figment of some overactive imaginations.?
Next, there?s a Take No Prisoners Award for debunkers. Journalists James Cusick and Felicity Arbuthnot of the Glasgow Sunday Herald are my nominees for scooping the rest of the world media on the extent of Washington?s interception of Iraq?s weapons declaration before other U.N. members could even see it. They discovered that ?the United States edited out more than 8,000 crucial pages of Iraq?s 11,800-page dossier on weapons, before passing on a sanitized version to the 10 non-permanent members of the United Nations security council.?
Next, there would be the Lifetime Achievement Award for investigative reporting. One candidate might be Seymour Hersh, now of TheNew Yorker, who has covered nine U.S. administrations and all the wars in between. In a recent interview, he said the Bush administration is the hardest to get access to: ?Oh, it?s much harder. There?s almost a ferocious animosity toward people in the press who ask questions they don?t want to hear. And this is a government that has tremendous influence over cable television, over radio talk. They really don?t need the New York Times, or The New Yorker, or the Washington Post to get their message out, so it?s very hard slugging. This administration is tough. It?s a very punitive crowd, and anyone who steps over the line gets into trouble.?
In the running for most controversial war on terrorism TV documentary is Scottish filmmaker Jamie Doran?s film of an alleged massacre of Taliban prisoners of war last year. It has created a stir in Europe. He says he would lead U.S. authorities to investigate any involvement of American soldiers.
Doran told Reuters?before screening Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death on Germany?s ARD television network (Germany?s PBS)?that witnessses saw U.S. special forces stand by and watch as Northern Alliance allies murdered Taliban POWs. BBC covered aspects of this story at the time, but it was largely ignored by U.S. TV outlets who focused on the death of a CIA agent during the Mazar-e-Shrif prison revolt. They ignored well-documented charges of human rights abuses at the time.
What unites all of these disparate voices, some of the right, and others of the left is their willingness to probe below the surface layers of the conventional wisdom and the official story to take a more critical approach in terms of the questions asked and information offered.
While so much of the news media tends to carry look-alike and think-alike journalism, potential contenders for my imagined ?Izzy? would turn away from accepted and acceptable ways of seeing. They would pursue their craft in the spirit of the Italian thinker Umberto Eco, who advises ?sometimes you have to follow the opposite course and find in dissent the confirmation of your own intuitions.?
Until the prize exists, I will be taking nominees in the spirit of the ?people?s choice? TV awards. What journalists would you nominate? Write email@example.com
Danny Schechter, executive editor of Mediachannel.org, is the author of Media Wars: News at a Time of Terror (Inovatio). ? Globalvision News Network, 2002. Distributed in partnership with Globalvision News Network (www.gvnews.net). All rights reserved.