Courage In Their Coverage
By David Ignatius
The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 7, 2005; Page A25
DUBAI -- Talking with brave Arab journalists such as Hussein Shobokshi, I hear the passion that animates good reporting everywhere. And it makes me all the more disgusted by recent revelations that my own government has been corrupting the nascent Iraqi free press by planting stories...
...The best of the Arab journalists are my heroes. They are risking imprisonment and death to tell the truth. At a time when U.S. media are having an identity crisis, they remind me what the news business is all about. I want to describe several of them, so readers will understand the energy they are bringing to the Arab debate.
If foreign journalists are risking extreme hardship or even loss of life (and many indeed are), what did journalists in this country risk in presenting truth in the Iraq debate? The end of dinner party invites? Scott McClellan avoiding them in the briefing room? Professional and personal ostracizement doesn't quite equate with being behind bars or the infliction of torture.
On the even of the invasion of Iraq, President Bush held a press conference on March 6, 2003, insisting he had yet to decide to go to war. Here is Elizabeth Bumiller's (New York Times) response to the criticism that the media was too submissive:
"I think we were very deferential, because in the East Room press conference, it's live. It's very intense. It's frightening to stand up there. I mean, think about it. You are standing up on prime time live television, asking the president of the United States a question when the country is about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and I think it made -- and you know, nobody wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time. It had a very heavy feeling of history to it, that press conference."
Is asking a non-deferential question 'getting into an argument'? I mean, if not then, when?
Here is veteran journalist Helen Thomas' take on the situation that day:
"My answer to that is she is absolutely right. It is intimidating, but that's when we should have had more courage. We should have definitely asked for motives for going to war, proof of weapons, and so forth. He should not have been given a free ride, because when you are going to war -- war is killing and being killed. And if we don't have the courage to stand up and ask a question when we are so privileged, we have defaulted on our profession."