Clichés have acquired a bad name. Clichés have a reputation they don't deserve. The reason clichés become clichés is because they're true.
The current mantra -- as we are supposedly in a "war" against an enemy we know not where, mainly because he may live down the block -- is that "in war, the first casualty is the truth." All true, of course, which is the reason it is now a cliché.
The late and great Southam columnist Charlie Lynch, who got more fun out of journalism than anyone now living or dead, was accredited to the British Army from Reuters in the Normandy Invasion. On the troop ship crossing the English Channel, Charlie played the piano to entertain the terrified kid soldiers who were about to die. He met and drank with Hemingway in France and, as he gleefully recorded in his memoirs, tended the cash register in a French whorehouse that tended to the needs of the Allied troops.
British journalist Phillip Knightley in 1975 published a fine book: The First Casualty -- From the Crimea to Vietnam; The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker.
He had interviewed Charlie Lynch 30 years after the latest war to make the world safe for democracy -- Woodrow Wilson's description of Dubya Dubya One -- and concluded that Lynch "had grasped the nettle." He quoted him: "It's humiliating to look back at what we wrote during the war. It was crap -- and I don't exclude the Ernie Pyles or the Alan Mooreheads. We were a propaganda arm of our governments. At the start the censors enforced that, but by the end we were our own censors. We were cheerleaders. I suppose there wasn't an alternative at the time. It was total war. But for God's sake, let's not glorify our role. It wasn't good journalism. It wasn't journalism."
All true, but individual scribblers had no choice, since they had editors and bosses at home who wrote the checks. What is more than somewhat disturbing is when the bosses fold.
After the fiasco of the "pregnant chads" last year in Florida, all the heavyweights in American journalism set out to find out the truth. It was already established that Al Gore, not George Bush, had won the popular vote across all America. The only question -- as to who would become president -- rested on the nutbar antiquated Florida voting system.
After the U.S. Supreme Court, in a still-disputatious decision, in effect ruled Bush would be president, The New York Times, Washington Post, the Associated Press and other prestigious papers hired a respected Chicago research firm to dig into the dimpled chads and other detritus to find out who actually voted for whom in Florida. The firm finished its work shortly before Sept. 11.
The Times, and its journalistic colleagues, have announced -- in our moment of peril -- that they do not have the time (or the resolve?) to dig into the result of the research. Rally around the flag. In times of war, the first casualty.
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