The shock and dismay over Gary Webb’s death this weekend has further driven home the notion that an unabashed and cowardly American media is killing its own, softly.
A decidedly authoritarian editorial process, dominated by the spokespersons for the who’s who in American society, has largely kept the media on the Right side of American wars. Two of those wars, the one against the Sandanista and the one against drugs, proved to be the undoing of Webb, who had the courage to buck the mighty press corps.
And the cowardice is not merely dating back to 1996. As this nation’s newspapers salivate over the possible trial of Pinochet over Operation Condor, no American newspaper listed in the Lexis-Nexis archives has yet published a story this past month that even dares to put the name Nixon in the same story as Pinochet. None. In the last 30 days!
The only two newspapers that show articles on the database putting Pinochet in context with Nixon are The Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen, both Canadian newspapers.
So why is it that the heavyweights of the American press can not bring themselves to examine Pinochet’s crimes in context of their own nation’s bankrupt policies ranging from the acts of September 11, 1973 to Operation Condor? Is it because some of them, indeed, served as speech writers and advisors to Nixon? How long do you have to be out of bed from the White House before the gum is wiped off your lips?
Surely 30 years should be enough time. But not so for The New York Times or the Washington post.
It is laughable that these newspapers expected to be taken seriously in their apology to the public for misleading them in the run-up to the Iraq war, when, in almost every American war, be it domestic or foreign, these newspapers have exhibited cowardice in not daring to be anything more than stenographers for the powers that be.
Sure, once or twice a year the giants of our industry will publish something that passes for a critical look at American foreign policy. The New York Times has published two reports this year that mention Nixon and Pinochet together, one of them was buried in Section E (Arts/Culture). The Post has published three, two of them were buried in the Style section. This record is all the more interesting when one considers that both these newspapers have published dozens of stories this year that mention Pinochet. The connection between Pinochet and Nixon, therefore, is clearly not an editorial priority for the Times and the Post.
So much for institutional memory and a perceptive press! And of course, at precisely the time when it is most important, and most newsworthy to revisit the flaws and foibles of American power, the hot shot editors seem to develop a particularly troublesome case of amnesia.
Of course, God forbid that the American mainstream press should develop an attitude to examine America first. The reasonable question is, will it ever report on Americans to blame when blame is justified? Or is their moral courage limited to endorsing the lesser of two evils once every four years?
Don’t take my word for it – give it a twirl. How many stories mentioning Hamid Karzai with Unocal in the last two years? One in Times, none in Post. How many reports that mention Karzai in this same time period? Over 350 in the Times, over 250 in the Post. Why is Karzai’s relationship with an American gas company relevant? Well, that would be the historical perspective now, wouldn’t it.
Why are most of American-sponsored foreign leaders usually former salesmen for gas, oil, weapons, drugs or any other commodity thereof? Don’t rely on the Times or the Post to tell you. Not when it was the anti-Sandanista Contras, and certainly not when it is the anti-Taliban Afghans.
As the only country with a First Amendment that requires constitutional protection of the freedom of the press, it never ceases to amaze me how readily American scribes prostitute their talents at the altars of power. Those that actually dare cast a skeptical eye rarely make a living out of it. And sadly, way too many die of it.
Abhinav K. Aima (email@example.com)
is a journalism instructor at University of Minnesota, Duluth.