Something important in the overall scheme of the American experiment happened this week.
On Monday morning, MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer appeared on cable television screens across the United States and announced: “The news from Iraq is becoming grimmer every day. Over the long holiday weekend bombings killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. And six Sunni men were doused with kerosene and burned alive. Shiite muslims are the majority, but Sunnis like Saddam Hussein ruled that country until the war. Now, the battle between Shiites and Sunnis has created a civil war in Iraq. Beginning this morning, MSNBC will refer to the fighting in Iraq as a civil war — a phrase the White House continues to resist. But after careful thought, MSNBC and NBC News decided over the weekend, the terminology is appropriate, as armed militarized factions fight for their own political agendas. We’ll have a lots more on the situation in Iraq and the decision to use the phrase, civil war.”
The statement followed a similar decision by the Los Angeles Times to drop the pretense of referring to the fighting in Iraq as something other than the civil war it has obviously been for some time. Time magazine and other publications have begun to loosen up on the use of the term “civil war,” as well.
What is important about this development is that, for the first time since the debate about Iraq began, some–though certainly not all–major media outlets in the United States are making their own judgments based on developments in the Middle East. Up until now, major media has, with few exceptions, failed to embrace that most basic of journalistic responsibilities. Rather, it has served as a stenography service for the Bush-Cheney administration.
The Washington press corps has imbibed the assessments, the claims, the lies of the White House and then regurgitated them as “news.” In so doing, they have warped not just the language but the very essence of the national debate. Meaningless phrases such as “stay the course” and “cut and run” have become mainstays of a discussion that has been stage-managed by White House political czar Karl Rove and his acolytes, as opposed to the news editors who are supposed to be calling the shots for broadcast and cable networks and newspapers.
Major media’s on-bended-knee approach to the White House has forestalled an honest dialogue about the crisis into which Iraq degenerated after the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country.
By abandoning the role intended by the founders when they enshrined “freedom of the press” protections in the Constitution–that of checking and balancing executive excess, particularly during periods of one-faction or one-party political dominance–major media failed the Republic at precisely the point when its intervention on the side of realism was most needed.