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Continuing to Kill the Messenger
May 8, 2004
By Brad Friedman

As much as I like to criticize the media for being lazy - which they are - I should probably add a word or two in praise of having such an open, independent press in this country in the first place. Such a declaration of the obvious seems hardly necessary - particularly in light of recent events and their constant reminder of how "our freedoms are what the evil-doers hate."

Yet ironically, it too often seems to be precisely those freedoms under attack these days from the Bush syncophants on the hard right wing in the Blogosphere, on Talk Radio and elsewhere.

Instead of speaking out vociferously against the appalling treatment of Iraqi prisoners, these right wingers have - all too predictably by now - chosen to use their time to attack CBS for having aired the story in the first place (after CBS first held the story for two weeks at the request of the Pentagon, I should add).

As this week's Newsweek article and interview with Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski (the commander who oversaw the guards at U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, including those at Saddam Hussein's former torture center at Abu Ghraib, where the photos were taken) reminds us, we are very lucky to have a free and independent media in this country to keep our leaders in check. Especially when they are running so wildly adrift with dangerous and self-destructive foreign policies.

She says she warned her superiors from the first about the ill-treatment of Iraqi prisoners....The trouble was, Karpinski says, she didn't have enough troops or resources to do the job right, and the men at the top ignored her complaints. "They just wanted it to go away," she told NEWSWEEK last week. In the end, several of her soldiers apparently went out of control.

It has been suggested by at least one right wing blog (which ironically calls itself "The Blog of Truth,") that CBS should have informed the administration of what they learned and then simply "shut up" in light of and apparently in support of current policy in Iraq. The blog's author claims not that CBS is biased - the usual tribal rallying cry - but more revealingly, that "they are neutral" and he finds that to be the problem.

But Karpinski's own words underscore the need for the independence of a free - and yes, "neutral" - media, willing to whistle-blow in service to our country - even with the possibility that such reporting may cause short-term damage to existing administration policies.

Karpinski's words, taken only at face value to be sure, since she is currently being held responsible by the military along with the soldiers who actually committed the alleged atrocities at Abu Ghraib, once again underscore the reasons why the fourth estate is so necessary in this country.

Taking her statements at face value - and there should be a paper trail from which to verify them - such behavior, when kept in-house and out of the media, only allows that behavior to continue unchecked. It was, of course, only after CBS went to the Pentagon with the pictures to prove the allegations that the Pentagon finally sprang into action. Since they had presumably already heard the warnings from Karpinski previously, it was only the threat of public disclosure that seems to have forced them to take action.

Of course, CBS could have warned the Pentagon about going public with these pictures, and then not done so after the Pentagon supposedly took appropriate action. But, as Dubya might say, a threat is only good if you follow through with it. If CBS hadn't then released the pictures, after appropriately giving the Pentagon time to adquately respond, it would simply send the message to the Pentagon that they needn't worry about being embarrassed in such a way in the future. They'd have the media in their pocket, which seems to be precisely what the extreme right wing is calling for.

If the right hopes to remain anywhere within the American mainstream after all of this nonsense eases up, they would be wise to re-examine their own self-proclaimed set of "American values" as they continue to perpetrate reprehensible attacks on the messenger instead of the message.

Such behavior surely points up the weakness inherent in their own current positions, but that point must be lost on them, as they continue the same drum beat with every bit of media disclosure that they simply don't care for.

If they continue to avoid such sage advice however, hopefully they will soon find themselves relegated to the same extreme margins of American public policy where they - mistakenly - assume American liberals with real patriotic values currently reside.

Proceed at your own peril, boys.

Brad Friedman is a freelance writer and software designer. He is also a proud "Liberal Hollywood Elitist" sharing all of the great esteem and many rewards that come with it. His blog can be read at

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