The Duties of Journalism

The irony of Fox News Watch’s being preempted for war coverage of late is that I have more time than ever before to watch the news, if less of an opportunity to discuss it.

I’ve watched hundreds of reports by embeds and hundreds of reports by non-embeds and hundreds of reports from correspondents at the White House and State Department and various other outposts of officialdom.

I’ve heard hundreds of sound bites from generals -- some of them retired, some of them active, some of them aspiring.

I’ve read opinions on all matters military from all points on the political spectrum, extreme left to extreme right, from "get out of Iraq now and apologize to Saddam" to "bomb the country off the map and apologize to no one."

And I’ve read about journalists, what they are doing, what they should be doing.

I’ve read, for instance, that Peter Arnett is a hero, a traitor, a victim of the right-wing media establishment and a role model for independent journalists all over the world; that he should be strung up by the toes and have a medal pinned to his chest.

I’ve read that Geraldo Rivera is gutsy, irresponsible, hard-hitting, egomaniacal, refreshingly candid, appallingly self-serving and the possessor of an "irresistible rogue persona."

And then I read what is perhaps the most sensible collection of words to have been published in the United States since the fighting in the Middle East began. The author is Debra J. Saunders, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, who, with extraordinarily uncommon sense, writes that American journalists should be rooting for an American victory in Iraq.

"There are certain issues," she says, "on which thinking Americans don’t disagree. Discrimination against minorities is bad. Period. (There are disagreements on how to achieve racial equality, but not whether racial equality is desirable.) A free press isn’t optional -- who would want to live in an America without it?

"The same bias should apply to U.S. victory in Iraq. Yes, serious people can disagree on whether U.S.-led forces should have gone into Iraq, but serious anti-war Americans understand the consequences of a U.S. capitulation."

What Saunders is saying with regard to journalists, it seems to me, is that objectivity is not the same thing as neutrality. Reporters should strive for the former, reject the latter. And, to the great service of their viewers and readers, many reporters are doing just that. As Saunders points out, "the American people are getting the facts. Voters know U.S. forces have killed civilians, that Hussein’s thugs have killed Iraqi citizens, and that the fedayeen have posed as civilians to kill allied troops."

She further goes on to say that "the American media are running negative war stories. News outlets have obsessed on Lt. Gen. William Wallace’s assertion that the war would last longer than the Pentagon anticipated and, ‘The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we war-gamed against.’"

But Saunders insists, correctly, that the sympathies of American journalists should never be in question, should never be cloaked in the false garb of nonalignment. The fundamental justice of the American position and the fundamental barbarity of the present Iraqi regime should be the basis upon which their reports are founded.

Saunders knows this. What she also knows, what makes her sense so uncommon and her column so perceptive, is that a journalist does not have to give up his citizenship to tell the truth.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.. ET/8 p.m. PT .

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