The actions of Americans in response to the attacks are also speaking for themselves. Again, the media are letting them. They are showing the pictures of rescue effort and prayer vigils and American flags so big that it takes a stadium-full of athletes to hold it up. For the most part, they are still reciting their words in somber and appropriate tones.
The last sixteen days have seen calamity at its worst, but Americans and their media at their best. Yes, journalists have made mistakes. Yes, they have gotten a bit full of themselves. And yes, they have sometimes seemed to urge retaliation to an irresponsible degree. But they have kept Americans well informed and emotionally connected to their countrymen at one of the most trying times in U.S. history. Whether they have worn ribbons and tiny flags on the lapels of their jackets or not, they have been, by the very fact of their reportage, their countless hours of TV time and their countless pages of newspaper and magazine space, leaders in the grand campaign of recovery.
And as my friend Jim Pinkerton pointed out on last week’s edition of Fox News Watch, the media have even, for a time at least, given us a respite from the heartbreakingly misguided values of the celebrity culture. Ceasing their fixation on off-key singers, no-talent actors and ego-riddled athletes, the media have instead been telling us about firemen and policemen and ordinary citizens standing in long lines to donate blood. Ceasing to fixate on stars, telling us instead about heroes.
But what’s next? For the country, the answer is almost certainly a move to war. For the media, I hope, the answer is a move to the back-burner.
As has been said many times, a war against terrorists will be difficult to fight. But it will also be difficult to cover. U.S. forces are likely to be engaged in places where journalists cannot easily go, and those forces are certain to be engaged in activities that journalists should not be reporting to the American public in an irresponsible manner—and in some cases, should not be reporting at all.
In this sense, both the government and the media are in the same predicament. Both must deal with an enemy—and thus, a kind of warfare—that is historically unprecedented. Both must act in ways new to them. Both must put the welfare of the nation ahead of partisanship. Both must reject the notion of personal gain.
As all of this goes on, much will be required of American citizens. We will be asked to supply the war effort with time and energy, money and manpower. But we must also supply it with trust. We must assume that our elected officials, and those whom they have in good conscience appointed to advise them, know what they are doing.
For that reason, we must also hope that the media content themselves in the coming days with reporting rather than investigating, with reticence rather than rashness. We do not want scoops that compromise the efficiency of military operations. We do not want rumors that compromise the safety of men and women in combat. And, must of all, we do not want journalism with an agenda, the kind of personalized reporting that might inflame some Americans because they think our nation is not doing enough, and that might inflame others because they think our nation is doing too much.
When the war comes, I want to see soldiers—not journalists—on the front lines.
When the war comes, I want to make up my own mind about it based on the performance of our military and my own notions of justice.
When the war comes, I want it to speak for itself.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 11 a.m. ET/9 a.m. PT.