Journalists And Pretenders

by Richard Macintosh

December 15, 2003


"Beware of being too rational. In the country of the insane, the integrated man doesn't become king. He gets lynched."
—Aldous Huxley, Island

Recently, Australian author/journalist, John Pilger, wrote about the loss of integrity among writers and a corresponding dearth of journalists who are willing to go out and report events as they see them. (1) Real journalists seem to be missing, these days, having been replaced by party hacks and those who kiss the hand of the person who feeds them. Occasionally a journalist may surface, as did Pulitzer Prize winner, Peter Arnett, only to be threatened and removed from his job for telling truth to power. (2)

Government controlled news is a disgrace, of course, but the greater disgrace is that a majority of Americans are numb to it. Furthermore, they just don't seem to care. The Newmanesque, "What me worry?" seems to cover it. Whether this situation is due to willful ignorance or misplaced faith is moot. Essentially, Americans desperately want to believe in their government and they act accordingly. They will find a "newsperson" who will tell them what they want to hear and a photographer who will show them a picture of what they want to see. Nuances are lost on them. Events are black and white, good or bad.

George W. Bush's recent Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad is a case in point. It was a photo op, designed to gull the public into thinking the President really cared for his troops. For the most part it worked, or at least so at the time. The feckless Democrats were temporarily silenced. Here was our "Man" taking care of his "Boys" (and "Girls"). Media attack dogs (and bitches) of the far right lined up to defend him. But the President didn't even trust them, or at least not enough to include them in his entourage. Instead, he took only one "journalist" and five photographers along with him to record the event. (3) Surely this would cause a thoughtful person to question the true purpose of the trip, but it took almost a week for the main opposition party to react.

Popular writer and film director, Michael Moore, wrote a scathing piece about this faux event, noting that the "journalist" and the turkey were all part of a carefully crafted deception. Moore put it in perspective as follows:
So what if it was a bogus turkey? The whole trip was bogus, all staged to look like "news." The fake honey glaze on that bird wasn't much different from the fake honey glaze that covers this war. And the fake stuffing in the fake bird was just the right symbol for our country during these times. America loves fake honey glaze, it loves to be stuffed, and, dammit, YOU knew that -- that's what makes you so in touch with the people you lead! (4)
I think that in the past, journalists of consequence were created and nourished by hard work on site. They made their careers by dogged pursuit of the events they wrote about. These men and women were in the trenches every day. Many, such as H. L. Mencken, didn't bother with college, or university studies, but went directly to work as "cub reporters" following high school. The idea that a journalist would be "created" by a "journalism school" was droll indeed.

These days, however, many journalists are created in "journalism schools," and nourished by moneyed interests. There's a huge difference between loyalty to a craft, that is reporting events as you see them, and obeisance to those who pay you, on the other. The two could not be further apart. Today, journalists of consequence are rare -- Pilger and Greg Palast being two of them. When politicians are able to "embed" writers and feed them information, then there is no journalism. Instead, there are merely court reporters that dutifully write what they are told to write. Julien Benda wrote about this mindset in his work, The Treason of the Intellectuals. (5) This is not to equate a journalist with being an intellectual -- they tend not to be -- but the mindset, the "sell out," is the same. False journalism is more dangerous than false intellectualism, however, because "journalists" reach the mass man, while intellectuals do not, or at least not directly. Journalists can poison in a week what takes a false intellectual a generation to do, if even then.

Mark Twain explained it in simple terms when he recalled the words of a childhood friend: "You tell me whar a man gits his corn-pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is." (6)

Careers, social standing and business opportunities are dependent upon "corn-pone opinions" (at least on the surface). In order to advance, a person must get his or her opinions from other people and reason out none for himself. Most importantly, he or she must have no first-hand views. (7) "Embedded journalists" are a perfect example of this.

All of this is different from journalists like Ernie Pyle, who traveled with the troops and worked along the front lines during World War II. (8) Compare Pyle with the American journalists who received notes and information from uniformed American officers, far from the action in both Gulf Wars. As one who remembers World War II and Ernie Pyle, current American "newspersons" are a bad joke. The only point in watching them on TV, or reading their columns in the local paper, is to get the official government spin on events. The thing to remember is that the purpose of government spin is to enhance the ruling elite and may not have any resemblance to the truth. Once this is understood, perusing the official spin can lead one in the right direction. All one has to do is look for truth 180 degrees from the official spin. Look, that is, if you steel your mind and don't have an uneasy stomach.

When Ernie Pyle was killed, the infantrymen who received his body found in his pockets a draft of a column he intended to release when the war in Europe ended. In that column Pyle wrote that he would not soon forget "the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world.
"Dead men by mass production -- in one country after another -- month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer.

"Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous.

"Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them." (9)
Can you imagine any of our imbedded "newspersons" putting themselves at risk of being shot and -- even more -- writing something like the above? We have a Pentagon that will not even acknowledge Iraqi civilian dead. We have a President who will not attend or acknowledge funerals of those he sent into battle. But I digress...

Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, a friend of Ernie Pyle, had this to say about him:
There are really two wars and they haven't much to do with each other. There is the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions and regiments -- and that is General [George] Marshall's war.

Then there is the war of the homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about the food, whistle at the Arab girls, or any girls for that matter, and bring themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humor and dignity and courage -- and that is Ernie Pyle's war. (10)
Things haven't changed that much. We still have the war of maps and logistics, campaigns, ballistics, armies and divisions. That is the war of people like General Tommy Franks, assorted politicians and their camp following media whores.

Then there is the war of the "grunts," the poor bastards, who do the fighting and killing and dying, while their "betters" never miss lunch. A real journalist would be there with them -- as was Pyle -- not getting a free "massage" in a safe bunker in Qatar.

It's enough to make one sick.

· · · · · ·

References and Resources

1.  Pilger, John. "Silence of the Writers," Common Dreams News Center, November 12, 2003.  (back)

2.  Zzzeek, "Reporter Peter Arnett Fired from NBC for War Commentary," Kuro5shin, http://www.kuro5shin.org/. April 1, 2003.  (back)

3.  Moore, Michael. "Turkeys on the Moon," http://www.michaelmoore.com/ 12-08-03.  (back)

4.  Ibid.  (back)

5.  Aymery, Gilles d', "Julien Benda, The Failure of Imagination and Thought," Swans, March 31, 2003.  (back)

6.  Twain, Mark. "Corn-Pone Opinions," Mark Twain & the Three R's, Maxwell Geismar, Ed., Bobbs-Merrill, New York, 1973, p. 214.  (back)

7.  Ibid.  (back)

8.  Ernie Pyle was a war correspondent during World War II. He was killed by a Japanese sniper on le Jima, a small island off of Okinawa on April 18, 1945. He was traveling with the 77th Infantry at the time. Pyle was a soldier's soldier, one of the men.  (back)

9.  Indiana Historical Society. http://www.indianahistory.org/heritage/pyle.html  (back)

10.  Ibid.  (back)

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Richard Macintosh on Swans (with bio).

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Published December 15, 2003
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