The Common Good

Bob Francis: Can You Help Me Find the Free and Independent Press?

Bill Moyers Journal aired a great program Wednesday night called "Buying the War," a commentary asking how the mainstream press got Iraq and the question about WMDs so wrong in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion. You can click here to watch it or read a transcript online.

I lived in Amsterdam from November 2002 until September 2003, so I was out of the U.S. media's reach during the time Moyers covers - the time the Bush administration was building the case for war. While Americans were bombarded with ominous messages of fear and imminent danger, I was in a country where the messages were ones of incredulity at the U.S.'s lone-ranger arrogance in the face of the wishes of most of the international community. After the invasion, the European voices turned to anger and defiance, and poured into the streets and squares in protest.

Major European cities, including Amsterdam, held anti-war rallies involving tens and even hundreds of thousands of people in those first months after the invasion. It has taken the U.S. four years to get to that point. While a small number of Americans were against this war from the beginning (including some in the Christian community), it has taken the general public nearly four years to reach the level of disapproval and outrage Europeans voiced since the moment "shock and awe" hit the ground in Baghdad.

That begs the obvious question of input - what were the messages being fed the U.S. public at a time when the rest of the world was seeing things very differently? As Moyers points out, dissenting views in mainstream American media were hard to come by back in 2002 and 2003. While now it might be more "in vogue" for mainstream press to question the war, where were those voices four years ago? This is a serious indictment of our supposed free and independent press, especially during times when it matters most. It is not that some news sources wouldn't have toed the administration's line in the months leading up to the war, but most dismaying is the point Moyers brings out, that any dissenting views were marginalized or wiped away altogether. Dan Rather, who - as did all major network anchors - supported the invasion and bought the "evidence" the administration was peddling, said that unspoken pressures in the newsrooms were that no network wanted to be perceived as unpatriotic or, worse, supportive of terrorism. Concern for viewership and the bottom line overrode concerns for truth and fairness in reporting. Waving the flag loudly and proudly is simply better for ratings, and that remains true today.

Those dissenting voices existed four years ago, but they were not allowed to speak on the biggest stage during the most critical time. Four years and thousands of body bags later, we are the worse off for it. Where was the free and independent press when we needed them?

Bob Francis is the Organizing and Policy Assistant for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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