March 19, 2005

Gruesome In Iraq

Via Susan Madrak, a new study on how the media reports the war in Iraq:
Many media outlets self-censored their reporting on the Iraq invasion because of concerns about public reaction to graphic images and content, according to a survey of more than 200 journalists by American University's School of Communications.
Stomping around here is, of course, the grand question of whether the media should get to censor what we see. Or whether the media should hold the hands of their viewers and decide that they alone—ABC, CBS, the New York Times—knows what is and is not appropriate for human consumption. Admittedly, that debate's not very interesting to me; I don't think "taste over truth" is ever the way to go, and when possible, I'd prefer not to have the media decide what I should and should not be privy to (though some filtering is always going to happen). I've heard it said that too many graphic images would take away our ability to think about the war in a calm, considered way—as if war was a calm, considered thing.

But there's a better and simpler reason for media openness, I think, and a reason for showing the most gruesome of images: namely, that these pictures are already flashing and blaring all over the Middle East. There are exceptions—al-Jazeerah toned down the guts and gore during the November assault on Fallujah—but guts and gore tend to be the rule, and they quite obviously shape perceptions about the United States. So I'm not sure how American voters are supposed to understand what's going on in the Middle East, in the minds of Middle Easterners—and more to the point, elect leaders who can respond appropriately and "win hearts and minds"—if we don't even get to see what they see? It's impossible. Anyone who thinks we can perform good public diplomacy by just getting al-Hurra (the U.S.-friendly station) to tape a few more school paintings is delusional. Show it all.
-- Brad Plumer 3:23 PM || ||