For US journalists: "Jill's Agony, Our Challenge"

From Danny Schechter:

Jill’s Agony, Our Challenge–A Letter to Journalists

Dear Colleague: (If you don’t deal with issues like this, please pass this on to someone who does)

Like many of us, I have been spending the weekend hoping and praying (to the extent that I pray) for Jill Carroll’s release in Iraq. I was touched by an article she had written about her commitment to getting the story out as well as by her mother’s appeal to the kidnappers “to release this young woman who has worked so hard to show the suffering of Iraqis to the world.”

It is certainly true that Jill, like many journalists, is driven by a passionate mission in Iraq. But can the same be said of the many media companies and outlets that had for so long cheered the war on and underreported the suffering of Iraqis? We can and must defend journalists in Iraq. But can’t we also speak up to insure that
journalism itself is practiced in a way that Americans get regular news and information offering context and background so that viewers and readers can form an empathetic connection, not just with one brave reporter but with Iraqis suffering under occupation and war?

I am writing to you, as a 35-year media veteran (CNN, ABC, Nieman Fellow, etc), a blogger, author and critic, to invite you to join me to make sure that this deeper debate is NOT lost in all the focus on one individual and that we as media professionals work for more accountability and responsibility in the overall war coverage.

Yes, I know how dangerous it is in Iraq today and why we have in many instances been reduced to what Robert Fisk calls “hotel journalism.”

But may I ask: were we collectively doing such a better job when it was easier to get around?

“When it bleeds, it leads” type reporting has been all too pervasive.

There has been an “all about us” focus in much of the reporting. Do you think the air offensive, the reconstruction delays, the corruption, the permanent bases, the global propaganda war, black ops, etc. get adequate attention? All of the Abu Ghraib photos and VIDEOS have yet to be released. Where is the follow-up? Why is there still so much “group think on the networks?”

This concern about the media role in the war has obsessed me since the run-up to the war when of 800 experts on all the channels only six opposed the war. We all know about how inaccurately the WMD and Saddam-Osama link stories were covered. I have made a film about this issue called WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception), and now the film is part of a new book called “When News Lies: Media Complicity and the Iraq War.” (Select Books). For many of the reasons I cite about a media slanted towards the war. the book and its argument it makes is on its way towards being ignored.

If 60 percent of the public has now moved to become critical of the war, why are so many of our media outlets still stuck in their patriotically correct perspectives that tend to legitimize the Administration’s stance.

If there were war crimes in Iraq, there were also media crimes. Can we admit that and talk about them? Many of us don’t remember that the Nuremberg Tribunal considered the promotion of aggressive (i.e. pre-emptive) war, not genocide, as the “supreme” crime.

Supreme Court Justice Jackson, our prosecutor there said: “To initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Isn’t it time for our media to change course? Isn’t it time for journalists to speak up and speak out? We challenge other institutions. Why not our own?

Will you consider my case for making the media role in the war an issue? If you decide the issues I raise are important, help me get them reviewed or discussed in the press and media? I am an articulate advocate but fear being marginalized as a “dissident” when it is our media that is out of step with the rest of the world.

We also should be expressing concern over the military tactics being used to find Jill Carroll. ABC reports:

“Operations designed to take her captors by surprise have angered those Iraqis who say troops have blasted their way into their homes, put sacks over their heads and detained their relatives in the search for Carroll, who was abducted on January 7.”

This approach will not win friends for media people. Instead it reinforces a connection between our press and our soldiers.

I am not a media basher; I am a media person like you. I am appealing to journalists of conscience in our business to respond.

You can reach me at danny [at]

You can read more about the book at

( is the website I edit that examines media performance on many issues. Please see our “Tell the Truth About The War Campaign.”)

Thanks for your consideration

Danny Schechter
Executive Editor,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.