Sunday, April 01, 2007

Dan Froomkin's Rules Of Journalism Gor The Upcoming Iran War

Boy, I wish these rules would be posted in newsrooms all across the country:

You Can’t Be Too Skeptical of Authority

* Don’t assume anything administration officials tell you is true. In fact, you are probably better off assuming anything they tell you is a lie.

* Demand proof for their every assertion. Assume the proof is a lie. Demand that they prove that their proof is accurate.

* Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it should make the headlines. The absence of supporting evidence for their assertion -- or a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the assertion -- may be more newsworthy than the assertion itself.

* Don’t print anonymous assertions. Demand that sources make themselves accountable for what they insist is true.

Provocation Alone Does Not Justify War

* War is so serious that even proving the existence of a casus belli isn’t enough. Make officials prove to the public that going to war will make things better.

* Demand to know what happens if the war (or tactical strike) doesn’t go as planned?

* Demand to know what happens if it does? What happens after “victory”?

* Ask them: Isn’t it possible this will make things worse, rather than better?

Be Particularly Skeptical of Secrecy

* Don’t assume that these officials, with their access to secret intelligence, know more than you do.

* Alternately, assume that they do indeed know more than you do – and are trying to keep intelligence that would undermine their arguments secret.

Watch for Rhetorical Traps

* Keep an eye on how advocates of war frame the arguments. Don’t buy into those frames unless you think they’re fair.

* Keep a particular eye out for the no-lose construction. For example: If we can’t find evidence of WMD, that proves Saddam is hiding them.

* Watch out for false denials. In the case of Iran, when administration officials say “nobody is talking about invading Iran,” point out that the much more likely scenario is bombing Iran, and that their answer is therefore a dodge.

Don’t Just Give Voice to the Administration Officials

* Give voice to the skeptics; don’t marginalize and mock them.

* Listen to and quote the people who got it right last time: The intelligence officials, state department officials, war-college instructors and many others who predicted the problem we are now facing, but who were largely ignored.

* Offer the greatest and most guaranteed degree of confidentiality to whisteblowers offering information that contradicts the official government position. (By contrast, don’t offer any confidentiality to administration spinners.)

Look Outside Our Borders

* Pay attention to international opinion.

* Raise the question: What do people in other countries think? Why should we be so different?

* Keep an eye out for how the international press is covering this story. Why should we be so different?

Understand the Enemy

* Listen to people on the other side, and report their position.

* Send more reporters into the country we are about to attack and learn about their views, their politics and their culture.

* Don’t allow the population of any country to be demonized. All humans deserve to be humanized.

* Demand to know why the administration won’t open a dialogue with the enemy. Refusing to talk to someone you are threatening to attack should be considered inherently suspect behavior.

Encourage Public Debate

* The nation is not well served when issues of war and peace are not fully debated in public. It’s reasonable for the press to demand that Congress engage in a full, substantial debate.

* Cover the debate exhaustively and substantively.

Write about Motives

* Historically, the real motives for wars have often not been the public motives. Try to report on the motivations of the key advocates for war.

* Don’t assume that the administration is being forthright about its motives.

* If no one in the inner circle will openly discuss their motives, then encourage reasonable speculation about their motives.

Talk to the Military

* Find out what the military is being told to prepare for.

How many journalists at the big news organizations follow these rules?

It seems to many of us on the left that journalists - perhaps through laziness, perhaps through a need to maintain access - simply parrot whatever it is the people in power tell them. And for at least the last six years, that has meant writing up news stories with a definite right wing narrative.

Praguetwin noted in some comments a few days ago that the administration wouldn't be able to fool the American people so easily over the effectiveness of Bush's surge policy without the complicity and/or enablement of the news media.

That's what so troubling about the Bush/Rove p.r. campaign to resell the war and tar Democrats and war critics as "surrender monkeys" - the news media seems to be dutifully playing its role in dispersing the narrative that the surge is "working" when all the evidence (see here and here) shows that little to nothing has changed in Iraq.

The press has a lot of culpability in the Iraq war. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that this is the result of their allowing themselves to be so thoroughly controlled by the military during the Grenada invasion over 20 years ago. The situation has just gotten worse over the years, to the point of outright manipulation of the media both before and during the invasion of Iraq.

During Grenada, I was surprised at how obediently the media went along with the restrictions placed on them. I'm sure a lot of others felt the same way. But that was back in the primitive,pre-internet, pre-blog days, when people were more isolated than we are now.
It's all a reaction to Vietnam and their absolute fear of being called "liberals" or something other silly thing by wingers. As if asking pertinent questions and writing up gov't claims with skepticism is somehow "liberal".

Good point about Grenada. I hadn't thought about that connection. grenada was kinda the first post-Vietnam "war" where the press acted more like an extension of the Pentagon p.r. office than anything else. Of course that continued during the first Gulf War, Panama, Afghanistan and then the current debacle in Iraq. I can understand the press needing to report cautiously during war, but since the war on terra is never ending, that may mean never getting honest repoting ever again, eh?
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