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Wikileaks: Why is our press ignoring an important story?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

You may or may not know this, but I am a journalist. I attended Syracuse University S I Newhouse School of Communication when it first opened in the 60s. Yes, I’m that old. Along with my schooling came a passionate belief that the press is the 4th Estate, and without a free press holding our feet to the fire, we get lost in our own biased view of the world.

If you’re like me, I’d much prefer to keep my head in the sand and not know all of the gruesome details of wars, and politics, but as an American, I must have the right to read this data should I want to. After all, this is what being an American is.

Recently, Wikileaks made available large amounts of data that were heretofore kept secret from the public re decisions around going into Iraq, numbers of civilians killed, war atrocities, etc. For a day or so, the NYTimes published some of the data, but then it fell off the page and got lost. Was it because there was nothing important in the thousands of pages? I was curious, but frankly, it went out of my mind. Until I heard a story on NPR Sunday (“On the Media” has fascinating conversations about the role of the press), and learned that details from the data were still appearing on the front pages of important newspapers overseas (i.e. The Guardian in UK, Le M0nde in France).

Why? Why is it OK to let something so important fall off the front page? It seems that when polled, Americans had no more interest in hearing about the Iraq war. Geesh. What a bummer, to be wasting our time reading about atrocities, misuse of power, killings, torture! Right: let our soldiers do whatever they are doing ‘over there’, and have thousands of people face death, and we have no interest. And there is no one to remind us?

What does that mean in terms of the media? Does the media not have a responsibility to publish The Truth, regardless of whether or not we want to read it, or regardless of whether it’s good, bad, or ugly?? Has the news become like Dancing with the Stars, or Jersey Shore – we spend money on the lowest common denominator because it sells well and gives us income? Doesn’t the press have a moral obligation – as the Fourth Estate – to lead?

Has the press become so commercial here in America that we are only getting the news that’s palatable? or commercial? Does that not put us at risk to be dimunized, to know only what our government, or our newspapers, or our elected officials want us to know, rather than have all information available for us to choose?

Sometimes, when I travel outside of the US, I’m struck by how much more I find out about what’s really going on both in America and in the rest of the World in their newspapers. Once I was in the UK there was a huge news story, all over the paper and the TV, of a war atrocity that wasn’t written about over here until 2 weeks later – and then, only as an after-thought on the bottom of a page.

As a journalist, I want us to take more responsibility. As an American, I want to have all of the available data at my fingertips should I want to know. It’s my job as an American to know. It’s the media’s job to tell me, not infantalize me, protect me, or hide the Truth.


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