A recent essay by Ralph Peters’ in the The Journal of International Security Affairs argues in favor of attacking journalists within combat zones. Naturally, he does not advocate killing any journalists-just those in the “partisan media.”
In making his case, he begins with the straw man of the liberal American media: “we can acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that, to most media practitioners, our troops are always guilty (even if proven innocent), while our barbaric enemies are innocent (even if proven guilty).”
This claim seems to be factually incorrect, unless Peters has access to TV channels, magazines and newspapers that I do not. While there are individuals who have this sort of view, the majority of media practitioners have not exhibited this tendency. However, this is an empirical question. We just need to conduct a suitable random survey across the entire media establishment. This would involve assessing what they have said or written. It should also include surveys of their attitudes. While I do not have the funding for this, given the endless claims of liberal media bias made by folks on the right, they should commission a fair and unbiased survey of this sort to settle the matter. As it stands, this perception seems to be unfounded on an adequate survey. If there is such an unbiased, scientifically rigorous survey conducted by a neutral third party, I would like very much to see it.
Peters goes on to make another common assertion from the far right, that the media folks subscribe to an odd religious view: “rejecting the god of their fathers, the neo-pagans who dominate the media serve as lackeys at the terrorists’ bloody altar.” Once again, perhaps my cable service does not get those channels, but I have not seen evidence that most media folks are neo-pagans. No doubt there are some-just like there are Satanists in the military. Again, this is an empirical matter and can be settled empirically. Peters sees the media this way, I don’t see the evidence for that. But, this can be settled easily enough using the method above. As always, I am open to objective and adequate proof.
Peters is right that the media shapes conflict. Information and how it is presented shapes how we see the world. This, as he argues, does make the media a potentially powerful force in any conflict. Naturally, he thinks that the majority of the folks in the media take sides and that this side is not that of America. Because of this, he goes on to say “although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media.”
None of this is new, of course. Even in the United States, the media has been censored in times of war and there have been news blackouts. Other countries military forces have killed journalists-as have terrorists. However, having an actual policy of American forces killing unarmed journalists would be something new (I hope). It also seems a bit odd to call for this, given how the media behaved during the first and second Gulf Wars. They accepted censorship and were generally very positive-especially those embedded with the troops.
Of course, Peters does not advocate harming all journalists and he does acknowledge the freedom of the press. However, he says that “freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.”
Peters view has a certain plausibility. What sort of information is presented by the media and how it is presented does shape how people see the world. If a journalist acts in such a way that American soldiers are harmed and the enemy is aided, then the journalist can be seen as giving support to the enemy. A clear cut example would be revealing troop locations, attack plans, and so on. Of course, I have never seen CNN or even MSNBC doing that sort of thing. It is hard to imagine a professional American journalist doing that, though not impossible. In any case, doing that sort of thing is already covered by existing policies and procedures.
Perhaps Peters has something broader in mind in regards to abusing the troops and strengthening the enemy. Now, if his view is that malicious lies and deceit that are intended to attack our troops and aid our enemies should be dealt with, then I agree with him. Of course, this is already be covered by existing laws and professional practices. If CNN broadcast a made up story about US soldiers strangling kittens and another one that the Taliban existed solely to protect kittens from the evil troops, then that would be libel and slander.
However, I am not sure if he has something much broader in mind here. That is, I am not sure of the standards he is using as to what would count (in his mind) as abuse that kills soldiers and strengthens the enemy.
In my next post I’ll take a look at his moral justification for his view.