Committing Journalism

Committing Journalism in Zimbabwe

Back in April, Barry Bearak was arrested in Zimbabwe and charged with the crime of “committing journalism.” Most countries are more subtle when they suppress the news, but the authorities told Bearak he was guilty of “gathering, processing, and disseminating the news.” Bearak was eventually released due to the incompetence of the local police; they didn’t have the proper documentation to prove that he had in fact committed journalism.

A local friend once made a comment that still has me shaking my head. He quoted Spiro T. Agnew on the three threats to American Democracy.  According to the naysayer of the nattering nabobs of negativity,

The greatest threats to our nation are Communism, Socialism, and Journalism.

Agnew had reason to complain about the press. It was investigative journalism that brought down his boss, Richard Nixon, and led to criminal charges against Agnew. He had taken bribes while governor of Maryland and eventually pleaded guilty to failing to pay taxes on his extortion income after resigning as vice president.

But it’s hard for me to understand why an ordinary citizen would want to see the press suppressed.

Yet right-wing commentators like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh continue to make a good living using the media to blast the media and the press.

The last time I listened to Rush, he raised the question, “Are we better off?” after the news of Abu Graibes was published. The news of the abuse of prisoners set back the war efforts in Iraq. It brought retaliation; it was good publicity for Al Qaida.

Rush’s question implies that the problem was not the abuse of prisoners but the truth. And truth is dangerous. His question implies that “we the people” are better off being kept in the dark, better off not knowing. In the war on terrorism, do we have to destroy democracy in order to save it?

Prison Writings of Red Hog are another case of someone being prosecuted for committing journalism. Eric Alterman (no known relation, but we affectionately refer to him as “cousin Eric”) has written a book called What Liberal Media? He documents how the major news media have been consolidated and controlled by corporate interests, how investigative journalists have been laid off, and how these developments are a threat to democracy. Bill Moyers recently made similar observations.

Partly related, yesterday was the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. I was taught the “official version” in school, that the murder of civilians was necessary to save American (and Japanese) lives by bringing the war to an early close.

I wasn’t taught that Truman’s own Generals and Admirals (Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Leahy) condemned the bombing as unnecessary and barbaric (Ralph Raico, here).

I wasn’t taught that American newspapers were forbidden to report on the radiation damage, and that one reporter who did publish the truth was prosecuted (John PIlger, here).

What do you think? Are we better off being shielded from the truth? Do we need more or less journalism?