Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Choosing Sides

There's been a lot of talk lately about the MSM and whether they are biased one way or the other. Until recently, I assumed the press had an agenda which was left-leaning and that was it. Over the course of the last few months however, I have come to believe that journalism has lost its soul. This uneasy "feeling" began to take concrete shape when I read this fable by Jay Rosen (and note that he does go off on a slightly different tangent after the first third of the essay). My thoughts were triggered in particular by these words:

There is a story I heard once about the press in Bosnia. I tried to verify it numerous times with people who might know, but I never succeeded. (Possibly I will with this post.) My informants always told me they knew of things like it that had happened in the former Yugoslavia.

Let's say then that it is not a true story, but a fiction about a journalist set in Sarajevo sometime between April 2, 1992, when the Siege of Sarajevo began, and February 29, 1996, when it was declared over.

During the siege a correspondent from a Western news agency is contacted by an intermediary, someone he knows, who has an offer: to go out one night with Bosnian Serb snipers and see for yourself what they do.

A deal is struck, and he accompanies the men to one of their perches in the hills above the city, where they train their rifles on civilians, who might be trying to cross the street. This is where the siege "happens," in a sense. This is the action itself.

"Come here," says one of the men, after he has located a target. The sniper motions to take a look. The reporter, who in his own mind had come to see, leans over and peers for a second or two through the lens of the rifle.

He sees two people who think they are out of range standing in an alley, completely vulnerable. That is when the sniper, retaking the lens, says: which one, left or right?

This alarms the reporter. "I have no answer to that," he says. "I didn't come to be involved in what you do." The sniper throws back his head to laugh, and returns to his rifle. There is a pause. In two quick bursts he kills both people just seen through the lens.

"You should have answered," the sniper says to the Western correspondent. "You could have saved one."

These words struck a cord with me, partly because in my unfinished "Great American Novel" I have written about a photographer who witnessed (and is torn by) similar events.

So now toss into that mix the Pulitzer Prize being awarded to Associated Press Staff who photographed an execution on Haifa Street in Baghdad and the questions being raised about how this particular photographer came to be at the right place at the right time. The AP assertion that the photographer was 300 meters away with a 400mm lens just does not wash. The geometry of the image doesn't support that (at most he was 50 meters but probably more like 30 meters) and there is no way that shot was made with a 400mm lens.

Additionally, we have a CBS photographer arrested after he was wounded while embedded with a terrorist (or insurgent if you prefer) unit.

I can see the argument: a journalist has a responsibility to report both sides of the issues. But here is the moral dilemma: should a photographer film a murder as it happens without trying to prevent the murder? And having filmed a murder, what does it say about him when he sells the film? At what point does being impartial cost you your soul?

In the battle of Good vs. Evil, you can't be neutral.

The only way that the murder of election workers can be seen as not Evil is if the insurgent cause is so important, that the freedom to vote is so Evil that it justifies killing a non-combatant. And the only way to look at a murder without condemning it is to agree with it.

Sometimes things have to be black and white. Sometimes a spade has to be a spade. I can forgive you for calling it a shovel perhaps, but a spade is not a rake. Sometimes, somebody has to say out loud "It's a spade!" Sometimes, you just have to choose a side.

Or lose your soul.


Blogger ljmcinnis said...

Geez Bryan! What do you think about Newsweeks latest debacle? Can you even imagine why they would print such a thing (America's false report of debasing the Koran). Lisa

11:11 PM  

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