When the Media Fails the Public

By: Jonathan Simmons

If ever there was a powerful example of the American media failing the public, it must be the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The media  focused, understandably, on the human cost of the attacks in the days immediately following 9/11. But in their myopic focus on the magnitude and cost of  the attacks, the media largely failed to answer the fifth of the four journalistic W’s — they failed to answer the question “why.”

President George W. Bush answered that question for them on his speech on  Sept. 20. “They hate our freedoms,” the president said,”our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble.”

Osama bin Laden’s speeches and writings were widely available on the internet in 2001, and one statement  from 1998, in particular, laid out a clear list of grievances that served as bin Laden’s justification for attacking the U.S. They included the presence of American bases in the Arabian peninsula, the U.S.’s intervention in Iraq, and the U.S.’s support of Israel. Nowhere did bin Laden mention America’s “freedoms” as a rationale for his war against the United States.

But despite overwhelming evidence that the president had misled the nation, the media largely failed to call him on it, preferring instead to let themselves be carried away by the heady, self-righteous zeal that precedes a war, and rally behind the national leader. By the time the U.S. went to war with Iraq in 2003, the American populace still largely had no idea why the U.S had been targeted by bin Laden on 9/11 or, what relation, if any (and the answer was “none”) Iraq had to bin Laden or al-Qaida. The climate of ignorance which pervaded America in the years after 9/11, perpetuated by a news media, made it a simple matter for the country’s leadership to manipulate the public into supporting wars on two countries few Americans could even find on a map.

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Published in: on April 20, 2011 at 1:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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