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War News

October 5, 2005

I see that Andy Rooney has come out against the Iraq War in his recent 60 Minutes commentary.

Shades of Walter Cronkite reporting on CBS News in 1968 that the war in Vietnam was “mired in stalemate” and that “it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

These are serious, widely admired journalists telling it the way they see it. So why do reporters further down the media totem pole get cuffed for expressing similar informed views on life-and-death issues like war?

Recently, I was grilled by a representative of a major news organization investigating why I, a working journalist, was organizing an antiwar protest of the Iraq War. In point of fact, I was doing a poetry reading at an art show commemorating a march by Vietnam veterans protesting our war 35 years ago. I was not the organizer of the event, who indeed hoped that viewers would come to their own conclusions and question the war in Iraq. So that particular line of inquiry fizzled.

But it struck me that the reason for this grilling is that the conventional wisdom in journalistic circles is that journalists should not express opinions on war—even if you have been a soldier and know this particular subject rather well.

As Andy Rooney often says: That got me to thinking. Do sports writers refrain from expressing opinions? Are you kidding? Do political reporters just give us the plain old unadorned facts? Ha! Political reporting more often reads like tip sheets for horse races.

Do war correspondents, in their gung-ho, with-the-troops coverage of military campaigns, not convey a very clear point of view? And have you ever heard of a peace correspondent? What does that tell you about the perspective and priorities of the news media?

Actually, some of us do cover peace issues—as community news reporters. Like to know what I think about what happened at last week’s school board meeting? I didn’t think so. Neither did my editors. In fact, they were more interested in sharing with readers what Andy Rooney had to say about the war in Iraq.

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