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Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2001 / 17 Tishrei, 5762

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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The Shaw Doctrine -- JUST what is it about the flag that certain journalists and academics find repugnant? How does expressing allegiance to it conflict with their so-called duty to be objective?

Remember CNN's celebrated anchor, Bernard Shaw? He was so busy receiving accolades for fine reporting that many missed his obscene refusal during the Gulf War to be debriefed by the U.S. military because of his professed obligation to remain neutral in the conflict. It was as though Shaw considered himself more a citizen of the world than of the United States.

The doctrine that emerged from Shaw's appalling spectacle was not that journalists must place their "objectivity" above their patriotism. It was that they dare not be patriotic at all. The Shaw Doctrine is that in times of war involving the United States (not to mention at all other times), journalists must not side with the United States. They are not only barred from displaying patriotism, but from feeling it.

Am I exaggerating? Is that not what neutrality means? I'm sure those defending Shaw's position would argue that he was talking about the need to maintain the appearance of neutrality, not neutrality itself. But Shaw's refusal to be debriefed had nothing to do with appearances. The military was not asking him to report or refrain from reporting any news items to CNN viewers. It was trying to get him to share information that could have affected our national security and American lives.

The Shaw Doctrine flows from a breathtaking arrogance, a delusional sanctimony on the part of some journalists who place their own role above the righteous cause of the nation during wartime. Just what entity do they think protects their right to be objective? What nation is it that safeguards their First Amendment free-speech rights? Besides, since when does loyalty to country preclude American reporters from telling the truth?

Unfortunately, the Shaw Doctrine didn't expire with the conclusion of the Gulf War. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, it has expanded beyond journalism to include the similarly self-exalted domains of academia and some businesses.

ABC News banned its journalists from wearing lapel flags. Barbara Walters explained on "The View" that wearing the flag is discouraged because it may confuse the audience. To the contrary, what confused ABC's viewers was the network's apparent lack of patriotism.

New York's Cable News Channel 12 banned the American flag from its news programming, saying, "We have to avoid giving a false impression that we lean one way or the other." You see, it's not just appearances we're talking about. If leaning toward the United States would give "a false impression," that means they actually aren't on America's side. Incredible.

A Florida company ordered its employees to remove American flags from their desks. The company's policy banning religious and political symbols in the workplace was intended to protect its employees from divisive partisan discussions. An AT&T supervisor made an employee take down the American flag "because of concern that it might offend some people in this culturally diverse city." The chairman of the Sociology Department at the College of the Holy Cross took down a university secretary's flag after she refused to do so. He said that displaying the flag would make some students uncomfortable.

The bottom line is that there is a stench of anti-Americanism in all these bizarre occurrences. There is nothing about the flag that Americans can reasonably consider partisan or politically divisive, especially in wartime. Nothing about displaying it should make any students uncomfortable -- and if it does, too bad. And if the American flag offends some people of "diverse cultures" living here, that is their problem, not ours. Americans have a right to be unpatriotic, but the rest of us have a right to condemn their actions.

Let's not lose sight of what the flag represents. Henry Ward Beecher may have said it best. "Our flag ... has gathered and stored chiefly this supreme idea: divine right of liberty in man. Every color means liberty; every thread means liberty; every form of star and beam or stripe of light means liberty -- not lawlessness, but organized, institutional liberty -- liberty through law. ... Not an atom of crown was allowed to go into its insignia. Not a symbol of authority in the ruler was permitted to go into it. It was an ordinance of liberty by the people, for the people. That it meant, that it means and, by the blessing of G-d, that it shall mean to the end of time!"

David Limbaugh, a columnist and attorney a practicing in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is the author of the just-released exposť about corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department, "Absolute Power." Send your comments to him by clicking here.