Jewish World Review May 18, 2004 /27 Iyar, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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The hyena press | While politicians were expressing their shock to the media over the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, the Iraqi terrorists gave us a bitter lesson in what real shock is all about, with the videotaped beheading of an American civilian who was in Iraq to try to help rebuild the country.

The family of the murdered man begged the media to leave them alone in their pain and sorrow, but there was a forest of microphones and cameras being shoved into the face of his sister by the hyenas of the press.

The media wrap themselves in the First Amendment and proclaim "the public's right to know" but there is also such a thing as common decency — or at least there once was. How much public demand was there to see the anguish of a young woman the day after her brother had been brutally slaughtered by terrorists whom the media have christened "militants" or "insurgents"?

Since the whole purpose of terrorism is to maximize the pain from whatever acts they can get away with, the media are making themselves accomplices of our enemies. Yet, despite their zeal for blaming others, there is seldom a second thought in the media about their own irresponsibility, not even after Communist officials in Vietnam have publicly admitted that they were losing the war on the ground there but were depending on winning the war politically in the American media.

Not one of the Vietnam era media stars has expressed the slightest sense of responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians slaughtered in Vietnam after the Communists took over — more people than were killed during the war that they so much lamented. Nor was this the first time that more people were killed in a Communist country during peace than in war.

Yet the very same media can get very squeamish when anyone calls an evil empire an evil empire or an axis of evil an axis of evil. They were shocked when Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall and demanded that the Soviets tear it down — but they were there with their cameras when the wall was dismantled.

The First Amendment has been with us for more than two centuries but it has not always been a blanket excuse for irresponsibility. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, the cameras were lowered when he appeared in his wheelchair. Everybody knew that FDR had been paralyzed by polio — contrary to silly statements by Peter Jennings and others that the public was kept in the dark — but the word privacy meant something more in those days than just a code word for abortion. The public was not demanding to see pictures of the President in a wheelchair.

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What we are seeing in the media today is a degeneracy that is by no means confined to the media, and is indeed actively promoted in many of our schools that are busy breaking down moral standards instead of educating children.

Along with this degeneracy has come a tragic irresponsibility by people who simply refuse to realize that we are currently engaged in World War III — and were for years, before we were finally forced to realize it by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This war may last longer than both the other World Wars put together and has more potential to end with our destruction as a nation.

Another sign of irresponsibility and degeneracy is the unbelievably cheap level of public discourse over political issues. It is inevitable that we will disagree over policies and laws. But it is not inevitable that this disagreement will take place at the cheap level of attributing sheer stupidity to a man who has flown jet planes that most of his critics seem unlikely to master.

Cabinet members who have sacrificed millions of dollars to serve their country are blithely accused of getting us into a war for the sake of money. The whole country is accused of going into Iraq for the sake of oil, when we pulled out of Kuwait when we could have had all of their oil more than a decade ago.

Some may be saying and doing irresponsible things just for the cheap thrills. But, in a war for survival, with the prospect of nuclear weapons ending up in terrorist hands — pardon, "militant" or "insurgent" hands — cheap thrills can turn out to be unbelievably expensive, when they undermine the national unity needed for strong decisive actions that may become our only hope.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)


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