Watchdog Blog

Saul Friedman: Reporters, Where’s The Outrage?

Posted at 1:23 am, December 8th, 2006
Saul Friedman Mug

As far as I can tell, among all the briefings, press conferences and punditry, only the liberal Center for American Progress made the connection between the Iraq Study Group and the primary reason for its existence. On the day the group made its report, the center noted, 10 more Americans met violent deaths in Iraq. Actually it was 13 or 14, which means the total American death toll, 2,922 as I write this, is approaching 3,000.

But I heard no one mention this at Tony Snow’s White House briefings or at the James Baker-Lee Hamilton press spectacular. Would it been too unkind or impolite to ask how many more must die while the president and Congress consider the report? Or what they would be dying for, now that the policy has been branded a bungle or the worst order? Or why are they not now pulled into barracks out of harm’s way?

Among the reasons for this timidity and the failure to call bullshit, of which Dan Froomkin wrote, is the seeming inability of too many reporters to allow themselves a measure of outrage, a value judgment of what’s right or wrong, just or unjust. Instead they listened to Snow’s bullshit, without calling him on it and asking him and the president repeatedly and every day about the dead Americans, Iraqis, Afghans.

Why are reporters so reluctant to show outrage? It is not breaking the stupid and outmoded rules of objectivity to tell the difference between right and wrong and pursue the wrong it as a story. At my bureaus–Knight-Ridder and Newsday–we began the day by wondering who is covering injustice with bullshit. Starting with a point of view on an obvious injustice and writing about fairly and accurately is what reporters ought to be doing with every wasted death in a wasted war. Yet unfortunately, too often reporters paint those who do get rightfully angry as nutty or extreme. As Walter Pincus pointed out in a fine Washington Post piece, the Democrats who turned out to be right when they spoke with passion and voted against granting the president were barely mentioned or described as “fiery.”

There was at least one other story that should have provoked a good, caring reporter’s sense of justice: The New York Times’ story Dec. 4, on the obviously inhuman treatment of Jose Padilla, an American citizen who has been convicted of nothing, has been held in solitary confinement for three-and-a-half years. The story, with a still photograph from a video, showed Padilla on his way to the dentist, shackled at his bare feet and arms, flanked by guards in camouflage, riot gear and helmets with dark visors that hid their faces. Padilla is a small man, but his eyes and ears were covered so that he could neither see nor hear. Sensory deprivation is not considered torture, although Padilla’s lawyers and experts say Padilla literally has been driven nuts. Shouldn’t this touch a reporter’s curiosity, to say the least? Is this not something to ask about, at the White House or the Justice Department? Why no anger?

The letter writers to the Times were appalled. “Who can estimate the harm we have done to our individual souls and the soul of our nation…?” asked a letter writer from Los Angeles. Such questions should have been asked on readers’ behalf if not Padilla’s. Anger, even a little outrage is an antidote for bullshit.

4 Responses to “Reporters, Where’s The Outrage?”

  1. Where have reporters put their outrage? « Later On says:

    [...] They should find it. [...]

  2. Carol says:

    too bad that Helen Thomas is the only one who seems to be outraged, and too bad she isn’t part of a new generation, but the end of my parents’ generation…

  3. Mary S. Tucker says:

    Mr. Friedman hits the coffin nail on the head. The only incisive commentary I saw on the NY Times’ story about Jose Padilla’s inhumane treatment was in the NYTimes Letters to the Editors the day after the story. I was terribly ashamed of what my country is doing to that man, and more ashamed at the lack of coverage. Nothing on broadcast or cable news. I don’t look at many blogs. I’m sure Amy Goodman picked up the story on the radio show Democracy Now. But these media outlets are tiny, compared to the massive electronic media institutions that for 6 years have allowed themselves to be snowed by the Bush administration.

  4. Chan Lyell says:

    A good example, I thought, of a lack of outrage (or courage to speak truth to power) came on Meet the Press just prior to the Nov elections, when Dick Cheney asserted, again, that Al-Qaeda had ties w/ Sadaam Hussein, and there followed not one word of objection from Tim Russert; not one question asking for clarification of Cheney’s statement. It was another lost opportunity to demand truth from our government; another lost “bullshit” moment. It’s a under-covered point in Baker/Hamilton is that this administration doesn’t tell the truth, but the more important point is that the Media has failed in its responsibility to demand truthful answers. That, more than any terrorist action, has/will cost this country dearly.

Comments are closed.

The website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.