Moral Responsibility and the Barbara Walters Interview

December 19th, 2011 by Andy in Deconstructing The Media

I’m not sure who the actual author of this blog posting is, but they nail the whole issue of our modern day so-called journalists abject subservience to power. Journalism and the Fourth Estate used to be about challenging power, not serving it. And the extent to which our modern media has totally compromised itself to not actually challenging forthright the issues of the day is laid out in this comparative study of how one of America’s media elites treats the head of state of a foreign nation in comparison to how they would a representative of our own government, and why that is.

It is impossible to imagine the type of grilling that Barbara Walters gave Syrian President Bashar al Assad, in this intense, aggressive interview broadcast today, being directed at any American policymaker. We see this type of interview from time to time on the cable news networks. I wrote recently about Anderson Cooper’s tough exchange with the Syrian ambassador to the UN, for instance. These type of interviews make some predictable headlines around the internet, and they serve the simple purpose of promoting an image of these networks as “serious” and “legitimate” outlets of journalism. This perception quickly fades amongst most viewers, I think, but it still serves a useful (if passing) function.

Of course, it is quite easy to condemn the actions of other nations. And it is not particularly courageous to do a tough, no-bullshit interview with one of the most isolated and hated leaders in the world. Surely our foremost responsibility is towards the actions of our own government, not someone else’s. And this is where our media, and our media personalities like Walters, repeatedly fail us. It is a basic moral point: that we are primarily responsible for the consequences of our own actions, not for the actions of others. In turn, our efforts - as journalists, democratic citizens, etc. - should be focused primarily on critiquing our own government’s policies in the world. Yet in the news media this type of logic has been flipped on its head. What we see is very limited (and often non-existent) scrutiny of American crimes; the assassination of American citizens, the launch of illegal wars, the deaths of whole families from US drone attacks, the establishment of extraordinary rendition programs and indefinite detention facilities like Guantanamo, etc., and heavy criticism of the brutality of other regimes.

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