Does journalism warp reasoning?

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How does this happen? How do trained and professional journalists write editorials that, day after day, seem to defy common sense?

This week a soldier with a nickname right out of a mid-20th century, all-American sit-com, Staff Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick, pleaded guilty to eight of 12 counts of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

Frederick admitted that he knew his behavior — including the attachment of wires to a prisoner to make him think he could be electrocuted — was wrong at the time he engaged in it. His admission earned him a sentence of eight years in prison, and the judge stripped him of rank and pay.

If a noncommissioned officer in the Army repeatedly and openly does what he knows is wrong, his actions suggest he has little fear of punishment. Frederick said an Army investigator encouraged him and other guards to mistreat prisoners and prescribed various abuses, which they enthusiastically exceeded.

If a sergeant knows prisoner abuse is wrong, the senior commanders in Iraq should have recognized wrong when they were apprised of it by Red Cross workers in Iraq.

Also disturbing, Frederick had worked at a Virginia state prison. Other reservists at Abu Ghraib had experience working in U.S. prisons. War warps human behavior, but the link argues that audits of prisoner treatment in the United States are in order.

Excuse me while I stare at the editorial with my jaw agape. Of course the public was disgusted with what happened at Abu Ghraib, but the public also knew, unlike so many professional journalists, that it was an isolated incident and not reflective of our military as a whole. And what is this “war warps human behavior” statement? Where is that from and what does it mean? Should everyone who has ever served in a war be considered warped and be barred from society?

Let’s try this: if some journalists, like Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Jack Kelley, Janet Cook and Dan Rather, sully the profession of journalism through lying, plagiarizing, and promoting stories containing fake backup, should we then condemn the journalism profession as a whole? No. That’s not what we are supposed to do. Here is what the Chronicle‘s editors told us after the Dan Rather faked memo problem exploded:

Conservative critics of the mainstream news media will attempt to tar the daily press, as well as ABC and NBC, with CBS’s sins. The network’s unprofessional behavior draws attention to the three broadcast networks’ loss of audience and prestige, but CBS blundered on its own.

CBS’s sins shouldn’t tar the daily press. All right.

What if some newspapers and publishing companies are being investigated about circulation numbers, should we suspect all newspapers of inflating their numbers? Apparently not, because the editors haven’t written an editorial on the Enron-like scandal within their own industry:

Ordinarily, the press gives a hot-diggity-dog ride to corporate corruption stories. If it’s a banking, real estate, or stock market swindle, it wins multipart coverage on Page One [unless it’s the Enron scandal in Houston — the Chronicle missed that one]. But, despite the fact that newspapers are a $55 billion business, the press has largely tamped down the circulation scandal, burying its scant coverage in the business pages.

But the editors DO think that this soldier’s actions, which are obviously not representative of 99% of our fine military men and women, should lead to a nationwide audit of conditions in U.S. prisons.

Think about that.


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About Anne Linehan 2323 Articles
Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.