How to acquiesce in a national catastrophe: a case study featuring the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

December 8, 2006 | By | 4 Replies More

Take a look at the front page of today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

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You can see the photo of an Iraqi man grieving over the body of his three-year-old daughter outside of the Baghdad hospital.  According to the paper, “the girl was killed and three other family members injured when they were caught in crossfire as clashes erupted between gunmen and US forces.”

The lead story starts with this assertion:

The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.  The current approach is not working, and the ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing.

This story line and this photograph clearly impugn the integrity of the United States.  Publishing such information is unpatriotic.  Or, at least, those are the sorts of things we’ve been told, until recently. 

It was always OK to publish pictures of our proud soldiers and our high-tech missiles taking off, of course.   It was up to Al Jazeera and the Europeans to publish pictures of what happened when those missiles exploded on the ground, however.  And when those non-American media sources published those photos of Iraqi civilian carnage, it infuriated “America.”  It’s not that American soldiers weren’t also credible witnesses to the civilian killings on the ground.   The evidence was there to be published, if anyone cared to know. 

For most of the past 3 1/2 years, the Post-Dispatch (along with most mainstream newspapers across the United States) did not publish pictures like this, certainly not in prominent places.  It simply wasn’t deemed news until recently.  Deemed news by whom?  That’s what this post is about.

It’s now okay to publish these sorts of articles and to put graphic pictures of dead and maimed civilians on the front page.  It’s not simply a matter that the topics of these stories and photos have suddenly become relevant.  What the Post-Dispatch is now showing is old news that has always been relevant, always compelling.  Tens of thousands of families have been devastated by deaths and injuries throughout this unjust and unholy war. 

Until now, we haven’t before seen photos like these on the front page because Iraqi civilian casualties were not deemed “proper” news.  Graphic portrayals of Iraqi civilian casualties are now “news” only because those holding political power are now finally voicing public concerns that President Bush’s war in Iraq is an abject catastrophe.  Those holding real political power can no longer think of ways to spin reality hard enough to fit the warped world views of our pathetic president.

This recent political blessing that it is now OK to show Americans photos of dead and wounded civilians in Iraq illustrates the real-life role of the mainstream media.  The mainstream media functions as a stenographer for those who wield political power.See, for example this documentary by Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow.org.  The mainstream press has no need to report anything except the official government line unless and until dissenting voices can somehow obtain real political power of their own. It is not mainstream news unless a powerful politician says it is news.  If 49% of the country is thoroughly disenfranchised politically, events of importance to them  (such as the deaths of and injuries to Iraqi civilians) just don’t amount to “news.” 

Someone might say that we should commend the Post-Dispatch for finally getting around to doing the right thing.  I’m sorry.  I’m no mood to do that.  For 3 1/2 years, the Post-Dispatch could have prominently published photos showing the horrors the U.S. is perpetuating as a result of its Iraq occupation.  Such photos have been available in many places on the Internet, for anyone who cared and dared to look. 

But being available on the Internet is not (yet) enough to move many voters.  Too many Americans are passive when it comes to exposure to important events–they rely and trust media conglomerates to filter what is important.  In fact, most Americans get all their news from local newspapers and local television news.  The world views of most Americans has not included, until recently, the horrors we have been causing for innocent Iraqi civilians.

Though thousands of these bloodied and battered Iraqi civilians were photographed (or able to be photographed) the Post-Dispatch failed to step up to report these horrors.  Because the Post-Dispatch (and numerous other mainstream newspapers across United States) failed to step up and do what was right, many hundreds of American soldiers and many thousands of Iraqi citizens (many of them children) were maimed and killed over the past 3+ years for no damned good reason.  The photos of civilian casualities resulting from these military missions never made the front pages of most American mainstream papers.  These horrors simply did not fit the official national narrative—until recently. 

What the Post-Dispatch is now doing is simply allowing itself be blown by the new political winds.  The Post-Dispatch has not developed any backbone at all.  There is no reason to think that it ever will develop a backbone.  The Post-Dispatch is now willing to publish this wrenching picture of a grieving Iraqi father only because it can do so under the cover of recent official dissent, such as the recently announced results of the “Iraq Study Group.”  You see, the “Iraq Study Group” is an official governmental power holding entity.  What the Study Group says is now news.  Even though it is saying the same things that “treasonous liberals” have been saying for several years.

And even with the political cover provided by the Study Group, the photo the Post-Dispatch chose to publish was that of a beautiful little girl who still had her eyes and her nose.  Her head was not severed.  Her arms were not shot or blown off as is the case with hundreds and hundreds of small Iraqi children who have been victims of our cruel occupation for the past 3 1/2 years.  We’re still not ready to tell Americans the result of mixing bullets, bombs, missiles and small children.

Right across the top of the front page, the Post-Dispatch proudly announces that it was “founded by Joseph Pulitzer in 1878.”  As if there is anything reported in the modern version of the Post-Dispatch that would’ve made Joseph Pulitzer proud enough to award it a Pulitzer award.

Nonetheless, the Post-Dispatch proudly prints Joseph Pulitzer’s platform every day:

I know that my retirement will make no difference in its cardinal principles, that it will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.  Joseph Pulitzer, April 10, 1907.

If this Platform’s principles were turned into the subjects on a report card, what grades would the Post-Dispatch get for the past 3 1/2 years for its failure to accurately depict the bloody massacre of Iraqi civilians?  Answer:  F, F, F, F, F, F, F, F, F, F and F.

Here’s how to solve this festering media problem we have in St. Louis.  Remove the Joseph Pulitzer platform from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  It means nothing serious to the newspaper.  It functions only to allow a bait and switch victimizing of those who naïvely believe they can stay informed by reading the Post-Dispatch.  Second, rename the paper the St. Louis Merchants’ Advertising Dispatch.  That’s what you should call a paper that uses its the top of its front page to tout the newest hottest brands of video games available this holiday season, right?  [The PD did just this a few weeks ago].

The owners of the Post-Dispatch should make it clear that the paper’s exclusive function is providing advertisements for people to buy things that they usually don’t need.  Once in a while, useful news might slip in, but only if it doesn’t conflict with the whims of the power-mongers residing in Washington, DC.

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Current Events, Good and Evil, Iraq, Politics, The Middle East, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Gina says:

    I am thrilled the words are out there, published, all the same. At least the media is finally speaking up. About bloody time!

  2. hogiemo says:

    Erich, it's too true that the media have given Bush and his cronies a free ride on the horrors of the war in Iraq. And only lately, has the Post picked up the threat of the destruction of the continuing drug trade in Afghanistan and NATO's impotence to stop it and the teeror it funds worldwide.

    Maybe now that Bush and his ilk are on the wane, the media will step out from being cowed by Bush and hold him accountable for the violence he has done to America, Americans and American ideals and many others around the world. Naaah.

  3. Dan says:

    As a side note, Pulitzer was famed for sensationalising news stories in an attempt to increase circulation (as per his Wikipedia article).

    I've long understood that the modern Western media is simply a device to bring advertising to the consumer; content is merely a hook. The fact of the matter is, the real powerplayers in Washington have no direct control over the way the media tells the story, but the advertisers do. If they think a news report will reflect badly on them, or at very least not sell papers so people can be blasted by their full page spreads, they will pull advertising and go somewhere else. And many of the biggest advertisers have ties to Washington through platform sponsorships and the like. I'm not claiming there's some government/big business conspiracy to warp the news. That's just the way things are, and the system needs to change.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's another example that the tide is turning, this contribution by Paul Abrams of Huffpo, whose post is entitled "The Tax to End the War–and 3 Cheers for Norah O'Donnell (MSNBC)."  Here's an excerpt:

    Peter Hoekstra, outgoing (what a great feeling to write that word!) Chair of the House Intelligence (one must ask whether the Committee will now deserve that word to describe it) Committee, started dissembling about the time needed to analyze the ISG report, when Norah [O'Donnell of MSNBC] cut in, "c'mon, this war has been going on for more than 3 years, and people are dying, what's this about delay?".

    Hoekstra then mumbled something incoherent, and Norah quickly ended the interview.

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