While I agree with Patrick Sundstrom in his letter to the editor that the United States is a decent place with many freedoms and that our constitution is a unique document to be revered and modeled in the appropriate context, it is dangerous to assume that we can have freedom of the press if our reporters are afraid of being discharged for reporting what they believe to be true. How can we control the press and allow them to speak freely? Whose version of the truth will we use to judge what they say? We at least know that we do not want the government to regulate "truth" in the press.
The truth is not always "verifiable." Different people "truly" believe in different "truths" under different circumstances. The US Constitution is structured more to keep other people's truths from controlling our lives than from legislating and enforcing some philosophical notion of absolute verity.
Anyone who has ever had their words taken out of context by a journalist understands this fact and questions what he reads. The press can help us sort through information if we are willing to sort through the press. We must accept that a reporter's writing is indeed influenced by who he is, but the media overall are not controlled by some mystical anti-Republican power.
The idea that the press is controlled by left-wing liberals is silly. Reporters are under intense pressure to get the news out quickly to beat the competition. It is tied to ratings and prestige, and we end up with more and more sensationalism in order for media companies to sell more advertising. Thus, on one side, we could argue that the "true" threat to the freedom of the press comes not in the potential lies of left-wing media liberals but in the "rush-to-market" attitude of mass media profit seekers.
In a class this week at the government school at Harvard, my professor brought up a somewhat humorous quote that "freedom of the press belongs to those who can afford a press." All joking aside, in the generally accepted definition of American freedom of the press, which does differ from other cultures' perceptions, you may say almost anything within certain limits. If you accept this freedom, you must also accept the responsibilities that it brings to both the reporter and the audience to "verify" stories and to question untruths.
The lies that stand out most in my mind this year are not CBS's mistakes, but the lies used to lead us into war in Iraq. You may remember that, before the CBS memo, another more serious set of falsified documents emerged. They were about a country in West Africa called Niger. President Bush referred to these documents when making his case to go to war. He stated that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from this impoverished nation.
For those of you who do not know about Niger, it is the second poorest country in the world. Despite this fact, the generosity of its people remains on par with that of the people of the United States, if not in the value of gifts then in the spirit of giving. If you, a total stranger, were to walk into the home of one of the poorest families in Niger, they would likely offer you their last chicken. How many of us would invite a total stranger into our homes for even a glass of water?
Yes, it is largely a cultural issue, but rest assured that we as Americans have also given to Niger. Niamey, the capital, has only one bridge over the Niger River. The US helped to build it, and it is named after one of OUR presidents. Imagine if Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C. were named after another country's leader.
I had a chance to spend a semester abroad in Niger several years ago, and I realized what a close ally the people are to the United States not only politically but also in the spirit of good will and hard work. Yet our President went before the world and reported-using falsified documents-that Iraq and Niger were dealing in uranium. Whether President Bush knew at the time that the documents were forgeries has not yet been proven, but he was wrong nevertheless. Does Mr. Sundstrom therefore believe that Bush should be discharged?
When my close friends in swing states tell me that they will vote for George Bush, I feel a tremendous feeling of dread. Since my own vote in Utah will not count in the end, I plead with them. I cannot imagine how my family will live through another tour of duty if my father, a Command Sergeant Major in the Utah National Guard, and our other military friends are called to serve in Iraq again. I cannot express to you the feeling of terror you have each time you walk past a newspaper stand on the street and see in the headlines that another soldier has been killed. "Oh, Lord, please not today," runs through your mind each and every time.
We cannot kid ourselves into thinking that we are viewed in the world as a compassionate, giving, freedom-generating society (even though we are indeed viewed as such in parts of Iraq!). In only three years, at home and across the globe, people's opinion of America has drastically changed. The turn around has happened exclusively under George Bush's watch, and it is a very, very dangerous place for us to be in. Even the small decrease in danger from removing Saddam from power cannot outweigh the gathering hatred of America caused by the Iraq war. Not even our long-time allies like us anymore. Have their media influenced them and controlled their opinions, or is there some truth to what they feel?
I worry deeply for anyone that believes that Fox News is one of the only places for unbiased news. It is widely known around the country for being the most right-wing mainstream news organization. If you are not questioning their reporting as much as you question CBS's, you are not living up to your duties as an actor within our freedom of the press. And if you are not questioning the motives and actions of your leaders you are not fulfilling your patriotic duties to our democracy.