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J.F. Kelly, Jr. - Contributor

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Big Media Gets It Wrong... Again
Bias leading to sinking credibility…

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 5/26/05

As nearly everyone knows, newspaper and news magazine readership is declining. It is tempting for critics of the mainstream media like myself to blame the decline on reader dissatisfaction over what we perceive as an excessively liberal, anti-administration bias and on recent egregious examples of poor reporting and shoddy journalism.

As satisfying as that might be, it would be unfair. Readership is down because Americans are reading less; less, at least, of any printed material with a modicum of intellectual content. Fewer than half of American adults read a newspaper on a daily basis. As Americans have grown fatter, news magazines have grown thinner. While talk radio, television and the internet undoubtedly have played a major role in this, declining reading skills have probably contributed as well. At the same time, the ratings of the large network TV news shows also have been declining.

But even among loyal newspaper readers and habitual viewers of the TV network news shows like myself, there is growing concern over bias and inaccuracy, exacerbated by the recent Dan Rather/CBS and Newsweek fiascoes. Rather’s eagerness to report a story, which, if true, would have reflected negatively on George W. Bush and his campaign for reelection, ended up backfiring when shown to be unsubstantiated. Newsweek’s gossipy and equally unsubstantiated report regarding alleged desecration of the Koran reflected the magazine’s willingness to rush to judgment on something that might reflect badly on the military or the war. These examples came at a time when the credibility of the press was already suspect.

Talk show hosts had a field day, putting the blame for the rioting in Afghanistan squarely on Newsweek. To be sure, the magazine deserved condemnation for its irresponsibility for publishing an unsubstantiated piece that it should have known would likely inflame militant Muslim crazies. But the blame for the rioting, deaths and destruction that followed, as well as the damage to relations between the United States and the Muslim world, belongs to the fanatics who rioted in the name of Allah, not the Newsweek editors.

Kenneth Woodward, a contributing editor at Newsweek, went to great lengths in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal to explain Muslim sensitivities regarding the Koran, or Qur’an, as culturally sensitive publications have taken to spelling it. It is not, he said, just the equivalent of the Christian bible but rather more like the Jewish Torah, revealed orally on Mt. Sinai. It is more than just a holy book, he continues. It is to Muslims rather what Christ is to Christians.

Whatever. Still, I don’t recall Christians rioting and killing when Andres Serano immersed a crucifix in urine and called it art or when the Brooklyn Museum exhibited a “work” depicting the mother of Christ covered in elephant dung. It’s acceptable, apparently, that bibles are banned in such places as Saudi Arabia and that Christians can be executed for distributing them or even for possessing more than one. Anyone can practice any religion freely in the United States but Christians, Jews, Hindus and others are forbidden to practice theirs in many Muslim and Arab lands including some we consider allies. Schools in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are still permitted to teach their children to hate Christian and Jews as the moral equivalent of animals, unclean and subhuman. Yet a piece of unsubstantiated gossip buried in a newsmagazine can provoke Muslims to riot and kill in the name of their religion.

We hear endlessly that Islam is a religion of peace. You could have fooled me. Yes, I know that the beheadings, kidnappings and hate speech directed against Americans are all the work of the militants and extremists who don’t speak for the majority of Muslims who are peaceful. But where is the outrage on the part of these peaceful Muslims? How is it that they continue to allow an extreme minority to highjack and disgrace their religion?

Newsweek is guilty of lousy journalism. In its eagerness to publish anything negative about he military, it instead damaged its own credibility. Far worse than the misguided Rather report, which actually helped reelect its intended victim, Newsweek’s blunder was seized upon as an excuse to kill people. But let’s put the real blame for the riots where it belongs: on the murderers and fanatics who hate and kill in the name of their god and who really need no excuses to do so. tOR

copyright 2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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