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Patriotic doesn’t mean blind

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, October 26, 2006

Last week, CNN aired video footage from Baghdad showing insurgent snipers taking aim at American soldiers. The network obtained the tape from the Islamic Army of Iraq, through intermediaries. During the piece, CNN’s Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware was careful to note that the video (entitled “Latest Sniper Operations in Baghdad”) acts as a propaganda piece. He analyzed, scrutinized and related the video to real events taking place in Iraq.

Despite these disclaimers, many people immediately denounced the network for airing the video. They leveled numerous charges, including that the video is inappropriate for soldiers’ families, that it is unsuitable for young viewers and even that it spuriously sanitizes the horrific violence because the video quickly fades to black after each shot to refrain from showing the actual moment of impact. All of these accusations carry some merit and, frankly, they show that at least part of the American public pays attention to the news.

Other critics went further with their indictments. “Does CNN want America to win this thing?” asked Republican House Representative Duncan Hunter from California on Monday. He called for the removal of embedded CNN journalists and claimed that in past wars, the press was more pro-American.

“The average American Marine or soldier,” Hunter continues, “has concluded after seeing that film that CNN is not on their side.” Mr. Hunter did not reveal his statistical source for deducing the psychological reaction of the average American soldier. He also chose not to reveal how many soldiers responded to his scientific poll with gratitude that somebody was telling their brutal story to an insulated nation. Thankfully, we do not need to hear from any of those soldiers themselves, because we have Mr. Hunter to speak on their behalf.

Let’s think about this a minute, Mr. Hunter; you are suggesting that CNN journalists want American men and women to be killed by terrorists. You are saying that because they are not putting a positive spin on the bleak – and I do mean bleak – situation in Iraq, they must consequently be in a league with internationally vilified criminals.

While I cautiously agree with CNN’s decision to air the video, I will admit this is certainly a thorny issue, and I can understand people’s qualms. The video is not pretty. It is not encouraging. The decision to air the video and its presentation were not taken lightly, however. CNN even warned viewers beforehand that the video would not be suitable for children. They knew it would be a volatile piece, and offended responses are acceptable. But to suggest, as Mr. Hunter does, that the network supports terrorism – that they do not wish for America to “win this thing” – is, in a word, stupid.

Hunter found support from Brian Bilbray, also a Representative from California. Bilbray called the feature a “terrorist snuff film.” Rick Moore, one of many online bloggers that spoke out against the video footage, brashly titled a post “CNN Joins Insurgent PR Campaign.” There were other attacks.

All these detractors want to lump in CNN with the terrorist forces, because that would be the easy thing to do. It is, after all, the prevailing ideology of the time: with us or against us. As the midterm elections loom, many candidates are trying to bolster support by promoting this false dichotomy, claiming that war critics are nothing more than seditious opponents of national security. In similar fashion, Congressman Hunter implies that if you do not support our methods, you must therefore be against our goal, and in fact against us. If CNN has the audacity to show grim footage, Hunter thinks, they must hate America and hate freedom.

What the Representative and his ilk fail to realize is that one can support the American mission and still be critical of its execution. This CNN feature reported the facts and stopped short of criticism. These facts, like it or not, will not enthuse anyone. If you want a patriotic, flag-waving expose detailing all the progress America is making in Iraq, stop holding your breath. You could find encouraging stories about the struggle and perseverance of our men and women serving there, or about the Iraqi people’s own struggle; but as far as the overall tactical military campaign goes, you would have to look long and hard to find positive material. Television networks cannot report on the good news from Iraq because there is precious little good news to report. At the time of writing, 91 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq this month alone, many of them by sniper attacks. That number, like the video, takes no sides: it is a cold fact. The American media should not combat terrorist propaganda with its own propaganda.

Next time, Mr. Hunter and associates, save your terror accusations for the folks who really deserve them. Look on this video as a chilling reminder of the gravity of the Iraq situation, and pray that it will awaken a few more people to the importance of our struggle there. Spend your time fighting the real enemy.

James Dechant is a junior English and theology major. Questions, comments and rude remarks can be sent to jdechant@nd.edu

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.