Will Truth Rise Again?
NEW YORK, March 28, 2005 – Maybe because it was the Easter weekend, or because I was replaying Bruce's 911 hymn "The Rising," or, maybe, because I was meditating on the difficulty we journalists have in reporting or establishing "truth" but I thought back on a famous saying which I first heard come out of the always eloquent lips of Martin Luther King, Jr., in a union hall in lower Manhattan early in the 1960's.
He closed a sermon of a speech that I will never forget with a famous quotation: "Truth crushed to earth will rise again."
Let's hope so.
Today, we live in two worlds of news and information. One is "fact based," the other "faith-based." In the former, we cling to a world of objective reporting and verifiable evidence even as we know how facts are skewed by media outlets with undisclosed agendas; in the latter, we only acknowledge facts that support our opinions and often don't let facts get in the way of a "good argument."
As the late Sen. Patrick Daniel Moynihan put it: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."
Look at the debate over Terri Schiavo. Two worldviews are in conflict. It's not really the right to die versus the right to live because many of the self-proclaimed right-to-lifers who rally at the side of a terminally brain-dead woman support capital punishment, As it turns out, their biggest political backer, Tom Delay, was part of a family decision years ago to pull the plug on his own dad. The contradictions on display are too blatant and thick to even fully dissect.
"Their" media supports them uncritically. Judges and journalists who studied the details of the affidavits and medical records, and begged to differ, are baited as murderers and discredited by the ether of emotive passion. The courts finally ruled against Terri's parents in one of the most litigated cases in history.
Truth crushed to earth?
Another question: what is the truth of the Iraq war? A prominent media critic who just shared a panel with me revealed that she recently interviewed many leading TV news anchors that could not agree on the causes. "I was shocked by their lack of a consensus," she said.
So now we learn that they all reported the war the same way but did not really believe what they were saying.
Think of the last election. At one point President Bush acknowledged that there was no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and that no WMDs were found in Iraq.
He said it – wink, wink – but a majority of supporters wouldn't change their long reinforced views. They told pollsters they still believed the weapons were still there and that Iraq is part of the war on al Qaeda to avenge 9/11. The GOP campaign did not correct them.
It seems to take a long time for truth to trickle out, or up, under the mounds of misinformation suffocating us all. In a new book called "American Monsters," I write about president William McKinley who launched the Spanish-American War with the slogan "Remember the Maine."
Thanks to the yellow journalists of that era, Americans were convinced that the war was justified because Spanish terrorists blew up our battleship in Havana Harbor. Fifty years later, we learned that the ship went down because of an accident in the engine room.
Truth tends to rise when it no longer matters
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena's account of being fired on by U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The intelligence agent who rescued her from kidnappers was killed in the incident.
My reporting on what she said happened – based on accounts in her newspaper – quickly came under less lethal fire, but fire all the same. Some of those "all-the-way-with-the-U.S.A." bloggers went to work to demolish her claims and discredit her as a communist who was probably supporting terrorists. This character assassination sought to silence her.
I was also put down viciously as well for calling for an independent probe. I was told that photos of the car posted on the internet "proved" that her story was a big lie.
After nationwide protests in Italy, the U.S. government reluctantly agreed to a joint investigation with Italian investigators.
Last week, the Pentagon told the Italians they wouldn't show them the car that allegedly "proved" their claims that her driver was racing past a checkpoint and refused to stop. (Last week the Pentagon also told Reuters that they would not reopen their investigation into the killing of two of their staffers in the infamous April 8, 2003 Palestine Hotel incident.)
On Good Friday, Amy Goodman interviewed writer Naomi Klein who just visited with Giuliana in a Rome hospital.
Here's part of what she said – more evidence of how long it takes for truth to trickle out much less rise. Naomi Klein:
"Her injuries were (at the time) described as fairly minor; she was shot in the shoulder. ... She was fired on by a gun at the top of a tank, which means that the artillery was very, very large. It was a four-inch bullet that entered her body and broke apart. And it didn't just injure her shoulder, it punctured her lung. And her lung continues to fill with fluid, and there continues to be complications stemming from that fairly serious injury. So that was one of the details.
"She told me a lot about the incident that I had not fully understood from the reports in the press. One of the most – and at first, the other thing I want to be really clear about is that Giuliana is not saying that she's certain in any way that the attack on the car was intentional. She is simply saying that she has many, many unanswered questions, and there are many parts of her direct experience that simply don't coincide with the official U.S. version of the story.
"One of the things that we keep hearing is that she was fired on on the road to the airport, which is a notoriously dangerous road. In fact, it's often described as the most dangerous road in the world. So this is treated as a fairly common and understandable incident that there would be a shooting like this on that road. And I was on that road myself, and it is a really treacherous place with explosions going off all the time and a lot of checkpoints. What Giuliana told me that I had not realized before is that she wasn't on that road at all. She was on a completely different road that I actually didn't know existed. It's a secured road that you can only enter through the Green Zone and is reserved exclusively for ambassadors and top military officials.
"And the other thing that Giuliana told me that she's quite frustrated about is the description of the vehicle that fired on her as being part of a checkpoint. She says it wasn't a checkpoint at all. It was simply a tank that was parked on the side of the road that opened fire on them. There was no process of trying to stop the car, she said, or any signals. From her perspective, they were just – it was just opening fire by a tank. The other thing she told me that was surprising to me was that they were fired on from behind. Because I think part of what we're hearing is that the U.S. soldiers opened fire on their car, because they didn't know who they were, and they were afraid. It was self-defense, they were afraid. The fear, of course, is that their car might blow up or that they might come under attack themselves.
"And what Giuliana Sgrena really stressed with me was that she – the bullet that injured her so badly and that killed (Agent Nicola) Calipari came from behind, entered the back seat of the car. And the only person who was not severely injured in the car was the driver, and she said that this is because the shots weren't coming from the front or even from the side. They were coming from behind, i.e., they were driving away."File this away: one more example of how you can't trust what you first hear or how it is spun.
In the absence of an independent investigation, we may never know the full truth of what happened. You will notice that the great investigators of so-called "liberal" (sic) media, ABC, NBC and CBS, have been silent on this issue even though one of their own, a journalist, was a victim. Why bother to follow up in the time of Terri?
This story once again underscores why we need independent journalism and reporters committed to finding the truth, as hard as that sometimes is.
Last week, The Washington Post reported: "Heavy Insurgent Toll in Iraq; Tuesday Raid on Camp Said to Kill 85, Highest Since Fallujah." On Saturday, the Post admitted its report was in error and that the number of the dead was inflated. Dane Baker in the Bewilderherd blog notes that even this admission of a mistake was misleading:
"The admission of 'doubts' is made within a narrow framework, quickly established: Only 'Iraqi government claims that 85 rebels were killed' is in question and presumably nothing else."This is going on every day. Incomplete stores, tilted accounts, distorted news. It's not just that some journalists today are on the government payroll. The rot in our corporate media goes deeper. Much deeper.
What can we believe? Who can we trust? What is true?
When will truth rise again?