What is with the self-censorship of the American news media?
This question isn’t new to avid news junkies or even American journalists, who admit among themselves and occasionally in public that there are certain subjects that are not to be addressed in the pages of this country’s major newspapers, magazines and broadcast from the desks of the major television news networks.
For me – a journalist with only a few years in the game but experience across multiple platforms – most of the stories I’ve wanted to pursue have been approved and published. But let’s be honest: Most of my work has been fairly inconsequential, and pales in comparison to journalists trying to publish or air stories on the national and international level dealing with taboo subjects like Israel’s influence over U.S. foreign policy, corruption among the nation’s top lawmakers or the 9/11 Truth movement.
Reporters working on stories about those things – and many others – face incredible hurdles in getting their work in front of the general public. This isn’t anything new, but I got a harsh reminder of this phenomenon recently when I picked up a copy of Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print. The book is full of stories that were spiked by editors concerned that they ruffled the wrong feathers or didn’t reinforce the official storyline on any number of issues.
I’m only a few stories into the book, and I’m already feeling slightly depressed. One story included in the book was written by Robert Fisk, an incredibly experienced writer working for the Independent in England. He relates the tale of working with Harper’s magazine in late 2001/early 2002 to write about journalistic double standards when covering the Middle East and the lack of serious journalism in the run up to the attack on Afghanistan after 9/11. When he submitted the piece he discussed with the editor, it was killed because it included too much criticism on journalistic double standards involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The piece detailed his experiences covering the Middle East for more than two decades, and included the following passage:
“I’ve spent twenty-five years in the Middle East, trying to answer the ‘whys.’ And in no part of the world is reporting so flawed, so biased in favor of one country-Israel-and so consensual in its use of words. Indeed, the language of Middle East journalism has become so cowardly, so slippery, so deferential, so locked into the phrases used by the State Department, the President, the U.S. diplomats, and Israeli officials, that our reporting has in many cases become incomprehensible. For an American readership unfamiliar with Middle Eastern history or recent events-or for American viewers who may have no intrinsic interest in the region-our reporting has reached such poverty of expression as to render any real understanding of the conflict impossible.”
There are many examples of journalists working hard to accurately portray U.S. actions abroad and how what we do and who we support impacts the daily lives of Americans. But Fisk’s account in this book and countless other examples that occur daily in the mainstream media remind us that this self-censorship obscures the truth to the point that over time, the truth becomes impossible to discern. Why do journalists buy into this crap?