Buoyed no doubt by my dismal showing in the Newspaper Guild election, union president Linda Foley has at last seen fit to strike back at her critics. Well, actually, she’s still in hiding. Instead, she has sent forth a fellow named Andy Zipser to do battle in her stead. Zipser is editor of the Guild Reporter, our union’s newsletter. The latest electronic edition leads off with an article written by Zipser and headlined “Right-wing attack-dogs savage TNG president for comments on Iraq deaths.” By all means read it; as the headline suggests, it’s full of frenzied rhetoric, yet utterly devoid of substance. No; it's worse. Far from retracting Foley's original slur, this article repeats it.
Let’s review. I’m a member in good standing of the Guild who was shocked to learn that on May 13 Linda Foley gave a speech in which she asserted that the US military in Iraq deliberately targets journalists for death. Anyway, that’s certainly what she seemed to be saying. I suggest you judge for yourself, by reviewing the links on the left, where you’ll find a transcript and a videotape of her comments.
But to save time, here’s the part that caught my attention:
Journalists, by the way, are just being targeted, ah, verbally or, ah, or, ah, politically. They're also being targeted for real. Um…in places like Iraq. And and, ah, what outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there's not more outrage about the number, and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it's just a scandal.
And it's not just US journalists, either, by the way. They target and kill, ah, journalists from other countries, particularly Arab countries like Al -, like Arab news services like Al-Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios, ah, with impunity … and, ah, this is all part of a culture that it's okay to blame the individual journalists and it just takes the heat off these media, ah, conglomerates who are actually at the heart of the problem.
I think a reasonable person, reading this, would conclude that Linda Foley had just accused US soldiers of deliberately murdering journalists. But again, if you doubt the accuracy of the transcription, take the trouble to listen to her words on the videotape and come up with your own interpretation.
Anyway, this assertion by Foley alarmed me, and should have alarmed every working journalist, for obvious reasons. Either it was true, in which case the world’s mightiest army is deliberately killing us off. Or it was untrue, in which case the leader of America’s major newspaper union is willing to retail a gross and horrific lie about American servicemen and women.
And that’s not just a cruel injustice; it’s a menace to our profession. We journalists are already reviled by millions of our fellow citizens; quite simply, they don’t trust us. They think we deal in innuendo, half-truth and outright fabrication. Survey after survey shows that reporters have never been held in lower public esteem. In the midst of all this, in the aftermath of the Jayson Blair and Dan Rather fiascos, the president of the union of newspaper reporters makes a shocking assertion about men and women who risk their lives to protect us, and then fails to present a scintilla of evidence to back it up. Any journalist who values his job, his career or the honor of his profession has an obligation to demand better.
So I did. And this contemptible article is the response.
Why contemptible? Well, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s so dreadful in so many ways. But here’s the heart of it—the piece contains neither a retraction of Foley’s scurrilous charge, nor a single scrap of evidence to support it. Indeed, Zipser compounds the calumny by quoting another fellow who shares Foley’s paranoia—a fellow named Aaron Glantz, who covers the Iraq war for Pacifica Radio. I admire Mr. Glantz for his courage; he’s certainly been there and done that. And I’ll take his word for it when he says,
“I’ve had a gun pointed at me by American soldiers numerous times and felt that my life was threatened by an American soldier, simply because they were so scared and trigger happy.”
Not hard to believe; such things no doubt happen. But note the next paragraph:
Moreover, Glantz added, as Western journalists are so intimidated by such behavior that they pull out, “the Iraqi journalists who remain and the Pan-Arab journalists who remain are specifically being targeted by the U.S. military, I believe, when they broadcast controversial material.”
Oh, he believes that, does he? Well, that’s fine. But does he have evidence for it? Any evidence at all? Not a scrap; not a shred. Yet Zipser and the Guild are perfectly content to broadcast the assertion without a trace of skepticism.
For me, the most worrisome aspect of this entire affair is the realization that few of my colleagues are troubled by this in the least. They seem to believe there’s nothing at all to fret about when a prominent voice in American journalism feels free to slander American soldiers. Of course, there’s a great deal to fret over, if you care about the state of our profession and the good name of our fellow citizens. Or, for that matter, if you care about how journalists will be treated by soldiers in future conflicts. Will these guys ever trust us again? Why in heaven’s name should they, when we lie about them, without shame?