Besides casting further doubt upon the cherished hope many harbor that bin Laden is dead, the latest bin Laden tape has given rise to an interesting critique of the American media by Russ Baker in the LA Times:
- Well, he’s back. Another audiotape from Osama bin Laden has just been aired – and the speaker’s identity confirmed.
It ran, of course, on the Al Jazeera cable network, which says it played only 14 of 47 minutes for its Arabic-speaking audiences. The rest of us, notably the presumed future targets of the man and his acolytes, got just very short summaries in our electronic, digital and print media.
We probably missed a lot, and that’s a bad thing. No matter how despicable Bin Laden is, his message is important. It’s therefore both surprising and disappointing that Western media haven’t made more of an effort to scrutinize and publicly discuss the exact nature of the threat he poses, as laid out by the man himself. As unpleasant as the topic is, we’d be better off with fewer color-coded alerts and more attention to the seriousness, logic, focus, content and persuasiveness of Bin Laden’s appeal to anti-Western sentiment around the world.
He’s right that the public has a right to know what its most famous and virulent antagonist has to say. The media should trust the judgment of its customers to give it the straight poop from the mouth of the sewer, so to speak.
- The censorship began with a conference call in which national security advisor Condoleezza Rice got an agreement with ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Fox to “screen” tapes before broadcasting audio or video. Since then, numerous videos and audios have been aired, but only in some “screened,” or heavily censored, form.
Whatever the justification for keeping the public away from such material, this last February, during the lobbying for an Iraq invasion, the White House suddenly did an about-face. Citing a new tape as proof of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell actually promoted its upcoming airing on Al Jazeera. Following Powell’s cue, Fox News treated the release as breaking news, becoming the first U.S. network to air the full 16-minute audiotape (with an English voice-over). Other networks followed, albeit more cautiously, playing just pieces of it.
The security aspect of airing the tapes seems to be negligible – no coding has been found yet – and the better we understand the logic and intellectual methods of our enemy, the better we can counteract him. All of this makes sense, and while Baker doesn’t address the REAL reason bin Laden’s pronouncements are given short shrift in the American media – they are just too long and boring and hearing a translation of yet another propaganda screed from an insanely self-righteous mass murderer is just too much for many of us to bear – his central notion that they should at least be made available to the public at large is meritorious.
But then Baker loses his mind – it’s as if he were suddenly possessed by Grima Wormtongue, or, worse, Noam Chomsky:
- We desperately need to find effective ways to engage and comprehend the world beyond the current policy of vengeance and retribution. Media organizations, so effective at transmitting official pronouncements, could start playing a more constructive role by refusing to serve on the Bush administration’s news management team and by bringing in smart analysts to tell us what, exactly, Bin Laden is talking about.
No, the current policy of “vengeance and retribution” is EXACTLY what we need to do, and just as importantly, what we need to convey to those who would seek to harm us.
As someone who has studied bin Laden’s pronouncements, one of his justifications for 9/11 was the decadence we displayed by not vigorously defending ourselves against earlier attacks. He despised us for what he perceived to be our weak attempts at appeasement. This is at the very core of the illogic of the anti-war argument: we don’t fight now to perpetuate an endless war – we fight now to preclude the need for endless war.
The fact that we are, and will continue to, AGGRESSIVELY and tenaciously pursue the annihilation of our enemies is precisely the message we need to convey to bin Laden and his ilk. This pursuit yields double results: each terrorist we kill or imprison is no longer available to harm us, AND, we also send a message that such a course of action will only yield death and defeat to those who might be inclined to follow.
Then Baker-Wormtongue contradicts himself by saying that what we REALLY need is for the media to analyze what bin Laden has to say. I thought we needed to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth – we are already getting analysis and summaries.
Which is it? What are these “smart analysts” going to tell us that the current analysts aren’t? That bin Laden has a point? That we really ARE decadent, soulless, godless, materialistic parasites upon the planet that deserve to be killed? I have no idea what Baker is trying to say here and it appears he doesn’t either. Bin Laden’s evil is so obvious and total that there IS no other side here, nor is there the legitimate option of “neutrality” – there is only the option of listening to his vile, noxious logorrhea, then explaining why he and his “ideas” must be wiped from the face of the earth without hesitation or pity.