March 18, 2002
Neutrality And Western Reporters

In today's on-line Weekly Standard, Bo Crader asks whether Western reporters in war zones should arm themselves, and concludes that:

. . . the war correspondent is caught in a potentially deadly Catch-22. Go into a war zone unarmed and get ambushed, stoned, and executed by a gang of thugs. Carry a gun and get shot as a spy.

Regardless, as this pattern of violence against the news media escalates, it may be that journalists have no choice but to arm themselves.

For the antigun side, Crader quotes Joel Simon, "deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists":

Even [if they know how to use guns], Simon explains, arming journalists might not be in their best interest. "A journalist is recognized as a civilian under the Geneva Conventions," he warns. "Our concern is that journalists should be very careful when taking any action that could compromise that perception. They could be mistaken for a spy or combatant." In theory, if hostile forces view journalists not as objective observers but as soldiers, they might become targets themselves.

There is more to be said here. Western reporters act as if they can be neutral rather than patriotic. But the whole concept of journalists as objective observers, reporting on both sides "without fear or favor", is western, and alien to any culture we are likely to be at war with in the next few decades. Soldiers or terrorists who come from countries where newspapers are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the state and journalists are state employees (for Iran, read 'church' for 'state') are unlikely to comprehend how western reporters could not be their enemies, no matter how even-handed the latter try to be.

In a way, they are right to be hostile. Honest western-style journalism, if it ever takes root in the region, will have as corrosive an effect on the current régimes of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, as western ideas on the secret ballot, separation of powers, and the various freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights. In a sense, it makes no difference whether American journalists aim to be neutral or patriotic. Either way, they are natural enemies of the Islamonazis, and either way they will be targeted. The result, to put it somewhat cynically, is that they may as well be patriotic.

I haven't even considered the fact that honest, even-handed reporting on these vile régimes will necessarily weaken them internationally and (if the news gets through) internally as well, because the simple facts about them are so damning.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at March 18, 2002 10:00 PM