Sunday, March 30, 2003

Skepticism that cuts only one way

The Hartford Courant’s Ombudsman, Karen Hunter, explains:

There's nothing like a war to test the news media's principles. The truth has to be separated from propaganda... Calls for blind patriotism have to be answered with the right amount of skepticism.

So how does The Courant react when presented with al-Jazeera photographs purported to be of American POWs? Do they wait to confirm the information? Do they wait until the families have been notified? No.

I'm glad The Courant didn't hesitate in publishing photographs. Perhaps the photos were Iraqi propaganda. The public can judge for itself.

UPDATE: Compare Hunter's description of the attitude adopted by The Courant with the response of The Oregonian, as described by Ombudsman Dan Hortsch:

the Pentagon had asked the U.S. press not to use shots of the POWs or of the dead until their families had been notified.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Pentagon officials also said that taping the prisoners -- which included intimidating, mocking interviews -- violated the Geneva Conventions related to treatment of prisoners...

The conventions apply to governments, not to the news media. However, the media must consider whether their actions further the intent of the captors. In this case, use of footage of frightened, wounded prisoners being asked pointless questions seems to do that.

Editors at The Oregonian decided not to publish photos of the prisoners until families had been informed. They had no intention of showing the bodies.

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