As Americans, we support our soldiers as they go into harm’s way in the war with Iraq. We pray for their safety and the swift success of their mission, so the world may once again be at peace.
As Americans, we stand with the government that has thrust us into this conflict, no matter what our politics or view about how justified this war is at this time.
However, as journalists and broadcasters, we take exception to those who say the First Amendment right to free speech and a free press needs to be suspended during this period. We think this is the time to stand up for these values.
The president has made very clear that our goal for Iraq is to bring democracy and freedom as we know it to a country with a very different tradition. As Americans we support that goal, because those are the same values we seek to protect.
There can be no free speech without acceptance of unpopular speech. What America stands for is the ability to meld a diverse people into a nation where everyone is equal under the law and has a right to speak his or her mind, as long as it’s true.
Opinions are a self-anointed truth. Those who protest are just as sincere as those who support the government. Dissident voices may be muted while awaiting the outcome of the conflict, but there are genuine issues that divide us, from the role of the U.N. to the splintering of the Atlantic alliance, which had been the linchpin of our global security until recently. The chorus of conservatives dominating talk radio may speak most loudly at the moment, but in time there will be a more meaningful accounting.
In terms of television, this war is already different from any other in American history. First, there are the unprecedented censorship and controls on information instituted by the administration, from openly disregarding the Freedom of Information Act to asking TV and print reporters to get quotes from government officials approved.
The second big change is the embedding of reporters with the troops in the age of satellites and micro-technology. A group of conservative congressmen this week complained to the White House about the unusual access given journalists. They are right to be concerned, but not necessarily for their stated reasons. War that is won is not a pretty thing to watch, no matter who is winning. For the first time there will be tiny digital cameras everywhere to capture all the action.
There used to be a joke that the way to end a war was to put it on a low-rated TV network because it would be canceled after two weeks. We are about to find out just what kind of TV war really makes. This war promises a new kind of reality show with real consequences. It will make Fear Factor and Survivor seem silly.
The war also makes trivial what so many in show business do for a living. When Oscar rolled up the red carpet, it also meant the cancellation of TV shows that had been fully prepped and advertising commitments in the millions of dollars. Series launches and new programming are on hold while the world’s attention is on Iraq.
As Americans we stand together in our belief in the righteousness of our system of openness, contrasted with the closed society and narrow-mindedness of religious fanatics and a cruel dictatorship, which keeps its media under thumb.
As an American, among the most basic of those precious values is the right to speak the truth as part of a free press. In our rush to fight the war, stave off terror, make the world secure and fight the terrifying unseen psychological demons of orange and red alerts, we must remember why we fight.
Just in case you forget, turn on your TV set this week and see what a war looks like up close. And remember that there are heroes in the much-maligned media, who uphold values they are willing to die for, just as there are on the battlefield.