Wednesday, October 20, 2004

My Own Shame

The referenced article brings up some excellent comparisons and contrasts between the current war in Iraq and the war in Kosovo back in the late 1990s, and is worth reading for this point alone. However, it also brought back a certain memory that I feel is necessary to share because of its relevance to what we are getting as “news” today in the media.

While I was at my last university (I’ve been to three or four), I got an emailed invitation from an Indonesian friend of mine to attend a debate between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. For those of you who don’t remember, this was during the war Clinton started to distract America away from the injuries he inflicted upon Monica Lewinsky (carpet burns on the knees, as I recall). I snootily replied that I had no interest in seeing people try to explain away their genocide. She replied back and asked me to attend anyway. Since she was a friend and since there was nothing else of interest planned for that evening, like studying, I agreed.

What an eye opener. I didn’t realize there were that many Serbs and Albanians in attendance at that university. I was even more flabbergasted at the sheer volume of information I had not heard about on that most trustworthy of sources, the evening news. It cast serious doubt on what I previously held as an ironclad belief, that those wicked Serbians had been slaughtering the poor, helpless Albanians. Here were people who were actually from that area, with relatives still living there and privy to all the latest happenings in the region. Was the information without spin? Of course not. But I finally got to hear the previously-“silent” viewpoint that my then-favorite news sources had neglected to mention.

Side note: It’s rather ironic that Wag the Dog was released shortly before Clinton started this war. I have to wonder if it would have been released after the war was engaged. I encourage anyone who hasn’t done so to watch this movie, especially if you remember this shameful period in U.S. history. The movie itself is very entertaining but gives one much to think about.

To return to the original point, I discovered that I had been suckered in by the talking heads and even by several Internet-based news sites. I was aghast at the one-sided coverage I had been faithfully following. I had been betrayed by those very entities whose ostensible purpose was to give me accurate information.

This trend of one-sided reporting continues today. Think of Iraq and we get images of people running through a hail of gunfire and barbed wire to bring bread home from the rubble that used to be the local store. We think of terrorists going after anything that moves. We think of an entire country reduced to ashes and smoking bricks. What we don’t seem to get are the pictures of children (both genders) attending schools, or utilities and medical facilities that exceed that of pre-war Iraq, or thriving businesses, or upcoming elections in which there is more than one name on the ballot. If we want to hear anything of this sort we have to rely on unconventional new outlets or talk to the soldiers and contractors that have been there and seen what the popular press is unwilling to report.

I wrote a long email to the Indonesian who originally invited me, apologizing for my arrogance and ignorance and thanking her profusely for inviting me. I told her that I would make a much greater effort to find out more sides of a story before forming an opinion. I hope that I’ve managed to keep this promise.


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