The Morbidity of Our Era
By Ismail Lagardien
While there is a general understanding that print news media, especially newspapers, are in steep decline, there is evidence that journalism itself was being transformed and stripped of its intellectual independence and critical faculties. It would appear as if these qualities were being replaced by crude patriotism, the valorisation of militarism and a dangerous ethnocentrism â€“ in the broadest sense of the word. This apparent crisis in journalism is, in some ways, reflective of a larger state of affairs that is best encapsulated by the expression â€œthe old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.â€
This interregnum with its attendant symptoms of morbidity is framed by two conceptual bookends: The decline of the United States as global leader, and the insistence upon a renewed period of dominance. The matter of decline has been discussed at length by scholars; there is no need to reproduce that discussion here. What is of concern, however, is the way that the Right-wing has sought to reassert the United Statesâ€™ global dominance, through initiatives like the â€œproject for a new American centuryâ€ (PNAC), in the years after the end of the Cold War â€“ by any means necessary â€“ and how journalists seem to have lost all courage and integrity by simply joining the encirclement.
The PNAC is held together by unabashed militarism and claims of â€œmoral clarity,â€ (see, HYPERLINK "http://www.newamericancentury.org/" http://www.newamericancentury.org/). At the core of its mission is a broad propaganda project that includes â€œissue briefs, research papers, advocacy journalism, conferences, and seminars.â€ This project is as similar, at least rhetorically, to the nomenclature of Mussoliniâ€™s Italy than even the most liberal of citizens would be prepared to acknowledge. We should recall that among the cornerstones of Mussoliniâ€™s fascism was the way in which the state (as in the country) presented the public with a â€œmissionâ€ and â€œwelded them into unity.â€ Under these conditions there is no loyalty higher than that which one pledges to oneâ€™s country â€“ and that through war â€œthe highest of nobilityâ€ is bestowed upon the people of a country.
It is within this social and historical context that mainstream journalists in the U.S. have chosen to side with the state and most especially with its military. One good example of this complicity is the statement by Dan Rather (April 2003) who said: â€œâ€¦ when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of â€˜winâ€™ may be.â€ A second example, consistent with the â€œnobilityâ€ to which Mussolini referred, the journalist, Katie Curic of CBS, publically (during a formal broadcast) valorised militarism with sycophantic expressions like: â€œâ€¦ navy Seals rock.â€
This complicity between journalists (as citizens) and military forces is also consistent with Mussoliniâ€™s exhortation that â€œthe function of a citizen and soldier are inseparable.â€ On this basis we can make the claim, therefore, that the era in which we find ourselves, one in which the country is engaged in an endless war and in which citizens are presented with demands like, â€œyou are with us or against us,â€ journalists appear to have become part of an encirclement of patriotism, blind loyalty to the state (not to be confused with the government) and unwavering support for the military â€“ notwithstanding the fact that war is, necessarily, mass slaughter on behalf of the state. In this sense we may state, with particular reference to journalism, that the legacy of our era may well be that journalists have failed society. Rather than serving as an antidote for the problem, the mainstream media have become part of the problem.