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Casualty of War: The Bush Administration’s Assault on a Free Press

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Casualty of War: Assault on Free Press

Casualty of War: The Bush Administration’s Assault on a Free Press

Press censorship is a standard feature of warfare — governments naturally don’t want the enemy to obtain too much information, but they do want to prop up morale at home. Should the same be true of the “war on terrorism,” which isn’t a declared war at all? Under President Bush, the American government has become very ambivalent towards press freedom and journalistic independence.

Summary

Title: Casualty of War: The Bush Administration’s Assault on a Free Press
Author: David Dadge
Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN: 1591021472

Pro:
• Reveals incidents that would go unnoticed to many Americans
• Draws connections between disparate events to reveal a disturbing pattern
• Explains how and why press freedom is vital today

Con:
• None

Description:
• Review of various incidents where press freedom has been restricted or devalued
• Argues that press restrictions are justified by the war on terrorism
• Demonstrates that the Bush administration has gone too far in limiting press freedom

Book Review

Exactly how and why the Bush administration has moved away from supporting the principle of a free press towards press restrictions — both explicit and subtle — is the subject of David Dadge‘s book Casualty of War: The Bush Administration’s Assault on a Free Press. Dadge, an editor at the International Press Institute in Austria, covers a large number of incidents which should concern anyone who believes that a free press is a precondition for a free and democratic society. In each case, the causes can be traced to the notion that basic freedoms must be sacrificed in the name of combatting terrorism at home and around the world.

Whether the context is warfare or just business as usual, reporters often complain that the government is too secretive, hides too much information that the public deserves to know, and even attempts to manipulate journalists in order to “spin” stories in a particular way. Dadge, however, argues that the Bush administration has broken new ground in all of these areas and deserves special scrutiny from the public.

    ”Looking back over the period since the Sept. 11 attacks, the impact of the Bush administration has been threefold. It has sought to influence the media in order to win the propaganda battle over its war in Afghanistan; it has encouraged a censorious and self-censorious environment in the United States, which has allowed it to alter the fine balance between security and liberty virtually unchallenged; and, owing to the wider war on terrorism, it has deeply harmed the cause of press freedom around the world.”

All three of these claims are extremely well supported through the recounting of incident upon incident in which the American government acted in a manner which may have seemed appropriate at the time and through the narrow lenses of combatting terror, but which Dadge demonstrates undermined American goals and needs.

Early on Dadge describes how the State Department attempted to prevent Voice of America from airing an interview with a Taliban leader. At first this seems sensible — why give a podium to an enemy leader? In reality there were two serious flaws with the plan. First, VOA is supposed to be independent; attempts to censor them undermine their journalistic credibility and integrity around the world.

Casualty of War: Assault on Free Press

Casualty of War: The Bush Administration’s Assault on a Free Press

Second, once knowledge of the censorship got out, there was little reason Arabs to trust anything that came out of the American media, at least where the Middle East and the war in Afghanistan and Iraq were concerned. Thus, the American government undermined their ability to communicate their message to everyone else in the world and to Arab Muslims in particular.

    “The State Department is impaled on the horns of a singular dilemma. It would very much like to dictate content, but it would also like to be believed. Unfortunately, its involvement in one undermines the other: control diminishes credibility. And yet, during times of crisis, such as the war in Afghanistan, the State Department will always revert to this involuntary desire to control information.”

Winning the ground war doesn’t mean as much without winning hearts and minds, convincing people that the cause is just. If America’s cause in either Afghanistan or Iraq has indeed been just, then we should be able to make our case without censoring those who disagree. By resorting to censorship, the government communicates that they don’t trust their ideas to stand on their own — a message heard loud and clear throughout the Middle East.

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