No Time For Moral Equivalence

by L. Brent Bozell III, 9/27/2001

       Despite the outpouring of media patriotism these past two weeks, nobody expected that the long march through the terrorist menace would commence without some journalists sounding disturbing old notes of moral equivalence. The crews are still clearing debris in New York and Washington, yet already the Reuters wire service has declared there’s no moral difference between the hijackers and the hijacked. Someone inside Reuters who’s truly appalled sent the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz an internal memo from Stephen Jukes, the wire service’s global head of news: “We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist....To be frank, it adds little to call the attack on the World Trade Center a terrorist attack.”
       To be frank, this man has no moral compass, not to mention any rational idea of what the word “freedom” means.
       A bewildered Kurtz asked Jukes: Why this neutrality between murderers and victims? “We’re trying to treat everyone on a level playing field, however tragic it’s been and however awful and cataclysmic for the American people and people around the world,” Jukes replied. “We’re there to tell the story... we’re not there to evaluate the moral case.”
       Thankfully, many journalists who work for Reuters are as horrified by this posture as the other 99.9% of Americans. Perhaps some of them lost friends or family in the attack, or have just enough empathy to understand how Jukes sounds to the suffering. “I’m sorry your child, or your parent, or your spouse, or your college roommate was blown to smithereens, but however awful that may seem to you, their killers are people, too.”
       Then Jukes moved on to the practical benefits of complete indifference: “We don’t want to jeopardize the safety of our staff. Our people are on the front lines, in Gaza, the West Bank and Afghanistan. The minute we seem to be siding with one side or another, they’re in danger.” This cowardly principle has not been endorsed by any other American news outlet that sends journalists into foreign regions dominated by thugs. Reuters “took sides” in the Oklahoma City bombing by describing it as a “terrorist” attack. Somehow, now the bombings of two cities and the deaths of thousands of innocents don’t rise to the level of “terrorism.”
       Like many others from the Switzerland school of media neutrality between savages and civilization, Jukes doesn’t have the moral sense God gives a five-year-old child. How would his news service be operating had its New York bureau been located on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center? Would Jukes still be pledging not to take sides if his own building burned to the ground?
       The very survival of a free press depends upon a democracy, on countries that stand on a solid foundation of constitutional law. Journalists who benefit from those political protections ought to acknowledge that debt. Sadly, some merely exploit these freedoms while dismissing them as meaningless.
       In the swamps of moral equivalence, there are examples less offensive than the Reuters example, but still disturbing, nonetheless. In the same Kurtz report, it was revealed ABC News “has barred its journalists from wearing lapel flags such as the one sported by White House correspondent Terry Moran.” Spokesman Jeffrey Schneider declared: “Especially in a time of national crisis, the most patriotic thing journalists can do is to remain as objective as possible.”
       Three cheers for Moran, and a thumbs-down on Schneider. It seems silly that ABC would wave the flag all over its screen, but not let it sit on Moran’s lapel. Wearing a flag lapel pin is a nice touch after the nation’s suffering, but what reporters actually tell Americans is more important. It’s admirable to strain for objectivity between Republicans and Democrats, which ABC hasn’t always done. But it’s certainly less admirable and less patriotic for ABC to insist on objectivity between Americans and those who celebrate as Americans die horrible deaths.
       Schneider’s disdain for the flag was reflected on ABC’s “Nightline,” where reporter Judy Muller began chronicling the reaction of “peace” activists on campus. She claimed in talking to students that “whatever opinions students may express, and they do vary, they all agree on one thing.” Viewers then saw a close-up of this written on a banner: “When will we see a flag that embraces all people on earth, not just Americans?”
       What kumbaya foolishness. The attacks on America demonstrated that “all people on earth” should not and cannot be embraced as long as some wage war on the American idea. As the President has said, you’re either on the side of civilization, or on the side of the terrorists. There is no middle ground.