NOT TO DIMINISH Daniel Pearl’s courage and accomplishment or the horror of his murder and the vileness of his murderers, but the memorials to him could have said much more about the threats today to journalists and, more importantly, to journalism generally. For all their number and prominence, Americans don’t usually figure on the roster of journalists killed at work—a tally the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) put at 37 last year. (Overseas organizations put the toll higher; the International Federation of Journalists says it may top 100. Everyone agrees it’s growing.) None of the journalists killed in Afghanistan last year was American. Two were killed in the United States— a photographer in the WTC collapse and a photo editor by an anthrax-laden letter—but that was extraordinary. Most of the journalists murdered are not high-profile foreign correspondents but humbler servants of their communities’ need to know, covering corruption and crime.
But killing the messenger is neither the most common nor most effective way to suppress the message. “They don’t have to shoot journalists here,” a Guatemalan reporter once told me. “They just buy them.” There the currency’s cash; here it’s access. Witness last Thursday, when Henry Kissinger deigned to shine his wisdom on the courtly Charlie Rose. Rose, who that same night harried Iran’s deputy foreign minister relentlessly about his country’s axis of evilness, somehow never got around to asking Kissinger about Chile in 1973, Cambodia in 1970, Christopher Hitchens’ brief against him, or the newly declassified State Department memo confirming Kissinger’s collusion in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Kissinger can still enforce ground rules for appearances.
Or you can do what G.W. Bush’s soul-mate Vladimir Putin did with Russia’s last independent TV network: He took it over (through a Kremlin- controlled gas company) and fired the journalists. Putin has joined China’s Jiang Zemin on CPJ’s top-10 list of the world’s worst repressors of the press. However much Bush may urge Jiang to respect religious freedom (as his religious-right constituency demands), you can bet Dubya doesn’t push press freedom with these two autocrats any more than he does Tibetan or Chechen rights.
Bush may even get a few pointers from Vlad and Jiang on how to block press and public scrutiny. Already Bush Administration II is so hostile to public disclosure it makes Richard Nixon look like a card-carrying member of the ACLU. It would rather go to court than let the GAO look at Dick Cheney’s meeting calendar or release potentially embarrassing records from Bush I, as the law dictates. And it has supported the crusade of Federal Communications Commission chair Michael Powell (Colin’s son) to jettison the last limits on private monopoly consolidation of the public airways and cable franchises.
It’s one thing to lament a murdered journalist or chum it up with the press corps—as Bush does so well—and quite another to respect the pursuit of truth that is the heart—if not always the outcome—of journalistic enterprise. Defense Department officials now disown their previously disclosed plan to elevate lying as a war strategy. You might wonder how they hoped to fool anyone about anything if they couldn’t keep such a policy hushed. But it was all a clever ruse: The administration can now tell the truth, secure in the knowledge that no one will believe it.
The Wall Street Journal has posted a message board for condolences and remembrances of Daniel Pearl’s fine career at discussions.wsj.com/n/mb/message.asp?webtag=wsjvoices&nav=messages&msg=2327. And Harper‘s posted prime suspect Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh’s jailhouse memoir of earlier kidnapping escapades, which The Times of London published in October and Harper‘s reprinted in January (www.harpers.org/online/diary_of_a_terrorist). It’s a ghastly irony (had Pearl read it before contacting Sheikh Omar?) and terrible testament to the banality of evil. Amazing what damage a blinkered clown can do when he stumbles onto the world stage.
MORE “BANALITY OF EVIL”
The phrase takes on a whole new meaning in Bush II; I just heard a friend say she doesn’t dare use the word “evil” anymore—it’s been pre-empted. And this wasn’t just another brief verbal fumble, like “crusade.” “Axis of evil” has come to define Bush II and America’s global image. Having fared so well with one term borrowed from Mussolini, the Enron president should ponder these other words of Il Duce: “Cooperation between the state and the corporations is the essence of fascism.”
But confidential White House communications misaddressed to this column reveal that President Bush, whose favorite political philosopher is Jesus Christ, will shake the Mussolini connection and use a more suitable source in his rhetorical assault upon evil—the Book of Revelation. To counter the carping from Democrats and so-called allies, he will henceforth call. . .
*Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Jacques Chirac, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
*Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: the Whore of Babylon.
*The peace symbol: the Mark of the Beast
*Tom Daschle: the Beast.
Eric Scigliano’s media column appears every other week.