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<nettime> Patriot Games - American journalism post 9/11



[from The Media Report on Radio National in Australia. b]

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/mediarpt/stories/s659555.htm


Thursdays at 8.30am
presented by Mick O'Regan
Thursday 29/8/2002

Patriot Games - American journalism post 9/11

Summary:

This week on The Media Report some prominent, but very different, voices 
assess the media's coverage of the September 11th attack and its 
aftermath. New York based Australian author, Peter Carey, veteran U.S. 
TV journalist Walter Cronkite and "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson 
express their views on how journalists have met the challenge of 
reporting the current crisis.

Patriot Games - American journalism and the war on terror, this week on 
The Media Report.


You can also listen to the full 37 minute interview with Hunter S 
Thompson.

Details or Transcript:

Mick OíRegan: Hello, and welcome to the program.

If you believe the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, weíre once again on 
the verge of war, this time with Iraq.

Of course the most recent warnings come in the lead-up to a very 
emotional and political sensitive anniversary: last yearís attack on 
America. For the American media, September 11 is now the prism through 
which the world is understood. Itís also a story thatís challenged the 
capacity of the media to negotiate the new realities of conflict, 
patriotism, censorship and credibility.

This week on The Media Report weíll hear some very different views on 
the state of American journalism in the aftermath of September 11th, and 
in the midst of the war on terror.

Walter Cronkite is often regarded as the dean of American journalism. 
Now in his 80s, heís still often seen as the trusted voice of his 
nation. Now on the other side of the ledger sits Hunter S. Thompson, the 
self-styled Father of Gonzo Journalism, and author of the 1971 cult 
classic, ĎFear and Loathing in Las Vegasí. Our third guest this week is 
the Australian writer Peter Carey; he lives in New York, around the 
corner from the old World Trade Center site.

Now they donít agree on much, but theyíre all here on The Media Report 
on ABC Radio National.

Ö

Mick OíRegan: To begin, letís go to the Deanís office. I spoke to Walter 
Cronkite earlier this week, and asked him if he thought thereíd been 
increased debate in the US about media freedom, and increased criticism 
of the relationship between the media and executive government.

Walter Cronkite: No, I quite honestly do not see that. In our present 
circumstances there have been individuals who perhaps have criticised, 
but that has not swollen itself into any kind of a mass reaction to 
press freedom. I think that just the opposite, I think the American 
people have been even strengthened in their belief that we must have 
free speech, a free press, and we must react to government with our own 
sense of what is best for our nation and not believe that we should be 
silent only because there is some requirement for loyalty to an 
administration in power. Thatís not the way democracyís worked and I 
donít think Americans expect it to.

Mick OíRegan: As the anniversary of the attack grows closer, whatís your 
assessment of how the media is treating this anniversary?

Walter Cronkite: I think that all in all the media has done a very good 
job. The biggest problem we have had frankly, is with the military and 
the inability of the American press to cover our enforcers in 
Afghanistan, because the government through the military has refused to 
permit correspondents to have access to the combat troops in 
Afghanistan, that is, the combat troops when they are in action; weíre 
permitted to have a look at how theyíre faring in their domiciles, their 
food and that sort of thing, but none of the substance of the military 
effort has been reported to the American people from the front lines 
because of this incredible censorship. This is a copy of the kind of 
censorship that the present Presidentís fatherís government used in the 
Persian Gulf War. In that case we also were not able to cover the troops 
in action. This is contrary to every other war weíve fought in this 
country, where in World War II for instance, we war correspondents were 
given credentials, we went out with the troops. All we had to do was bum 
a ride in a jeep and we could go anywhere we wanted. Our copy was 
censored, but thatís the way it should be. I believe that the copy of 
military reporters must be censored, we canít give away secrets of the 
disposition of our forces, our losses in combat and that sort of thing, 
to the enemy. But the censorship has worked very well in World War II. 
Our copy was held by the censors until those stories could be told, so 
that they were written at the time and they were living history of the 
war, so that the American people had a history of how their troops 
performed in action, whether they got it the next day or the next week 
or the next year, it was preserved and it was there.

Mick OíRegan: Now the fact that in the current conflict that sort of 
access has been denied, does that have implications for the general 
publicís capacity to understand how that war is being prosecuted? Are 
there broader implications of that military censorship?

Walter Cronkite: We are not aware of how the war has been pursued in 
Afghanistan, and this is a most undemocratic situation that we in the 
press have been complaining about since the war started.

Mick OíRegan: And how has executive government, how has the Bush 
Administration responded to those complaints?

Walter Cronkite: With utter silence. They have not responded at all to 
our complaints. There is an appalling situation as far as Iím concerned 
in that the press itself has not been aggressive enough in fighting for 
these rights. Thereís something I donít quite understand. They were a 
little more aggressive in the Persian Gulf war. I donít think theyíve 
given up but they are not reminding the public constantly of what the 
public is being denied with this kind of overt censorship and banning of 
accessibility to our reporters. I hate to be terribly cynical but I 
wonder if perhaps some of that, particularly in the broadcast area, is a 
concern on the part of the broadcast companies that if they could get 
the rights to send cameramen and correspondents with the troops in 
action, itís going to be a very expensive proposition and theyíre not 
quite willing to be forced into a position where theyíve got to put up 
that kind of money to cover the stories.

Mick OíRegan: Walter Cronkite, the veteran American broadcaster.

Next up, Hunter S. Thompson.

Ö

Mick OíRegan: Unlike Walter Cronkite, Hunter S. Thompson is a stirrer, a 
deliberately provocative commentator and a freewheeling iconoclast, 
infamous for his relentless critique of the American government and 
military.

He lives in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and thatís where I found him 
at the end of a less than perfect telephone line, to ask his opinion of 
the state of the US media.

Hunter S. Thompson: Well letís see, Ďshamefullyí is a word that comes to 
mind, but thatís not true in the case of The New York Times, The 
Washington Post, but overall the American journalism I think has been 
cowed and intimidated by the massive flat-sucking, this patriotic orgy 
that the White House keeps whipping up. You know if you criticise the 
President itís unpatriotic and thereís something wrong with you, you may 
be a terrorist.

Mick OíRegan: So in that sense, thereís not enough room for dissenting 
voices?

Hunter S. Thompson: Thereís plenty of room thereís not just enough 
people who are willing to take the risk. Itís sort of a herd mentality, 
a lemming-like mentality. If you donít go with the flow youíre 
anti-American and therefore a suspect. And weíve seen this before, these 
patriotic frenzies. Itís very convenient having an undeclared war that 
you can call a war and impose military tribunals and wartime security 
and we have these generals telling us that this warís going to go on for 
a long, long time. Maybe not so much the generals now, the generals are 
a little afraid of Iraq, a little worried about it, but itís the 
civilians in the White House, the gang of thieving, just lobbyists for 
the military industrial complex, who are running the White House, and to 
be against them is to be patriotic, then hell, call me a traitor.

Mick OíRegan: Do you think that most of the American media, or say most 
of the influential American media has bought that patriotism line, and 
as a result are self-censoring themselves?

Hunter S. Thompson: There you go, self-censorship, yes, thatís a very 
good point. Yes, I would say that. Now there are always exceptions to 
that but thereíve been damn few. Yeah.

Mick OíRegan: So is it the White House laying down what they think is 
appropriate journalism, or is it the news media outlets deciding that 
they have to be patriotic, that theyíre under some sort of undeclared 
duty at the moment, to somehow reflect the patriotism of the American 
public?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well it goes a little deeper than that, because this 
Administration is well on the road to seizing power, and Tom Dashell, 
the Senate Democratic leader the other day accused Bush of trying to 
seize dictatorial powers. Now that was a big breakthrough, and Iím 
starting to sense that the tide may be turning against the President; we 
have to beat this bastard one way or another. And the American 
government is the greatest enemy of freedom around the world that I can 
think of. And we keep waving that flag, freedom, yes, these people are 
flag-suckers.

Mick OíRegan: What about the language thatís being used to describe the 
so-called undeclared war? I mean there have been criticisms in the 
mainstream press in Australia that journalists have too readily taken up 
the language of politicians and bureaucrats, that they have uncritically 
declared the war against terror without really thinking it through; 
whatís your assessment of the situation in the States?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well Iím glad to hear that Ė youíre talking about 
Australian journalists?

Mick OíRegan: Yes.

Hunter S. Thompson: Yes, well thatís good. Congratulations boys. There 
is not much of that in this country yet. This over here is the most 
paranoid, most insecure country that Iíve ever lived in, I mean itís the 
worst this country has been since I have ever seen it.

Mick OíRegan: Do you feel like thereís a restriction of media freedom at 
the moment? Is there a restricted space for media freedom?

Hunter S. Thompson: I wouldnít say itís a restricted space, but itís a 
dark and dangerous grey area to venture into. Several journalists have 
lost their jobs, columnist Bill Maher on ABC, but some people were made 
an example of early on. The media doesnít reflect world opinion or even 
a larger, more intelligent opinion over here, itís just this drumbeat of 
celebrity worship and child funerals and hooded prisoners being led 
around Guantanamo. No Iím very disturbed about the civil rights 
implications of this, and everybody should be.

Mick OíRegan: So just on journalists who may have lost their jobs, are 
you saying that people who came out and were fearless in their critique 
of the government or the governmentís policy, that those people actually 
lost their jobs as journalists?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well I can think of two that come to mind right in 
the beginning. I havenít heard of any since. But I think Bill Maher, 
there was some kind of rave after 9/11 that all these people, cowards, 
you know these dirty little bastards, who snuck up on us and pulled off 
what amounts to a perfect crime really, no witnesses, very little cost; 
talk about cost-effective, that was a hell of a strike. Iím not sure Iíd 
call them cowards, but thatís what Bill Maher said on TV and he said he 
considered our missile attacks on unseen victims, wedding parties etc. 
that that was cowardly. Whacko. Well that brought a huge tidal wave of 
condemnation that came down on him. And that was the ABC, yeah.

Mick OíRegan: So at the moment people donít want to hear that sort of 
criticism, they want people to rally round the flag and support the 
military?

Hunter S. Thompson: I think thatís right, and I think the reason for 
that is that they donít want to hear it because boy, thatís going to be 
a lot of agonising reappraisal, as they say. What reality is in this 
country and the world right now. Yes, popular opinion in this country 
has to be swung over to ďthe White House is wrong, these people are 
corporate thieves. Theyíve turned the American Dream into a chamber of 
looting.Ē It would take a lot of adjustment, mentally.

Mick OíRegan: At the moment, even in Australia, the media is preparing 
for the first anniversary of the attacks in a couple of weeks from now. 
How is the American media preparing to sort of commemorate the first 
anniversary of the September 11th attack?

Hunter S. Thompson: You would never believe it, itís so insane. This is 
a frantic publicity. Every day on television the Presidentís on TV at 
least once a day, and celebrations of the dead, the patriots, exposes on 
Al Qaida, itís just relentless, in fact 25 hours a day, of just how 
tragic it was and how patriotic it was, and how much we have to get back 
at these dirty little swine, and I wouldnít be at all surprised for as 
hideous and dumb as it sounds, an invasion of Iraq on September 11, yeah 
Iíll get out and take a long shot bet on that.

Mick OíRegan: That you think that the occasion might actually be used as 
a way of using that popular fervour or that popular patriotism as an 
appropriate day to launch an invasion?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well it seems like that to me, because thatís their 
only power base really, is that frenzy of patriotism, and itís our 
revenge strike, you know, Uncle Sam gets even. If thatís going to work 
at all, there would be no time when it would work better when everyone 
in the country is cranked up into emotional frenzies. I myself am 
getting little teary eyed like watching some CNN special. This reminds 
me exactly of the month after the attack when there was just one 
drumroll after another after another. But there is some opposition now 
popping up in this country, a lot of it.

Mick OíRegan: Could I take you back to September 11th. What Iíd really 
like to know is your reactions. And I know you said you were writing a 
sports column for ESPN when the planes hit the towers, but could I get 
you to tell that story of when you found out about it and what you were 
doing and what your reaction was?

Hunter S. Thompson: I had in fact just finished a sports column for 
ESPN. Here it is: ĎIt was just after dawn in Woody Creek, Colorado when 
the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City on Tuesday 
morning. And as usual I was writing about sports. But not for long. 
Football suddenly seemed irrelevant compared to the scenes of 
destruction and other devastation coming out of New York on TV.í

Mick OíRegan: You went on to say in that article, which I have in front 
of me, that Ďeven ESPN was broadcasting war news. It was the worst 
disaster in the history of the United States.í Do you think that the 
event completely transformed the way in which Americans see themselves 
and their own vulnerability?í

Hunter S. Thompson: No, the event by itself wouldnít have done that. But 
it was the way the Administration was able to use that event. Even use 
it as a springboard for everything they wanted to do. And that might 
tell you something. I remember when I was writing that column you sort 
of wonder when something like that happens, Well who stands to benefit? 
Who had the opportunity and the motive? You just kind of look at these 
basic things, and I donít know if I want to go into this on worldwide 
radio here, but Ė

Mick OíRegan: You may as well.

Hunter S. Thompson: All right. Well I saw that the US government was 
going to benefit, and the White House people, the republican 
administration to take the mind of the public off of the crashing 
economy. Now you want to keep in mind that every time a person named 
Bush gets into office, the nation goes into a drastic recession they 
call it.

Mick OíRegan: It seems a very long bow to me, but are you sort of 
suggesting that this worked in the favour of the Bush Administration?

Hunter S. Thompson: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And I have spent enough 
time on the inside of, well in the White House and you know, campaigns 
and Iíve known enough people who do these things, think this way, to 
know that the public version of the news or whatever event, is never 
really what happened.

Mick OíRegan: Well let me just ask you on that. I mean youíve pioneered 
a form of journalism called Gonzo journalism, in which itís almost like 
thereís no revision. What you see and feel is what goes down on the 
page, and itís that first blush, that first image that hits the 
readership. Does that mean that in a way itís hard for you to appear 
credible within the US media because people would say Oh look, thatís 
just another conspiracy theory from a drug-addled Gonzo journalist like 
Hunter S. Thompson?

Hunter S. Thompson: Yeah, thatís a problem. Iím not sure if itís my 
problem or other peopleís, or theirís, but I stand by this column and 
the one after it. Iíve been right so often, and my percentages are so 
high, Iíll stand by this column that I wrote that day, and the next one. 
So what appears to be maybe Gonzo journalism, Iím not going to claim any 
prophetic powers, butÖ

Mick OíRegan: Well one of the things you do say in that first article 
you wrote, you say, ĎItís now 24 hours later, and weíre not getting much 
information about the 5Ws of this thing.í Now by the 5Ws Iím presuming 
you mean the Who, the What, the When, the Why and the How. Is that still 
how you feel, that a year later those key questions havenít been 
answered?

Hunter S. Thompson: Absolutely. Itís even worse though. How much more do 
we have than we had a year ago? Damn little, I think.

Mick OíRegan: Hunter Thompson, will you be at home watching the 
commemoration programs on 11th September? Will you be among the 
audience, which I imagine will number tens of millions of people who 
watch what happens in New York?

Hunter S. Thompson: Thatís a good point, thatís a good question, and 
yes, itís soon, isnít it? No, I wonít. I think Iíll grab Anita and take 
a road trip. Weíll just go off and have a little fun. Why sit around and 
watch that stuff?

Mick OíRegan: US journalist, Hunter S. Thompson with a very personal and 
idiosyncratic view of September 11.


You can also listen to the full 37 minute interview with Hunter S 
Thompson.
Ö

Mick OíRegan: Finally this week to the Australian writer, Peter Carey 
who lives in New York City. Now he doesnít like discussing the attacks, 
and he was a reluctant participant in this interview when he visited 
Australia a couple of weeks ago.

I asked Peter Carey if he thought the American media had changed since 
the attack last September.

Peter Carey: Well, this is not to answer your question, but it is to 
make a comment about the media. I mean I think those images of the 
planes hitting the towers were played in New York way more than they 
should have been. And there it was not a helpful thing for the people in 
that city to see that over and over again. They did back off pretty 
quick, but I mean in the first few days those images were there in New 
York, were overused. And for people whoíd suffered a trauma, to see the 
trauma again and again and again, is not useful, and I wish they hadnít 
done that.

Mick OíRegan: Well what about the images generally and the language used 
by the media, did you notice or did you read of changes that suddenly 
the media went on to what was effectively a war footing?

Peter Carey: Yes, well I guess they did. I think that a lot of us, even 
the most liberal of us, who were there and living in those 
neighbourhoods close to the World Trade Center, felt pretty damn angry 
and traumatised as well. I mean the rest of the world has every reason 
to be terrified of the Americans going nuts, and youíve got this 
government and a terrifying collection of people, in my opinion, I mean 
for Godís sake George W. Bush as President of the United States and 
Cheney in his bunker, these are not comforting things. But at the same 
time, in the day following that attack, I was so angry and upset, you 
would blast anyone back into dust because my wife was in the building, 
for instance. It gets very personal. Iím not like that now, but I was 
like that then.

Mick OíRegan: What about the language the media used? I mean thereís 
been discussion in Australia that the media has too readily picked up 
this whole notion of the war on terror, that thereís been slogans that 
have been promulgated and the mediaís gone, ĎOh good, thatís a handy 
slogan, Iíll use thatí.

Peter Carey: Yes, but you know why. Of course that happens, but just 
about the war on terror, these sort of things are concocted by the PR 
people in politics, and are picked up thoughtlessly and repeated, and it 
happens in all sorts of things doesnít it, itís not just the war on 
terror. But yes, it is thoughtless and useless, and meaningless even.

Mick OíRegan: And the way, you may have to rely on some personal 
anecdote, but the way that people use the media, I mean there was a 
sense here that in those days and weeks following the attack that people 
were sort of almost in a sort of Second World War imagery, clustered 
around radios and television to find out the latest details. Did you 
witness that sort of reliance on the media?

Peter Carey: Oh, well, the thing that I remember like that is the day it 
happened, and youíre right, Iíll have to rely on anecdote. Weíre in this 
little street on the corner of 6th Avenue and Houston Street, you could 
see down there to the World Trade Center, and I heard that plane come 
overhead, and it was very low, a bit weird, but I kept working. But a 
little bit later I went up to the corner and I was up at the corner, the 
radio was real loud, and people were listening to the radio. It took me 
a little while to figure out what was happening and then looked down the 
street and saw the smoke coming out where the first plane had hit. And 
certainly the thing that was happening about that loud radio was, I mean 
obviously you could do that at home if you wanted to, you could turn on 
the television, but I think there was something communal that was going 
on that people were listening to the news together.

Mick OíRegan: Were people critical, or reflective about how their media 
had presented them with information?

Peter Carey: I wasnít. I mean except as I said, it took them a little 
while to get over their sort of high drama repetition of these 
horrendous images. So Iíd be critical of that.

Mick OíRegan: One of the interesting things in the immediate aftermath 
in Australia, which I think surprised a number of my colleagues who had 
talkback programs, was a sense of left-liberal opinion basically saying 
that the US had to understand that a lot of people in the developing 
world, particularly didnít like them. And I know this is broad brush, 
but people in Australia were sort of saying Well look, you know, America 
has to realise that itís foreign policy has had these implications, and 
this is why this is happening. Was there similar self-reflection 
expressed in the media or expressed publicly in the States? Were people 
wondering why this had happened to them?

Peter Carey: Well yes, there was. Weíre not generally very popular, and 
in certain times, not very useful. If youíre in a little town, well 
letís say youíre in a suburb of Brisbane, where thereís been a 
horrendous bushfire, and people have died, say a lot of people have 
died, and theyíre living in a sort of bush suburb. Itís not very helpful 
to those people to be told that they shouldnít live amongst gumtrees. 
Thereís a time to do it, but it isnít then. So although itís absolutely 
and utterly true, that this is a consequence, itís one of the 
consequences of US foreign policy and a certain blindness to the effects 
on people in other parts of the world and the US I believe has 
interfered in this country in a way which shouldnít have been so easily 
forgiven. But there are times when itís useful, I mean Susan Sontag 
wrote about it, the actor Wallace Shawn wrote about this, I know them 
both. I thought they were wrong to do it at that time. Itís a useful 
thing to do, but it seems to me itís so lacking in empathy. Basically at 
that moment. And another friend of mine, Ariel Dorfman, the Chilean 
writer, wrote that. And he said, Maybe now New Yorkers can understand 
what itís like to be in Chile. And Iíve been to Chile with Ariel, and 
itís so insulting to New Yorkers. New Yorkers tend to be left-liberal, 
New Yorkers tend to come from Chile, New Yorkers tend to know what those 
sort of things are about. Anyway, New Yorkers donít need to be told 
about these things, some maybe do, but most of us donít. Weíre not the 
George W. Bush people, weíre the Democrats, if youíre going to find 
resistance to that sort of thing, New York is where youíre going to look 
for it. So to be given lectures when your friends have died and been 
lost that itís somehow your fault, doesnít sit very comfortably.

Mick OíRegan: The anniversaryís coming up obviously; can I get your sort 
of assessment or ideas about the way the American media is preparing for 
this anniversary? I know that thereís been discussions in New York City 
to make it sombre, low-key and respectful. Is that what you imagine the 
media coverage will try to emulate?

Peter Carey: Iím so irritated about the notion of an anniversary anyway. 
I cannot possibly see the use of it, although Iím sure my wife will go 
to the thing in Central Park, and I wonít. It just seems to me something 
that there was a ceremony at the site to honour the dead, I canít 
possibly see, I mean I wonder if there were no media editors in the 
world, whether there would in fact be this anniversary in this way.

Mick OíRegan: That itís almost been promoted by the media?

Peter Carey: Well yes, itís a story, isnít it?

Mick OíRegan: Well indeed itís a story.

Peter Carey: And because itís defined as a story, then it becomes a 
story, and then something happens. But I cannot possibly see what the 
use of it is.

Mick OíRegan: Do you think though that the mediaís trying to pick up on 
the public mood to say that there is a public desire for commemoration 
and weíre going to facilitate that?

Peter Carey: No. I mean I think, listen, I donít know what the public is 
in this case, but if you want to talk about New Yorkers, you sit on a 
train going over a bridge, you watch the way people avert their eyes 
from the place where the World Trade Center was. You know, the people 
who are rushing downtown day after day after day to what now looks like 
a building site, have come from other places, and thatís fine and they 
can do that, and they want to see the site, and they want something, but 
I donít think itís helpful for New Yorkers to have an anniversary. 
Anniversary of what? What have we learnt? I donít think anybodyís learnt 
anything very much since it happened. Thereís no more profound knowledge 
a year later than there was at the time, so you see thatís why I wasnít 
going to talk about it.

Mick OíRegan: Australian writer, Peter Carey whose latest book is ĎThe 
True History of the Kelly Gangí, and just back to Hunter S. Thompson, 
his new book, which comes out in December, is called ĎKingdom of Fear: 
The loathsome secrets of a star-crossed child in the final days of the 
American Dream.í Thatís some title.

Ö

Mick OíRegan: And thatís The Media Report for this week. My thanks to 
producer Caroline Fisher, and technical producer, Peter McMurray.

And before I go, just a pointer to a program that has some resonance 
with todayís Media Report, and thatís Encounter on Sunday at 7am. Itís 
UK Muslims. Wendy Barnaby examines how the September 11th attacks have 
affected the lives of Muslims in the UK.

...

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