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Communication & Media

News & Events

The media and 'America's new war'


NEW PALTZ -- In the wake of the terror attacks of Sept 11, there has been much talk about the alleged conflict between patriotism and journalism.

Jeff Cohen, founder of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the co-author of "Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News," and a weekly panelist on the national "Fox NewsWatch" TV program, doesn't see the conflict.

"Love of country in a democracy, especially for journalists, means you value and foster vibrant discussion and debate. And never is full debate more necessary than when a democracy is going to war."

Cohen will be the featured speaker at a State University of New York at New Paltz lecture entitled "The Current Crisis: What the Media Aren't Telling You" on Tuesday, Nov. 27. Cohen will be joined by Joel Kovel, a professor of social studies at Bard College.

The lecture is sponsored by the September 11th Response Committee -- an ad-hoc committee of SUNY New Paltz faculty, staff and students -- and the Center for Peace and Social Justice. The lecture, which begins at 8 p.m. in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium, is free and open to the public.

While Cohen applauds the compassion and sensitivity that many journalists brought to the first days of coverage, he says concerns should be raised by the remarks of CBS anchor Dan Rather about giving the government "the benefit of the doubt" and that "George Bush is the President -- wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where."

Since the horror of Sept. 11, Cohen says many news outlets have abandoned even the trappings of objectivity and neutrality, with newspapers publishing "Bin Laden: Wanted Dead or Alive" posters.

Commentators and columnists aren't supposed to be objective, but should they be advocating war crimes? asks Cohen -- citing commentaries by a number of pundits, including Bill O'Reilly of Fox News and A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times.

"In the first weeks, some pundits seemed to be competing with each other to see who could call for the most civilians to be killed overseas, the most Islamic countries to be attacked, the most cities to be leveled," Cohen says. "These pundits don't see that their advocacy is often a mirror image of that of the terrorists, as when conservative columnist Ann Coulter wrote: "We should attack their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

In analyzing media coverage of the current crisis, Cohen will discuss other U.S. conflicts and resultant media coverage, including the 1986 attack on Libya and the history of U.S. relationships with Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and Osama binLaden.

Writing on the day of the terrorist attacks on New York and D.C., Cohen ended his column: "Outrage is the natural and appropriate response to the mass murder of September 11. But media should not be glibly encouraging retaliatory violence without remembering that U.S. retaliation has killed innocent civilians abroad, violated international law and done little to make us safer."

For more information, contact Nancy Schniedewind at 257-2827 or John Agnelli at 257-4601.