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9/11 Trial Is No Time for Journalistic Activism

November 18, 2009

Monday night’s episode of The Daily Show raised an important issue, as only Jon Stewart could – replaying moments from the ridiculous media frenzies surrounding high-profile trials in this country, as a prelude to the upcoming trial in New York City of the 9/11 terrorists.

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When the 9/11 trial does begin, no one will be laughing. We are already seeing a profuse amount of punditry on the television screen, radio waves, Internet and print news, sending an ominous signal of the media barrage to come.  The trial itself will be a drawn-out, exhausting process for the nation. But it’s the impending, non-stop, circus-like media coverage that will undoubtedly be the test of the endurance of the American spirit.  If past examples show us anything, it’s that the media will forever believe more is better in their rabid pursuit of ratings and readers.

Jeanette Pryor recently wrote an in-depth piece on the choices facing journalists going into this controversial trial. In her article, she asks journalists,

“Will you join the perpetrators by facilitating their release onto the streets of New York, thus preparing yourselves to be the sure victims of their Jihad? Will you be worse, will you be a bystander and miss your chance to prosecute, by ink and by words, the men who cut a fellow writer into pieces?”

Pryor’s questions caused me to pause and consider for a moment my training and education as a journalist in the military – having learned the same fundamentals as any civilian student of journalism.  One of these fundamentals is a clear definition of the role of journalists – to cover the stories that matter to their readers/viewers/listeners with objectivity and a vigilant focus on the facts.

A common criticism of judges – Supreme Court, Appellate or other – is a perceived tendency among some jurists to decide cases before them in a manner that rewrites law, rather than deciding cases based on the law as it is written. It’s called judicial activism.

“Will you be worse, will you be a bystander and miss your chance to prosecute, by ink and by words, the men who cut a fellow writer into pieces?”

In her passionate plea, Pryor is calling for what I would term Journalistic Activism – asking journalists to lay their judgment on the content of events, rather than cover the events in a factual manner consistent with ethical journalism. Such practice is more commonly known as trial by media or trying a case in the court of public opinion.

The events of 9/11 have caused Americans to question – more deeply than any event in recent decades – the proper balance between our liberties and our security. Some might argue we have already given up too much in the form of American ideals and liberties, in the wake of the Patriot Act for example, in reaction to an attack by fanatics.

Calling on journalists to act as mouthpieces for our darkest fears and anger would not likely impact one word or decision inside the walls of the courtroom where these zealots will be tried. But it would certainly be, for America, yet another compromise – another thread pulled from the fabric of the America – in the names of fear and retribution.

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  1. Jonathan permalink
    November 18, 2009 5:47 am

    How insane are things getting in this country?

    Well, I think the Obama administration is either angling to give KSM a shot at beating the charges. Or a platform by which he can castigate America further and create a firestorm through the media. Or an opportunity to damage the intelligence gathering agencies and activities of the United States by divulging secrets and techniques.

    If Obama is a Muslim, than he is bound by his religion to put Allah ahead of America. He is also NOT bound by any oath of office or any sense of duty to American non-Muslims to tell them the truth or deal with them fairly. This should be a no-brainer obvious fact. Obama is more bound to KSM than he is to the infidel victims of 9-11.

  2. jjay permalink
    November 18, 2009 6:21 am

    Bravo! Thank you for bringing this despotic tendency to the light of discussion. When those who call themselves a ‘journalist’ can openly on the air or vision waves say things like “Pelosi may find herself bobbing lifeless in the Hudson” and others call for the death of our president based on an Old Testament scripture (Psalms) which refers to David replacing a corrupt king in God’s name… then we are all dangerously allowing or encouraging extremists to take their misguided idea of being chosen by God or their sickness to an end that we all will sorely regret.

    • In the Know permalink
      November 18, 2009 6:59 am

      You are willfully blind…..

    • Jonathan permalink
      November 18, 2009 7:03 am

      But of course, you’re a leftist, so you’re only bothered by certain types of extremism.

  3. macko permalink
    November 18, 2009 7:03 am

    When they finish with “Herendo Revolver” being the voice of reason I found it very sobering. They thought they were making funof fox news but to me it shows the stpidity that’s being forced on the american people without rhyme or reason.

    This all might be an extension of this administrations reset button game but, they need to be careful. Detonators have buttons too.

    One more thing. 9/11 was the day the blind sheik was sentenced for the first WTC bombing.

  4. John Davidson permalink
    November 18, 2009 10:30 am

    The problem with journalism in most smaller towns is that their publications rely so much on advertising revenue to sustain themselves and lately, that revenue is mostly generated by the government.

  5. Len Powder permalink
    November 18, 2009 7:32 pm

    This circus will have nothing to do journalistic ethics. This trial will only further divide this country, citizens and journalists alike. Conservative talk shows will present one side of the discourse and the liberal media (NYT, CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.) will present this other. Conservatives will, as usual, frame their arguments according to the facts and their conservative principles. Liberals will, as usual, interpret the facts according to their socialist ideology. There will be recriminations and accusations from both sides against the other. The report (or lack thereof) will be no different than it is today, or has been for 10 years or more. The rancor will only become more intense in the media and in the public arena than it already is. America did not need a divisive health care bill or government bailouts to split the country into two different nations, not unlike during the civil war. And this pathetic farce, called a trial, will divide the nation even further. Obama is the most divisive President the country ever had and he is cementing the division further with each stupid action and policy.

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