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Talking Back: Truth is not political manipulation

Brett Berry
By Brett Berry
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, May 4, 2004
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Apparently, there is a strong, right-wing effort out there to hide anything that shows the deadly costs of war at least when it's something that can be viewed as hurting morale and support for the war.

Last week, there was the whole fiasco surrounding the release of the pictures of the flag-draped caskets of fallen Americans returning from war, with the right wing claiming that it was disrespectful and exploitative of the dead. Funny, though, there was no right-wing objection to the use of Pat Tillman's death as an example of true patriotism. Why wasn't the focus on his death viewed as an exploitation of his sacrifice, especially when he was someone who refused the media's spotlight? I guess it's only exploitation when it could possibly reduce the public's support for war.

Friday saw the most recent example of this. ABC's Ted Koppel aired an entire episode of "Nightline" devoted to the American soldiers who died in combat in Iraq. For 34 minutes, Koppel matched the names and faces of those 721 people who died in Iraq up to that point. The episode, entitled "The Fallen," was meant to "elevate the fallen above the conflicts and daily journalism," Koppel said. It was not meant as a political statement about the war, antiwar or otherwise. Koppel was simply "opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way."

Despite his statements, Koppel's show was not viewed that way by all. In fact, for many people, it wasn't viewed at all. The Sinclair Broadcast Group prohibited any of its ABC affiliates to air the show. The SBG claims that the episode was "motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq." It essentially asserted that Koppel's show was an example of antiwar propaganda attempting to "influence public opinion." Thus, it would not allow the episode to be aired. Shows that state one political point of view, they say, are not examples of good journalism.

This is true, but isn't everything political on television biased to one point of view? Apparently, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly don't present only one political ideology over another. If the SBG wants to forbid any "politically motivated" things on its networks, it should not allow any presidential ads to be aired. Political ads are the quintessence of propaganda, especially when they're as manipulative and contrived as Bush's ads.

Regardless, since when has the truth become associated with propaganda? There is no manipulation of the facts in showing the human faces of those who have died in the Iraqi conflict. It does, though, make a real difference to see the 721 faces rather than just look at the number. Maybe it does make Americans rethink the justification for war, and maybe it doesn't. No matter what it does, it is the truth.

If the SBG really does not want to allow propaganda on its affiliate networks, maybe it shouldn't air the next interview from Dubya, Rumsfeld or Rice. I'm still waiting to hear one statement from any of them that is completely factual and not trying to "influence public opinion." But I guess it's OK for them to do this because they're conservative.

It is interesting to note that among all of the SBG's executives, 98 percent of their personal political contributions of 2004 have gone to the Republican Party. In fact, four of them have already given the maximum $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney re-election

campaign. Hmm. Is there no evidence for a political agenda in the SBG's censure of Koppel? It seems like the SBG is actually just trying to do whatever it can to keep Dubya in office and support the right wing, whether by giving money or by silencing any dissenters.

Thankfully, there is at least one voice of reason in the Republican Party: John McCain. He chastised the SBG for its "decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs," calling their censure of Koppel "unpatriotic." He very accurately labeled the SBG's actions to be a "gross disservice to the public and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces." But, of course, all the SBG can say is that Koppel's show was an attempt to influence public opinion.

The thing is, there is no reason to censor someone like Koppel when all he is doing is stating the truth. And even if Koppel was trying to make a political statement, his show was no more of an attempt to influence the public's political opinion than the SBG's decision to censor it.

Brett Berry is a regional development sophomore who finds censorship offensive. He can be reached at

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