The Risk of Knowing

[The following article is posted with permission from Edward J. Carvalho and David B. Downing, eds., Academic Freedom and Intellectual Activism in the Post-9/11 University. Works and Days, 26 (Spring/Fall 2008) (forthcoming).]

          The deceptive claims offered by the Bush administration to justify the US invasion of Iraq are on record. They implicated Congress and the mainstream media that supported them in violation of international law and the Constitution. Deception was designed to blunt the feared impact of public opposition to the war, thus confirming the fear of an informed and aroused public opinion among those whose overt contempt appears to belie any such position.

          In the summer of 2008, the media was reported to have demoted the war in Iraq to "the back burner," allegedly due to lack of public interest, the expense of wartime coverage and the competition of the presidential campaign.[1] Iraq had become "like a conversation killer," according to an American correspondent in Baghdad, which was meant to explain why its coverage was "scaled back."

          But was the scaling back a response to lack of public interest or loss of public confidence in media coverage of the war, or something more? There was a photograph that accompanied the story. It was of a weeping Iraqi woman. Underneath the photo, the caption read: "For the people in Iraq, the war is fulltime. A woman wept as the body of a relative was borne to burial in Najaf." The juxtaposition of the image and the story underlined the contrast between those for whom the war was "fulltime" and those who had no time for it. What explained the apparent failure to connect, the inability to see and understand and empathize with human loss and to feel some sense of responsibility? Was it indifference or a reflexive numbing that had become a long term habit?

          There were other crises in the Middle East that also appeared to have been scaled back in the media or else offered with inadequate or absent historical explanation. Washington’s backing of Israeli bombing of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 fits this category. The coverage. or lack thereof, of the continuing Israeli Palestinian conflict in the West Bank and Gaza does not differ.

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