alt.war

Traditional media mislead the public about the war in Iraq as a media revolution makes traditional media increasingly irrelevant

It used to be that aspiring journalists not wishing to ascend from the Twin Falls Times-News to the Newport News Daily Press to the Sacramento Bee were obliged to consider careers in public relations. Now, they aspire to covering Bosnia for Reuters, or they work toward reporting for Willamette Week in Portland, Ore.

For people in the news business, this expansion of career paths has been a glorious turn of events. For readers realizing they needn't be duped by the presumptive objectivity of their local network affiliate or daily newspaper, it's better still.


Last week my mother, who's been following the war on the Manchester Guardian's Web site, called to say she'd found an article by an old buddy of mine who used to work with me at the Sacramento Union and is now reporting out of Tehran. Three days later my dad called to talk about something he saw on Jimhightower.com. He complained, facetiously, about all the myriad e-mailed war-related articles he's been receiving from friends in rural mountain towns.

I asked him about the boxes stashed under the Berkeley apartment building. He described an early 1960s flowering of alternative media, similar, in some ways, to the flowering of today. Dad discovered publications such as IF Stone's Weekly while attending seminary in Nebraska. Before that he'd been an Ike voter. Eventually he took out subscriptions to 22 obscure publications.

"My professor of ethics was instrumental in getting a segment of the library at Iliff Theological Seminary to include hundreds of periodicals that were not per se religious-oriented," Dad recalled. "I was addicted. I really had a problem because I would get lost in that reading room. It was built in a half circle, and it had really comfortable chairs — the most comfortable chairs in the institution. People who were interested in the publications would stop by, and soon you were talking with people with a broader interest."

By the late 1960s, hundreds of thousands of people inspired by alternative voices in the media and elsewhere were protesting the Vietnam War.

Likewise in 2003, it won't be a reformed Fox News or a cowed San Francisco Chronicle or an NBC repentant for firing Peter Arnett that will inspire Americans to begin rethinking the way their country relates to the world.

Instead, it will be Joe Conason at Salon.com (a site that survives, albeit, on plasma donations from employees). These curious Americans will get their news from Sam Smith's crazy yet great Progressive Review (www.prorev.com). They'll read war coverage on the left from Christian Sojourners (www. sojo.net). They'll find Washington Monthly writer Joshua Micah Marshall's Weblog (www.talkingpointsmemo.com), the New York Review of Books' online edition (nybooks.com), the news site published by Working Assets (Workingforchange.com), the polyglot Libertarian peacenik site antiwar.com, the eclectic left site www.cursor.org, an alternative weekly group (newtimes.com), Reuters via Yahoo.com, the BBC via Google. com, and Middle East news via http://weekly.ahram.org.eg. And there's even Bloomberg world news, which, thanks to the odd frankness typical of financial news, sports breaking, Fox-unfriendly headlines such as this: "Allies in Iraq War Are Cited in U.S. Report for Poor Human-Rights Records" (http://www.bloomberg.com/bbn/windex.html).

There has long existed a convention among news readers, and news reporters, that stories don't really exist until they appear in the mainstream press. Given the recent journalistic debacle in Iraq, an opposite standard may apply: Once you turn off television news, it no longer exists. Myself, I'm heading this week to Berkeley, flashlight in hand, to look for some old apple boxes.

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