By Frank Moher
Note the quid pro quo built into The Globe and Mail’s editorial on the subject of Muntadar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who showed off his footwear to President Bush. “Mr. Zaidi gained his privileged access to Mr. Bush on the strength of his accreditation as a journalist,” intones the Globe. ” . . . . The price for this access was a duty to treat Mr. Bush, as with any other news subject, fairly and professionally.”
In other words, in return for the “privilege” of access to a democratically-elected leader, and no matter how egregious the behaviour of that leader, news organizations should sit quietly and speak when pointed to.
Now, I don’t think actual shoe-throwing is good journalistic practice, though in this case it is entirely defensible on human grounds. After all, Bush really did create a lot of “widows and orphans,” per Zaidi’s rant, in pursuit of an illegal and cynical war. What’s a shoe or two in response? But let’s agree that too much of this sort of thing will make a mess of our press rooms.
However, I do hope for much metaphorical shoe-throwing from the fifth estate in the months and years to come, as the crimes of the Bush administration continue to come to light.
Let’s have sturdy Florsheims thrown at the President and his men for their blithe dismissal of the Geneva Convention — especially by news organizations who said nothing at the time. Let’s have muddy Timberlands tossed at them for illegal wiretapping, not to mention the legislation they passed to retroactively absolve themselves and their corporate patsies of guilt. Let’s lob Barbara Amiel’s entire closet of Manolo Blahniks, spiked heels forward, at them for creating a culture of cruel disregard for human dignity which inevitably trickled-down to the enlisted ranks.
There are some encouraging signs that this sort of rearguard action on the part of the press is beginning; see this editorial in Thursday’s New York Times, describing the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on prisoner mistreatment in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay as making “a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.”
Good. The Times was one of those complaisant news organizations in the lead-up to both wars, and throughout much of their prosecution. A few dozen more such editorials, and a couple of investigative series about, oh, I don’t know, take your pick — Haliburton, 9/11, the imposition of The Patriot Act — and they might begin to regain some of their authority.
But who is missing from the the Times‘ list of prospective jailbirds? No, not just the Vice-President, but ol’ “I’m the Decider” himself. The real test of the American press’s mettle will be whether they can set aside their deeply-schooled deference to the presidency and call for Bush to be held to account, in court, for the actions of his administration. Until that happens, their shoes remain firmly, and timorously, fixed to both feet.