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I’ve worked in journalism for 35 years. I did graduate study in journalism, I’ve worked as a daily newspaper reporter and I’ve freelanced magazine articles and newspaper op-eds. Now I blog.
I’ve learned that certain ideas are not permitted in the mainstream press. Well-paid gatekeepers might say these ideas are misguided, wrong or irresponsible, but that’s not really the reason. It’s because certain ideas are not in alignment with the middle-brow assumptions our mainstream press operates within. It also has to do with a commercial inclination for celebrity journalism and a fetish for scorekeeping over analysis.
Here’s a personal example. For three weeks, since the Times Square bombing attempt, I’ve been in a back-and-forth exchange with the op-ed editor of a major city newspaper over a 900-word piece focused on the motivations of would-be bomber Faisal Shahzad.
Over the years I’ve had numerous op-eds in this newspaper, most of them critical of the current wars and all leaning to the political left.
Based on remarks the editor emailed to me, I re-wrote the piece twice. Now I’m getting silence. It seems I have hit the wall of verboten ideas; I think he’s ashamed to tell me “no” outright.
Here’s the paragraphs that contain what I submit is an unacceptable idea for mainstream US minds:
There is no indication Shahzad calculated becoming a citizen to pull off a terrorist act. His decision to kill seems to have come later, a combination of his life coming apart and anger at US drone attacks in northwest Pakistan where he was raised.
Discussion of this case often assumes the interests of the Pakistan Taliban to attack America occurred outside history, that somehow the change in their attitude is not a result of our escalating drone attacks and our pressure on the Pakistani military to assault northwest Pakistan. It’s as if the United States is exempt from history and our actions don’t have consequences.
It’s exactly the same brand of denial that pushed 50 years of military and political intervention and oil exploitation in Saudi Arabia from the minds of Americans as to why 16 Saudis drove planes into our buildings on September 11th.
The idea in these sentences – that a history of US military intervention is a prime motivation of “terrorist” attacks on us here and around the world -- is effectively embargoed from mainstream discussion. Instead, the working assumptions supporting stories must be Fear Of Attack and Support The Troops – and that we are being attacked due to the evil of those attacking us.
Sure, there’s evil in the world and a share of it resides in the hearts of our declared enemies. But a share of evil also lies in our hearts. That’s not the point.
The point is to get at the roots of the conflicts we are involved in so we can begin to ratchet them down, get out of places like Iraq and Afghanistan and focus our resources on neglected needs here in our own country.