Memo to Miranda: get the full picture
by Tom Pearson Ms Devine, in your Sydney Morning Herald column last week ("Lofty moralists blind to stark truth") you accused universities, and certain media and institutions of the "so-called intellectual classes", of preventing Australians from making "the choice between right and wrong in the most important conflict most of us have faced". This, you said, was due to something called "the philosophy of moral relativism, or situational ethics" . Well, I don't know the philosophy you refer to, but I do know that everything is relative, as in your comparison of the treatment of prisoners by the Iraqis with the behaviour of US soldiers; "former [US] POWs from the first Gulf War have reported torture, beatings, broken legs and dislocated shoulders, burning cigarettes pressed into open wounds, and worse." On the other hand, ethically the situation with the American troops is pure as the driven snow, or sand in this case. "By contrast, you have the photograph which appeared on the front pages of this newspaper on Saturday: of two US soldiers, one cradling the head of an exhausted Iraqi soldier and pouring water into his mouth, while the other soldier prudently holds a rifle to the Iraqi's head. I know which side I'd prefer to be taken prisoner by." I am compelled to point out that the same photographs, the same images of the war, appeared in all the mass media. Pictures in the Fairfax press are printed in the News Ltd papers: that Herald front page you sermonised looked exactly the same as the front page of The Australian. Seen relatively one can only conclude that this homogenous reportage is the result of all information coming from the one source — the US military. There's the "embedded" journalists travelling as captive reporters with US forces, and the official US media centre in Qatar, all dishing out a stream of carefully orchestrated disinformation. Those images of the invading troops with swaddled babies and beautiful, sad-eyed children — should we tolerate such cynicism, such manipulation, such hypocrisy? Miranda, we know that what is happening in Iraq is the slaughter of the innocents. And as this war continues the horrors will inevitably be revealed: the things being done to the Iraqi people in the name of "democracy and freedom" by the Australian, British and American militaries you and I could not conjure up from even the darkest recesses of our imaginations. Yet, when it comes to diversity of information you trained your sights on two of its sources, Al-Jazeera and the ABC. You were even outraged at the national broadcaster giving the Iraqi Information Minister some airtime, miniscule relative to the blanket coverage of the invaders' version of the war. Clearly you believe that "balanced" reporting is old hat. In fact, it was on the ABC Radio National program The Media Report that we had a glimpse of the extent of the censorship taking place, and it came from the Herald's picture editor, Michael Bowers. One photo, of an Iraqi girl being taken off the back of a truck by her father, was cropped by the Herald to hide the fact that both her feet had been blown off. Asked about the way images of death and destruction are dealt with, Mr Bowers said "I don't think you need to get those really gory images out there." It would certainly upset readers, to the point of rage and outrage against the war. I suggest such anger would be directed against those who sent the troops there, and the troops themselves. After all, you and I know what soldiers are trained to do. The promotion of Australia's military forces as some kind of humanitarian aid agency may have succeeded in lulling some people into a false sense of security. But we know that soldiers are trained to obey orders without question; that their fundamental, their overriding reason for existence, is to kill. And when it comes to politics you and I also know the abiding rule: to be duped or not to be duped — that is the question. That child's feet — that is war, and Australian troops and the Prime Minister who sent them are responsible. Some might say that in the battle of ideas, for hearts and minds if you will, columnists in the mass media are a tiny brood whose cacophony of clucking is amplified out of all proportion by their prominence on the opinion pages of the daily press. Am I accusing you of firing off your pro-war salvos from behind the censored photos of the maimed and the dead? Would that be moral relativism, or situational ethics?