The Non-Debate on the War; Media Shuns Legitimate Discourse

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"Teach your interns the role of journalists is to question power, not propagate it." That advice arrived recently from retired New York Times columnist Tom Wicker. While Mr. Wicker's words are important for my journalism students, they're a timely reminder for the Baby Boom leaders of America's newsrooms - who should have learned more than they did in the '60s, when the best and the brightest gave us Vietnam.

The most influential interpreters of our public affairs are accepting, rather than expanding, a noose-tight frame the Washington political culture is enforcing to limit permissible discourse on the war in Iraq.

"The worst, the most corrupting of lies, are problems poorly stated," Georges Bernanos wrote decades ago - an elegant way of saying, those who twist the terms of a debate skew its outcome.

Look at almost any major daily op-ed page, watch the Sunday shows or listen to nightly cable-babble. See how seldom you encounter voices against the war permitted to argue we should just end it, not try to mend it.

Sure, there is coverage of protests, like the mother outside President Bush's ranch. There have been many pieces about unfound weapons of mass destruction. Columns were filled with findings of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, including the discovery of no operational link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. But those reports are the raw material of discourse, not the debate itself. In fact, the Crawford protest is the opposite of reasoned debate; it's a sideshow of verbal combatants yelling past each other. For average citizens to be presented with meaningful alternatives to the current war policy, we must have legitimate, fully engaged discourse, with intelligent voices coming to competing conclusions.

We're not getting that honest debate. Instead, those who control access to mainstream media are telling a quiet, corrupting lie when they allow the Bush administration and "opposition" congressional Democrats to engage in Amish-style shunning of those who advocate immediately ending the war. War proponents attack them with the ultimate Beltway rhetorical weapon: "not serious." In his wonderful new book, "Radical Evolution," Joel Garreau writes about the "tribal town" of Washington's definition of "serious," as in, "He is a serious person," or "That is a serious idea." "Serious does not necessarily have anything to do with whether the person or idea is correct, important or valuable," Mr. Garreau explains. "It implies that the idea or person is deemed ready for admittance to the sacraments of authority - such as congressional hearings ... It basically means housebroken." The housebroken big dogs of the press corps won't admit end-it-now opponents of the war to the fraternity of The Serious. …