While listening to Hillary Clinton’s speech on Pakistan and Afghanistan at the Asia Society in New York on February 18, I wanted to ask her if Raymond Davis, the former US Special Forces soldier, held in Lahore for shooting and killing two Pakistanis, was a CIA agent as one blogger reported.
Clinton left quickly that afternoon without taking any questions. Two days later, the Guardian newspaper in Britain reported Davis’ CIA identity. It also revealed that major US news organizations deliberately withheld the information from readers at the request of the Obama administration. The Guardian, which also received the request, chose to disobey.
The following day, both the New York Times and Washington Post confirmed the Guardian’s report. However, neither of them showed any regret for misleading readers in their weeks of reporting on the issue, since the shooting on Jan 27.
Feeling betrayed as a loyal reader and a fellow journalist, I vented my anger in an e-mail to Arthur S. Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times. The reply from his office mentioned that I was not the only one to protest over this.
However, when Brisbane tried to justify the Times’ actions on Sunday, his totally unapologetic tone only served to make people even angrier, as evidenced by the hundreds of comments posted by readers.
Brisbane’s excuses are hardly convincing. Two of the three people cited in his article justifying his paper’s actions are Dean Baquet, the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times and Bob Woodward, the associate editor of the Washington Post. Both have a conflict of interest in judging the issue.
The Times has repeatedly said that its actions were motivated by concern for the safety of the man Obama called “our diplomat in Pakistan”.
But if that kind of excuse is justified, the Times and major US news organizations should withhold many stories on a daily basis, since many stories might jeopardize the life of someone directly or indirectly either in the US or another country.
The New York Times is not the worst culprit in the case despite its apparent blunder in informing the public, other major US media outlets, such as the Washington Post, Associated Press and ABC, have not yet openly discussed the issue.
US news media are known for going after scandals, yet in the past few days they have been extremely quiet in pursuing a scandal of their own. Such a conspiracy simply adds scandal on scandal.
Most Americans trust major US media outlets more than they trust anyone else. That is why Al-Jazeera English, a 24-7 TV network that does a great job in covering world news, especially the Middle East and the Muslim world, is still struggling to persuade major US cable companies to carry it.
The Financial Times reported on Friday that Al Anstey, managing director of Al-Jazeera English, has collected 40,000 e-mails from US citizens, urging US cable companies to carry its broadcasts. At the moment, only small cable companies in Washington, Burlington of Vermont and Toledo of Ohio broadcast Al-Jazeera.
One Columbia University journalism professor I met recently told me that Al-Jazeera English’s news reporting is so good that major US networks would worry about losing viewers if Al-Jazeera is carried by major cable companies.
And many US citizens, still suffering from paranoia after Sept 11, 2001, look at Al-Jazeera’s Arabic name with suspicion and even hostility, despite the fact that the English language broadcaster is held in high esteem in many parts of the world.
Now with major US media organizations collaborating with the government in hiding sensitive information from readers, it shows how important it is for US citizens to have access to news sources from other parts of the world.
The author is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org