UNITED BY OUR DISAGREEMENTS
Just show the darn pictures! That’s what America and the World were thinking when news of Osama Bin Laden’s death spread. Photographs of the shooting were rumored to having been shown all over Capital Hill. CNN repeatedly teased that if any pictures of Bin Laden’s final moments were made available they would show them immediately. We waited and waited until it was finally decided the photographs would not be shown. 9/11 victims and their families were denied the satisfaction of the gruesome details of the final moments for a man who masterminded attacks that changed our lives.
Some pictures were shown, however. A wide shot of the President and his security team watching the raid on Bin Laden’s compound with the President looking grim and Secretary of State Clinton looking frightened. Their faces spoke volumes. Even with a quick glance at the photograph we can see fear, determination, grit, and a full understanding of the gravity of that moment. The picture is classic, one of the most important and stunning images of this young century.
Meanwhile, the grizzly details of the assassination came into sharp debate both in the media and in our homes. Was Bin Laden armed? He used a woman as a shield; wait, no he didn’t. Did the Pakistani’s know where he was? Did we just murder the man in cold blood? If yes, who cares? Those questions and arguments were hashed and rehashed on the evening news all week long. But what many of us can’t get over is that picture of the President with his team and the lack of a closing photograph of Bin Laden being made immediately available.
Asking those questions is what journalism is supposed to be about. No other country in the world sensationalizes its media the way the United States does. These debates, questions, arguments, pictures, and articles are what we love the most about ourselves. But one can’t escape the reality that in this instance there was no investigation coinciding with journalism. It was the President doling out information, not journalists digging in to the story. All of the information surrounding Bin Laden’s death was controlled by Capitol Hill. There was never any consensus about what happened, what the pictures showed, what should have been done, or what the role of journalists is when there is no lead in to a breaking news event like a covert operation.
Across the world young people are yearning to be able to have debates and questions. Egypt protested this winter, as did Libya. In Iran the youth want a return to the progressive days of their parents and grandparents where people could express themselves without fear of retaliation.
In Europe, protests and demonstrations abound because of strange and harsh pseudo-repression of free speech. It’s not “outlawed” but not exactly encouraged. Conservative nations like France have slipped in the world view when it comes to real journalism.
Examples abound and no one has it right. But the beauty of real journalism is that no one has to be right. We just have to be engaged the way we have been this past week. When one thinks of the repressive, tyrannical, and bankrupt ideas of Osama Bin Laden it calls to mind what this world would be like without freedom of speech and expression. This nation was founded on the principle that people were created equally and therefore had a right to speak, a right to protest, a right to disagree. This is how we became the United States of America. United in the bond that we’re not all alike, but we’re all free and all equal. Even when that’s not really true in application such as during the Civil Rights movement.
Martin Luther King said it best. Addressing a crowd in Montgomery he said “ the only weapon we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That’s all. And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America with all its faults. This is the glory of democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a communistic nation, we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime, we couldn’t do this. But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right”.
Our democracy is founded on journalism. Breaking the news. This is what unites us and the world. Moving forward, journalism will take on new meaning in new venues. Morning papers have been replaced by CNN.com. Evening news anchors have been shoved out by the blogs of others. But whatever the venue, whatever the topic, it is through this medium that we see each other clearly. And ourselves.