“You furnish the pictures,” William Randolph Hearst allegedly told a reluctant artist in 1898, “and I’ll furnish the war.” Long the symbol of what has been called “Yellow Journalism,” Hearst and his reporters boosted circulation for his national newspaper chain by writing sensationalistic and even lurid stories about atrocities in Cuba prior to the Spanish-American War.
Newsmen obliged with stories of Cubans massacred and tortured by the Spanish, or noncombatants starved in concentration camps and subjected to sexual indignities. A few of these tales were true; others were exaggerated and even fabricated.
But Hearst’s yellow press splashed them all over Page One as gospel, and other papers followed his lead. In news reports, editorials and pictures, the American people were reminded daily about the horrible situation in Cuba and exhorted to do something about it. This intensive propaganda campaign was certain to influence popular opinion, supported by clergy and the political establishment as well.
Sound familiar? Ironically, the current furor about the goings on in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib Prison is cut from the same cloth as Hearst’s yellow journalism. All the elements are there: shrill, near-hysterical headlines demanding immediate action; publication of inflammatory photos documenting mistreatment of prisoners; and editorial condemnation.
The story was broken by the mainstream liberal media and gleefully urged on by find-fault-with-America types like Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker magazine and Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times.
Once the story was out, it became quickly politicized as Democratic operatives saw a way to boost the lackluster, sagging campaign of John Kerry with another made-to-order scandal on the heels of the highly partisan September 11 Commission hearings.
The manufactured and propagandistic coverage of the Abu Ghraib shenanigans has had its intended and predictable “piling on” effect. First, “outraged’ persons called for President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld to “apologize,” followed by ruminations on whether the apologies were sincere or strong enough.
As the weird “orgy night” photos began dribbling out in the media, the campaign was ratcheted up with Democrat politicians and liberal newspapers demanding Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation, and instant congressional committees of inquiry planned to probe the matter further.
Thus, any legitimate discussion on how best to warehouse and interrogate enemy combatants and terrorists, many of whom may have murdered American soldiers and innocent Iraqi citizens, has been drowned out by antiwar sympathizers and those who want to use this flap to gain political power.
The Democrats use their media allies to turn the whole thing into a giant anti-Bush (and anti-Republican) juggernaut, and will try to stretch any new shocking revelations as far as the November elections to discredit the administration. Every bit of bad news will be seen as another sign of failure.
At the start of the 20th century, Hearst’s yellow journalism was directed against Spain, seen as a colonialist interloper. Today’s yellow journalism inexplicably targets our own country, even while our soldiers are at war.
Perspective and proportion are lacking. It is the reaction of people who usually have no firsthand battlefield experience. It cannot be overemphasized that soldiers risk their very lives under extreme and hostile circumstances.
Soldiers see their friends and comrades cut down or blown up every day by ruthless concealed enemies, driven by medieval fanaticism, who have no concern for human life. Is it reasonable to assume that under these stressful conditions all our soldiers will have the mindset to play by Marquis of Queensbury rules?
One can only conclude in the Abu Ghraib affair that some of our military have exceeded their authority and should be called to account. But to allow this to be made another full-blown Beltway blowout by media and political ax-grinders is just a shameful travesty repellent to watch and that can only sap our national will.
Mr. Kalellis is a Michigan-based columnist and writer whose articles appear regularly in various local and national print publications, and is a featured pundit for NewsMax.com and TownHall.com.