If there’s one thing you can take to the bank it’s that when editorials in certain newspapers start with the words “It does no disservice to the memory of . . . “, someone’s memory is about to be disserved. In the case to which we refer, it is that of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter killed by Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan. The paper doing the dissing is none other than the New York Post.
As near as we can figure, the Post, in its Feb. 25 editions, used the Pearl slaying as an excuse to rail against what it sees as the woeful state of American journalism post-Sept. 11. It suggests that Pearl was as much a victim of institutional hubris on the part of the Fourth Estate as he was the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group. It charged that in sending their reporters to places like Afghanistan to ferret out the truth, newspapers are not only endangering the lives of their people but are also undermining American ideals and institutions.
In reading the tortured logic of the Post editorial, one is reminded of the old baseball anecdote about the great Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson and his catcher, Tim McCarver. Gibson, a notoriously testy competitor, had just given up a home run when McCarver approached the mound to offer some advice. “Get back behind the plate where you belong,” Gibson shouted. “The only thing you know about good pitching is you can’t hit it.” The same can often be said about the Post and its ability to produce good journalism.
There is some irony in the fact that Pearl’s tragic death should force the Post to go full bore at the Journal. After all, when in comes to giving aid and comfort to this country’s far-right-wing polemicists, the Journal’s editorial pages take a back seat to no one — except maybe the Post.
But even diehard conservatives, especially the more thoughtful ones among us, have got to be horrified at the Post’s position. The paper may be right that “the men of al Q’da have no clue as to what the First Amendment is about,” but Americans certainly do. Having newspapers in service to governments, not to the truth, is a hallmark of countries like Cuba, not the U.S., nor much of the rest of the free world. Though in fairness to the Post, it must be said that it’s an ideologically driven paper that just happens to have found a soulmate in the current administration.
Despite what the Post believes, in the wake of Sept. 11 we need more, not fewer, Daniel Pearls — men and women who follow their instincts, not the government line, even if it sometimes means putting themselves at risk. Daniel Pearl’s death is a tragedy for his colleagues in journalism and indeed for all Americans, even if the Post doesn’t quite get it.
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