“Baa! Reluctant warrior! Baa!”: Professional journalists fall in with the flock

“Baa! Reluctant warrior! Baa!”: Professional journalists fall in with the herd
by Ian Sinclair
1 October 2014

Journalists are “awash in countless highly ideological assumptions that are anything but objective”, noted Glenn Greenwald in 2012. “These assumptions are almost always unacknowledged as such and are usually unexamined, which means that often the journalists themselves are not even consciously aware that they have embraced them.”

Like Andrew Marr, corporate journalists who see themselves and their colleagues as latter day Woodwards and Bernsteins will find this description of their profession hard to swallow.

However, Greenwald’s perceptive comments are particularly relevant to the ongoing media coverage of the US bombing of Iraq and now Syria. Take the following examples of the common description of President Obama’s stance on Iraq and Syria:

  • Cathy Newman, Channel 4 News Snowmail, 10 August 2014: “The US president, a notoriously reluctant warrior, has been forced to reconsider his hands-off, softly-softly approach to foreign policy.”
  • Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, 3 September 2014: “Barack Obama is the reluctant interventionist.”
  • Title of editorial, Independent, 11 September 2014: “The reluctant warrior: Barack Obama came to power after opposing the Iraq War. To salvage his second term, he has to write its postscript’.
  • Peter Foster, The Telegraph blog, 23 September 2014: “Barack Obama has justifiably been tagged the reluctant warrior during his six years in office.”
  • John Sopel, BBC News, 24 September 2014: “Perhaps the most significant thing this reluctant warrior has done is assemble a broad-based coalition.”

Compare these herd-like statements with the simple fact Obama has now bombed seven countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria. (The Brooking Institution says Obama has also bombed The Philippines, though this has been denied).

On what planet, then, can all of these supposedly free-thinking, often highly educated journalists describe Obama as a “reluctant warrior?” Perhaps the journalists are comparing him to other world leaders? If so, which leader has bombed more countries than Obama? Or perhaps the journalists are comparing him to other US presidents? If so, which ones do they have in mind?

More likely (and more frightening) is that the journalists in question are, as Greenwald points out, blindly repeating “highly ideological assumptions… not even consciously aware that they have embraced them.” Less All The President’s Men then, and more Manufacturing Consent.

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