Friday, June 03, 2005

Greater Media Openness Might Lead to Better Decision-Making

On this morning's Diane Rehm Show, one of my favorites, a listener email questioned why the mainstream media is hesitant to show the carnage from the war in Iraq.

The listener seemed to believe that if Americans saw dead US soldiers and dead Iraqi civilians, American support for the war would diminish. Rehm seemed to feel similarly, saying that media coverage of the war in Vietnam--the first US conflict brought into our living rooms, as is often observed--had reduced support for it.

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist, defended the reticence of the media to share graphic portrayals of death, citing the sensibilities of news consumers. Susan Page of USA Today also pointed out that journalists operate under more Pentagon-imposed restrictions in Iraq than did those reporting from Vietnam.

It seems that whether it's the government promoting the war or the people who support it, most prefer a sanitized accounting of it. There appears to be a fear that if people saw the violent consequences of the war, popular support for it would diminish.

But a question crossed my mind when I heard this discussion today: "Where have I heard this argument--the argument between those who want a more accurate portrayal of a deadly event in the media and those who don't--before?" Then it dawned on me!

Who is the most opposed to the portrayal of the grim details of abortion, whether with descriptions, photos, or videos?

It isn't the people who are opposed to abortion as a form of birth control. The opponents of casual abortion policies, whether hard conservatives or those of more moderate belief, want the information out there. They're convinced that when people know what happens to an unborn child in what are called partial-birth abortions, people will be horrified and become opposed to them. Their reasoning is the same as the opponents to the war in Iraq in their desire for more open coverage of the conflict.

The reasoning of advocates of abortion in defending media reticence about realistic portrayals of abortion's consequences is also similar to those who want to squelch realistic war reporting. "It's simply bad taste," I've heard them say.

Both the conservative advocates of the war and the liberal advocates of abortion who might otherwise argue for the importance of openness are, in some cases, perfectly willing to accept the suppression of information when it suits their purposes.

Don't get me wrong. Constant graphic coverage of the war could as easily make us callous about or insensitive to violence. Several studies seem to indicate that's precisely what happens to young people who get constant diets of video games and action movies.

A constant dose of videos of aborted fetuses could have the same effect on us. And I am always relieved when, out of deference to little ones, pro-life folks standing outside of my local polling places, pull down their pictures of aborted children.

But it's generally true that the more information we have, the better our decisions are likely to be.

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