Many in the media patted themselves on their backs last week after viral exchanges between reporters and Biden administration officials showcased journalists’ crucial role in scrutinizing government assertions, rather than parroting them. In both cases, officials deflected probing questions about events in Russia and Syria with demeaning trust-us-or-trust-America’s-enemies dismissals. But the self-congratulatory rhetoric of the media over these incidents risks obscuring the reality that it has, by and large, failed to question deeper assumptions about the government’s national security strategy.
NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe requested evidence last week that the children killed in a recent raid against the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria had died as a result of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi detonating a suicide bomb, and not as a result of U.S. bombs. White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded by asking whether skeptics think the U.S. military is “not providing accurate information and ISIS is providing accurate information.” Psaki was essentially suggesting that requesting evidence was tantamount to siding with the terrorist group’s account of the event.
Later that day, Matt Lee of The Associated Press questioned State Department spokesman Ned Price about the Biden administration’s allegations of a planned Russian false flag operation aimed at setting the stage for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Once again, Price suggested that questioning the U.S. government narrative was akin to taking Moscow’s side in the conflict. “If you doubt the credibility of the U.S. government … and want to find solace in information that the Russians are putting out, that’s for you to do,” he told Lee. (Price later apologized to Lee).
Members of the media are justified in their criticism of the Biden administration’s treatment of journalists in the past week. The health of democracy will quickly deteriorate if power is not held to account, either by various branches balancing one another or the media questioning and investigating the government’s “official truth.” From the Vietnam War to the lies to sell the Iraq War to drones striking civilians in Afghanistan, the U.S. national security apparatus has earned the public’s healthy distrust. Journalists such as Lee and Rascoe should be commended for not backing down in the face of unwarranted questioning of their patriotism, whether by Trump administration officials or those on the Biden team.
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