A newspaper can deal with doubt because a newspaper, being a print medium, can deal with propositional content. Another way to say this: Print can present propositions that readers may ponder because there’s no forced movement to the next image and the next sound bite. Television hates doubt.
Today, Howard Kurtz considers how the press covers, or fails to cover, the complex reality of Americans’ attitudes about war with Iraq. He says the picture we see in the press shows a divided nation of neat pros and cons. It seems the press may finally be waking up to complexity, as Kurtz says:
No rosy scenario can disguise the fact that we can’t have it all: tax cuts, tax-free savings accounts, free prescription drugs, tough homeland security, and invasion of Iraq and the peacekeeping – at least two years, by the administration’s estimate – that would follow. It’s fuzzy math. Doesn’t add up. Something’s got to give.
For too long, Iraq has been presented as a no-muss, no-fuss, low-casualty affair. We get in, we get out, and Iraq flowers into a post-Saddam democracy.
Only now do we have the glimmers of a debate over the true costs and risks of declaring war.
Why isn’t the press harassing administration officials about both the financial impact and potential for a long-term morass, instead of obsessing on just how many days the White House will wait before telling France and Germany to get lost?
For that matter, why aren’t journalists pressing antiwar activists whether they have an alternative for dealing with Hussein, as opposed to just advocating a peace that would leave him in power, dangerous weapons and all?
This is no longer a black and white matter.
It never was a black-and-white matter. Few issues offer us the luxury of clear choices. I think a proper role for the print media, to balance the pathos of television, is to present issues in something like their true complexity from the beginning. Sadly, this doesn’t happen very often because too many newspapers today are trying be TV in print.