Not Enough Information (Again)

Over the weekend, the mainstream press reported on the shuttering of an Iraqi newspaper operation by the US-led coalition. The stories (1, 2, 3, for example) mention that the newspaper was shut down for inciting violence against coalition troops. A knee-jerk reactionist would lob a comment like, "It's a shame we can't practice what we preach to the Iraqi people" or something like that, but that's not what I'm going to do here.

We're trying to bring democracy to Iraq, and in many ways we're guaranteeing the basic rights that citizens need in order to make a democracy work the way it ought to. While our First Amendement doesn't apply in Iraq, a free press is certainly needed and something like the First Amendment should exist there.

This isn't to say that Iraqi newspapers should be allowed to say whatever they want. US citizens can't use free speech as a shield to incite people to violently overthrow the government, for instance. The Iraqis shouldn't expect to use their new found freedom to incite violence against the government either.

What's missing from the news stories? The one piece of critical information that allows US citizens to make an intelligent choice as to whether or not the coalition is justified in shutting down this newspaper. We don't have any concrete examples of stories this paper printed that call for violence. It's just another "the coalition's word against the Iraqi people's word" story. We can't make intelligent judgments in cases like this. A responsible journalist would have found out what the offending articles were and printed excerpts so that folks in the US could make this judgment.

Instead of having intelligent discourse over whether or not the paper did incite violence, we're going to have people in the U.S. who don't understand the First Amendment arguing that the Iraqis should be able to print whatever they want in their newspapers, and a bunch of people arguing the counterpoint saying that inciting violence is wrong. What we should be arguing about is whether or not the paper committed the offense of which it's been accused.

That's one of the major things that's angering me over the whole situation in Iraq. US citizens are getting bits and pieces of information, with nothing substantial by which they can make intelligent choices. It always boils down to a "this person's word against this person's word" situation, with little relevant facts included. I'm starting to get tired of this, because as US citizens, we're being asked to make intelligent choices without all the information we need to do so. I say suspend your judgments until someone prints some excerpts from the offending articles and demonstrates that the Iraqi newspaper was wrong.