by David Kopel
Feb. 16, 2003, Rocky Mountain News
Thirty years ago, a very well-informed person in Denver might subscribe to the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, and buy the Sunday New York Times at the Tattered Cover. Ten years ago, she could buy the Times daily on a newsstand. Today, someone who wants to be on top of international news needs to add the Internet to her news menu.
Consider some recent stories about the Middle East that have achieved wide circulation in the political zones of the World Wide Web, but haven't appeared in Denver papers.
After the space shuttle Columbia exploded, most of the world mourned, as the Denver dailies reported. But the papers didn't report on the gloating and celebration in much of the major Arab media, as well by the terrorist organization Hamas. The full spectrum of Arab reaction was detailed in Feb. 6-7 reports from the Middle East Media Research Institute (www.memri.org ).
The only reference to these Arab comments that I found in the News or Post was a Post article (from The New York Times) about terrorist Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was recently removed from his position at a mosque in London, after he rejoiced that the Columbia tragedy was "a sign from God."
As The Wall Street Journal's outstanding daily e-mail newsletter "Best of the Web" has reported, webloggers, led by Steven Den Beste (www.denbeste.nu ) are suggesting that the real reason that the French and German governments are so adamantly opposed to a U.S. invasion of Iraq (even though such opposition is isolating France and Germany within Europe and severely weakening the U.N. and NATO) is that both governments might have been complicit in Saddam's acquisition of weapons of mass destruction after 1991, and that the governments fear exposure.
A Feb. 5 article in the on-line newspaper Asia Times (www.atimes.com ) provides details about Germany's role in illegally supplying arms to Iraq, the extensive knowledge of Iraqi WMDs possessed by the German foreign intelligence service, and the brazen dishonesty of Gerhard Schroeder in pretending that he does not know for sure if Iraq has WMDs.
Last week, the German cover-up issue broke into the most massive of the mass media - The Rush Limbaugh Show and its audience of millions.
The Denver dailies weren't necessarily remiss for omitting these stories from their finite space for international news. The hate-mongering reaction of some Arabs was, arguably, predictable and not really newsworthy. The Franco-German story went from weblog to on-line newspapers to national radio without stopping at daily newspapers along the way. Thus, the News or the Post were never presented with a story from their usual sources for wire stories: the Associated Press, Knight-Ridder and Scripps-Howard, supplemented by leading American papers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Boston Globe. But it does show that relying exclusively on daily printed newspapers isn't enough these days to be well-informed.
An item in the News on polling did not include some relevant data. On Feb. 5, the Colorado legislature considered a bill that would have created Vermont-style civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Directly below the box announcing the hearings, the News ran two results from a recent poll about gay issues. The poll, commissioned by the Gill Foundation and available on the Foundation's Web site, asked seven questions about attitudes on gay rights. The News' "By the Numbers" feature reported two of the three figures with the highest pro-gay response. The News did not report the survey results regarding civil unions - 54 percent supported this measure, the lowest pro-gay response of any question.
In my last column, I criticized the major media, including the Denver dailies, for failing to inform their readers that many of the major anti-war demonstrations around the country have been organized by a front group (International ANSWER) for the Workers World Party (WWP), a communist organization. The majority of reader e-mail thanked me for raising this point, while an angry minority denounced me by insisting that most people at anti-war rallies don't agree with the WWP's extremist agenda - an observation which I had already stated in my column.
A letter to the editor published last week took the same line as ANSWER officials and accused ANSWER's critics of "McCarthyism." Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., became infamous in the early 1950s for making false accusations that people were communist spies. It's not McCarthyism to call someone a communist if he actually is a communist.
The most cogent criticism came from a reader who is a strong supporter of the WWP. Relying on leftist criticisms of the WWP, I had described the WWP as "Stalinist." The pro-WWP reader informed me that the WWP has long since repudiated Stalin's errors. And indeed, the WWP Web site (www.workers.org ) shows that the WWP no longer blindly supports Stalin. The WWP has also criticized Mao Zedong, Western European communists and Mikhail Gorbachev for attempting to find peaceful coexistence with Western governments. The WWP is ultra-hardline revolutionary communist and adamantly opposed to Western liberal democracy, but I was mistaken to call them "Stalinists."