The ultimate reality show

We are at the end of an old way of telling the public the news of the day. The pictures of torturing at the prison in Baghdad, where so many have digital cameras, showed that the newspapers and television are no longer the gatekeepers of what the public can see or be shielded from.

The old news way was to fret and fear and ask, How could you show the man in the Baghdad prison completely bare with dogs ready to attack him? Blur parts of his body. You can't show him otherwise. We are reporting the news, not sensationalizing it. Children watch our show.

Just about everybody with the curiosity you want in newsreaders saw photo arrays of the torture. They saw them simply by logging online. The ones who were protected from the torture pictures were the last old newspaper readers or network television news watchers.

Why were they being shielded from the news? Because they should be shielded from the news.

During a recent speech at Columbia Journalism School, I mentioned that the beheading of Nicholas Berg would scare and sicken editors and that the lively people, who want to know about the times in which they live, want to see everything.

As I spoke, a student, James Klattell, pushed a laptop across the table. Here was the hooded Iraqi or whatever he was, holding onto Berg's severed head.

Here is the new news reporting. If something is too gruesome, too ominous for the newspaper editor's taste, it matters not. The Internet will decide what you print, and if you don't care, if you want to stay in the past, then stay there with your dead newspaper.

Last week the Defense Department and politicians got into a secret room in Washington and looked at photos of the prison abuses. The Pentagon is deciding whether to give the pictures out to the general public or not. And at that hour, people everywhere in the country were already looking at an American being beheaded, in live action.

The prison pictures they watched in such secrecy belong to the public whose taxes pay for this war. These utter fools in suits and uniforms, some smooth-faced liar from the Pentagon, or a general who should be in a grand jury himself, try to control the free speech of the nation and commit a war crime.

They also show complete ignorance of today's life. Everybody will see each of those photos. It is just another standard that has collapsed. Already the line between publicity and notoriety has been erased. Today, all that is important to people is Being Known. Pornography is a word for the aging.

The new people watch MTV, and when the newspapers and television censor behavior and language they think is lewd and crude, their prime audience, the energetic, doesn't bother to read the papers or watch the news. How can people have any interest in these reality shows when real reality is good action footage of our team torturing Iraqis and their team decapitating an American? They are about real things. Vibrant, real-life, Survivor shows.

True Reality was Mr. Berg of West Chester, Pa., being beheaded in Iraq.

"The No Survivor Show."

The worst of what happened in Iraq was news, and the public must be shown and told about it. If you hide the dreadful, then you'll also omit something important to a kid's life. In 1963, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said our ships were fired on in the Gulf of Tonkin. They never were. The news reporting was weak and crazy. That put us into a war. Twenty-seven thousand Americans were killed by 1968. Then, Richard Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war but he could not reveal it because then the enemy would know the secret.

Trust me. Another 20,000 Americans died. The final total was 58,000.

This type of distortion won't happen so easily in a time when everything is printed or seen, including torture and beheadings.

Jimmy Breslin writes for Newsday, where this column originally appeared. Public Eye, which usually runs in this space, will return next week.


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