Last week, following a year of disgust with the local tabloids, The New York Daily News and The New York Post, I sat down to write a short essay on how their sick preoccupation with sex and violence has disgraced the American journalistic tradition. Originally, tabloids and sensationalism were legitimate 19th-century developments. The smaller size made the product easier to read on public transportation, and the use of photographs, cartoons, imaginative layout, headlines and livelier writing about everyday realities in the lives of the ordinary people, including crime and political corruption, raised circulation.
But the recent preoccupation with punning about Congressman Anthony Weiner, and former Governor Eliot Spitzer on page one of The Post (8/17) in his underpants, drained my zeal to write about the phenomenon. I was reluctant to dirty my hands.
But today’s headlines introduced the reader to real obscenity. These tabloids rejoice in war. The Post’s cover (8/29) has Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s head as a bull’s-eye in a target and a headline, “Stop dithering, Obama! If we’re serious, we must…TARGET ASSAD.” The editorial says we must “target” him and “take him out.” What they mean is murder. Michael Goodwin’s column mocks Obama, who is "from the faculty lounge,” as “reluctant, but not much of a warrior.” It is amazing how having a newspaper column gives the writer the courage to send other people’s sons and daughters on missions to kill other people.
The Daily News splashes “OBAMA’S PLAN FOR WAR” on page one and dedicates pages 4-5 to the plan’s details, under the headline “CLOCK TICKING FOR ASSAD & HIS THUGS.” To their credit they allow columnist Denis Hamill on page 6 to ask, “When are going to learn?” He parallels the evidence for weapons of mass destruction they duped us with in the Iraq War with today’s scenario that will lead us into war with Syria. Even if the U.N. representatives confirm that Assad authorized the use of nerve gas, he asks, “what gives the U.S. the moral authority to intervene in the civil war of yet another Middle East nation?”
As Colum Lynch and Karen DeYoung write in today’s Washington Post, it is by no means clear we have a legal right to attack; in fact most international lawyers say we do not. We cannot claim that the United States is threatened by Syria. And I doubt we can “punish” Assad without also killing innocent people. Someone close to President Obama should explain to him how in some circumstances it takes real courage to not fight.
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., is literary editor of America.
(Photo credit: Catholic News Service/Nour Fourat, Reuters)