Friday, May 4, 2012

What They Don't Know

This Michael Ramirez cartoon, showing a smarmy-looking reporter posing with a corpse in U.S. combat gear, is captioned: "Los Angeles Times reporter posing with a dead American solider who was killed in reaction to their two-year-old story and pictures." This odd twist on the idea that "it's not the crime, it's the failure to cover it up," clearly attempts to shift the blame from the soldiers to the media.

Filmmaker Bill Duke faced much the same criticism when he made the movie "Dark Girls," which dealt with color prejudices in the African-American community. "Why are you airing our dirty laundry?" he was asked. (The same criticism was made of Bill Cosby after his "Pound Cake" speech.)

And despite the fact that Federal government publicly supports whistleblowing, Federal employees often tell a very different story when it comes to the reality of speaking out when something isn't right.

This idea, that dirty laundry is always best hidden, is a corrosive force in so many facets of our society because it encourages and rewards secrecy. Supporters of such secrecy often fall back on the claim that they can be trusted to clean up their acts, and that they shouldn't have to lose face or suffer other consequences by having word of their misdeeds made public. But the reality is that many problems, once pushed out of site, quickly become out of mind as well, and they simply fester in the darkness. As in the case of American soldiers posing with body parts of Afghan bombers, where the Army's investigation into the incident was not prompted by the incident itself, but by the fact that Los Angeles Times had the photographs.

In light of this, and other actions that have made the armed forces look bad, the Secretary of Defense has come out and told the troops that it was up to them to avoid the sorts of incidents that might cause problems down the road. Or, as the rest of us know it, the "6 o'clock news" test: "If you wouldn’t want it reported on the six o’clock news," don't do it.

Keeping your act, and thus your laundry, clean strikes me as a much better policy than hoping to cover yourself later by blaming the news.

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