Digesting media

How can a journalist on the front lines be impartial during war? How can coverage of a war where one side provides your safety and your information be balanced and fair? How can both sides of the story ever truly be told?

These were the questions posed to Bill Hemmer, host of CNN’s American Morning during his recent appearance on Jon Stewart’s late-night comedy program, The Daily Show. Stewart, a comedian who pulls no political punches with his guests, grilled Hemmer about his experiences in Kuwait City during the recent war in Iraq.

Stewart’s questions left me pondering those very questions after watching late Monday night. Fortunately, I had a means to get answers.

Early on the morning of Wed., June 4, I was fortunate enough to sit down with celebrated CBC Foreign Correspondent Patrick Brown (currently based out of Bangkok, Thailand) and pick his brain. His responses were refreshingly candid and enlightening.

“One of the reasons I was much happier to be in Northern Iraq than Kuwait or Jordan was the freedom of movement it afforded me,” Brown explained. “That said, if you go to any battlefield, even an urban battlefield like some kind of gang warfare in Los Angeles, you truly are with one side or you are with the other.

“You can’t possibly report on what Saddam Hussein is doing if you’re positioned with American forces,” he continued. “That’s why we send more than one reporter.”

This leaves one asking the question: Can a journalist truly do their job if the information available to them is limited? Furthermore, what steps can we as consumers of information and media take to get the “whole story?”

There are no truths, no one is reporting exactly what is happening because no one ever knows. It is a realization that leaves me reeling, and feeling unfortunately hopeless.

So what recourse do we have?

The only answer I have is to bolster our own personal experiences. When the Washington Bureau is reporting in along with those in Jerusalem, Doha and Damascus–all with slightly different messages–the greatest filter we can employ is perspective.

Anyone who has spent time in the Middle East is much better equipped to separate the bluster from the substance. Anyone with a knowledge of the region’s history, anyone who has sat down and spent a few hours talking with a native of the region will have the benefit of perspective.

Information is power after all, so empower yourself.

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