The 40-Year Plan:
'cause it ain't gonna happen overnight...
by Ken Krayeske
A vigorous and independent press takes risks.
Like going 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border in eastern Syria. At least that's my plan.
The Progressive magazine out of Madison, Wisconsin agreed to buy a story from me about Abu Kamal, a border town of 70,000 on the Euphrates River. As you read this, I am either in or headed to Damascus.
The U.S. government maintains foreign jihadis cross the porous Syrian border in droves, many allegedly passing through Abu Kamal. Google it, though, and you'll see not much has been written about this.
Honest reporting - reporting that fearlessly faces facts; reporting that submits its truth to the all-knowing eye; reporting that challenges power with all available resource - seems scarce today, and self-government suffers for it.
A sharp media critic could spread blame like butter across the slice of American toast. Politicians pass crony, phony laws granting media barons reign over wide swaths the public domain. The media barons wage a profitable information war against our people.
Foot soldiers of knowledge - reporters, editors and many of the people in newsrooms - love the concept of the First Amendment, but often pay lip service to protect their own hides.
But this criticism, like calling out the Hartford Advocate for being disingenuous, falls short. It's not worth 150 words wondering why the Advocate avoids mentioning that it is owned by the Hartford Courant Specialty Products Division. The Courant and its subsidiaries are in turn owned by Chicago's Tribune Company, along with the Cubs, WGN, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, Fox 61 TV, WTXX-20 TV, etc.
Sure, people around here remember the 1999 sale of the Advocate, and treat it accordingly. But if you were new in town, like a Trinity College freshman, how would you know? You wouldn't.
It seems a dubious withhold, especially considering that newspapers like the Providence Journal advertise the stock exchange symbol of its parent company, Belo Corp. of Dallas, TX in its staff box. Ditto for the New Haven Register and its owner, New Jersey's Journal Register Company.
What is the Advocate hiding? Who cares?
While Baghdad burns, wrestling with the shortcomings of others seems trite. I try not to feel bitter that our greatest community assets -newspapers like the Courant and the Advocate - are corporate pawns. Their toothless editorial staffs remain subject to budgetary pressures of corporate bean counters or their own standards of living.
That financial calculus rarely considers the voiceless, be they in Stowe Village, the Sudan or Syria. When corporate media machines refuse to pay for overseas reporting - then newshounds like Brad Clift finance their own way to the Sudan. I offered the story on Abu Kamal to the Courant's Northeast magazine first, and they turned it down.
While this piece about Syria will not be in print until December, I will send regular dispatches about the on-the-ground realities in Syria via email and post them to my website, www.the40yearplan.com and/or Dan Levine's CTNewsJunkie.com.
Everyone tells me to be careful, Syria is dangerous. The venerable journalist Sy Hersh called me crazy. I appreciate the concern, and hope no harm befalls me. I have arranged for a translator and have done my research.
America is rattling its sword at Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad, who will address the United Nations General Assembly in New York in mid-September. The isolated Asad is taking his case to the UN because the U.S. has blocked back-door diplomatic channels.
The U.S. recalled its ambassador, Margaret Scobey, from Damascus in February because of Syria's assumed role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Just last week, an international investigation accused several Syrian agents of plotting the murder. This created talk of sanctions against Syria.
A vigorous and independent press questions must investigate this. Our country cannot afford to expand its armed conflicts, but the claims made by the Bush administration, like the fact that foreign jihadis are crossing the Syrian border into Iraq, make it seem like the neo-cons in the White House seek destabilization or regime change.
For a moment, I think that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice might be right. Then I remember that she claimed the proof that Saddam had weapons of mass distraction might be a mushroom cloud over Manhattan.
And I remember too, that both UN and US weapons inspectors haven't found a shred of evidence in Mesopotamia to back her cry of wolf.
I believe in the fundamental good will of humanity. I trust that Syrians don't want to wage war against me, any more than I want to attack them. We plebes know little of the games of princes and kings.
I go to Syria to educate myself, to be an ambassador for my city, my country, to be an honest observer. I accept the risks such a trip presents to learn whatever kernel of truth I may.
Connecticut has some 3.5 million people, the U.S. some 290 million. At least one of us has to go check it out and report back about what is going on among Syria's 17 million people.