Michael Massing: An Inconvenient Truth Teller
Two years ago for GodSpy I interviewed press critic Michael Massing about his Columbia Journalism Review essay that criticized the New York Times for ignoring public concern about the harmful effects of pop culture on children. In an interesting twist, Massing in the New York Review of Books this week cites a GodSpy interview in an essay he’s written on the “hidden human costs” of the Iraq War. Massing’s essay reviews several books written by participants in the war, each of which reveal the brutal impact the war has had on innocent Iraqi civilians.
Massing devotes by far the most words to Generation Kill, by Evan Wright, the Rolling Stone reporter who rode in the lead humvee of the elite First Recon marine battalion that spearheaded the Iraq invasion. You can read an excerpt from the book here, and my interview with him here.
In the essay Massing lets the facts, as recounted by the authors of the books, speak for themselves. They include horrifying examples of innocent civilians killed by American troop actions, as well as the sometimes oblivious, more often anguished reactions of the soldiers. He ends the troubling essay by quietly stating that “few Americans seem aware” of how many innocent Iraqi civilians have died in the war.
But in another article, “We are the Thought Police,” written a few weeks ago for Salon.com, Massing goes much further. He blames the public and the press for a conspiracy of silence about civilian deaths:
The U.S. military in Iraq is an occupation army, and like most such forces, it has engaged in many troubling acts. With American men and women putting their lives at risk in a very hostile environment, however, the American public has little appetite for news about such acts, and so it sets limits on what it is willing to hear about them. The Press—ever attuned to public sensitivities—will, on occasion, test those limits, but generally respects them. The result is an unstated, unconscious, but nonetheless potent co-conspiracy between the public and the press to muffle some important truths about the war. In a disturbing twist on the Orwellian nightmare, the American people have become their own thought police, purging the news of unwanted and unwelcome features with an efficiency that government censors and military flacks can only envy.
Many reporters pledge to report the truth “without fear or favor. But for taking seriously the often-dismissed concerns of families about the degrading effects of pop culture on children, and the almost always-ignored plight of civilians caught in the middle of war, Michael Massing has proven himself to be the rare journalist who’s willing to point out inconvenient truths to both sides of the political aisle.