What a great idea: Warning labels for biased articles! Jeffrey Gedmin of the Aspen Institute in Berlin made this hilarious suggestion in an article published in Germany's daily WELT. (The cartoon on the left added by us.)
(I should mention that we now can offer the original English version of Jeff Gedmin's WELT article that was sent to us by the Aspen Institute Berlin. Many thanks to them and to Hartmut Lau who provided the English translation of the first version we presented).
This is Gedmin's article:
I hate over-regulation, but I wonder whether journalism needs what the food industry has. I like being able to read the label to know the ingredients in my juice or tomato sauce. Why shouldn't I know more about the news I am consuming?
I think about this when I consider much of the one-sided reporting on Iraq. The United States is no exception. I came across an interview recently with Rod Nordland, the Baghdad bureau chief of Newsweek magazine. Asked why we should be optimistic about democracy in the Middle East, Nordland says, "Who's optimistic?" Asked why Bush cares about the people of Iraq, Nordland says, "Who says he cares?" Nordland has strong opinions. Me too. But Nordland is in the news business, so why not disclose in his by-line, "Mr. Nordland opposed the Iraq war, thinks Arab democracy is an illusion, and believes George W. Bush is heartless and cynical." At least there would be no pretending about neutrality and objectivity.
I think about this when I consider the one-sided reporting in Germany about the United States. Take the Berliner Tagesspiegel. The paper's correspondent writes for the news section and publishes columns on the opinion page. I often find it hard to tell the difference between the two. Sometimes the news stories are so opinionated I yearn for a label, like "Malte Lehming thinks that the president of the United States is a war-mongering ayatollah whose conservative-religious revolution is destroying American democracy."
Columns and documentary films should be no exception. Why not have a box score, like in American baseball? "Jeffrey Gedmin was batting 300 in 2004"-that's being right one out of three times. Maybe a second line could attest to the accuracy of the facts that underline our arguments.
This should apply to political documentaries, too. The most notorious in this business is America's Michael Moore. He preferred Saddam Hussein in power. Last year he was cheering the Iraqi insurgents to kill as many Americans as they could. That's free speech, however repugnant. But then there are those things we call facts. In Fahrenheit 9/11 Moore asserted that the White House approved special charter flights for bin Laden family members to leave the US, without being interviewed by the FBI and while US airspace was still closed. But none of this turned out to be true. Moore also asserted that the Carlyle Group, a business with ties to the Bush family, profited from September 11th because it owns United Defense, a military contractor. But United Defense's jewel project of the time, an $11 billion artillery rocket system, was cancelled by the Bush administration. Maybe a label should warn, "this product could be dangerous to your mental health."
Maybe journalism should have something akin to a driver's license.
Break enough rules, endanger public safety, you get your privileges revoked. Ok, free press is a right. I oppose all forms of censorship. You're safe, Michael. You can run those red lights and still drive on the side walks.
In truth, though, the rest os us could police ourselves a bit more. I recall a journalist from a top daily once telling me he was struggling with a story about Jürgen Möllemann, because he found it so hard to keep his own views out of the story. For news, that's surely a model. Until then, why not stick a label on the by-line of that next Iran story, "John Doe thinks American foreign policy is neo-imperialist and personally does not understand why the Mullahs should not have nuclear weapons."
Jeffrey Gedmin, director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, gets not a dime from the U.S. government, but wishes someone in Washington would reconsider.
I should mention that Malte Lehming of Tagesspiegel is no stranger to this blog:
...you need to have a deeply ingrained anti-American sentiment to become Washington correspondent of a German media outlet. Credentials as a journalist? Well, let's not be too demanding... Malte Lehming is definitely superbly qualified for the job.
Update: When searching for a warning label image at Google I found this beautiful cartoon. I thought you'd like it too: