Osama bin Laden would like some airtime. In response to the offer of a man identifying himself as a representative of al Qaeda, CNN sent six questions to bin Laden and is currently awaiting his response. Bin Laden is expected to answer the questions at his discretion on video, although CNN has made no commitment to air his tapes.
Should bin Laden be lent the power of major American media outlets to air his grievances and expound upon his beliefs? Many feel he should not. One of the greatest concerns is that his statements will incite violence, whether directly or through coded messages.
There is no evidence of secret messages in bin Laden's Oct. 7 statement, but he does support violence in America and may encourage it in a broad range of methods. To safeguard against this, the five largest American media agencies have agreed not to air unedited videotaped statements containing inflammatory, violent speech. Likewise, they should never broadcast direct calls for violence, regardless of origin, just as one should never scream 'fire' in a crowded movie theater without just cause.
Another major objection to allowing him media access is that his statements will be of no benefit to the American people, for they constitute merely hateful words cloaked in religious rhetoric. But access to the statements of those whom we are waging war against, no matter how nonsensical or unsettling, is necessary for the long-term preservation of democracy. Restricting bin Laden from addressing the American public, save explicit calls for violence, would be a devastating blow to the future of liberty and justice within our nation.
Americans must be exposed to the motivations and contentions of those we are waging war against to determine the appropriateness of our actions. We, as a nation, are attacking bin Laden. We have decided to attack the government that harbors him. We are sending starving women and children fleeing from their homes and country, barefoot across a treacherous desert in fear that the next bomb is destined for them.
In a democratic society, one of, for and by the people, it is the responsibility of the citizens to check the government. If we fail to do so, we run the risk of suddenly finding ourselves in a nation whose leadership is no longer acting in our best interests.
A cursory glance through world history reveals that when citizens are kept in the dark about governmental policies or falter in their vigilance over leaders, atrocities and usurpations of power can easily result. The holocaust in Germany, Stalin-led genocide in Russia and even our own country's atrocities in Vietnam provide examples of exploitation of improperly informed publics. We must always cast a critical eye toward our leadership.
In a free society it is the obligation of the media to provide citizens with the information necessary for making informed decisions about their leadership. This is accomplished by taking painstaking care to report on events objectively, presenting both sides of every conflict equally and allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
If the media fails to provide the public with balanced news, including broadcasting the messages of our enemies, it strips the people of their ability to objectively analyze these events and pigeonholes them into one way of thinking - the government's way.
Afghanistan is such a place. The media is government controlled and only presents the Taliban's viewpoints. The Taliban does not act with its people's welfare in mind, and the citizenry do not have the resources to make informed judgments about their situation.
We are combating the Taliban's control of the Afghan radio by overriding their signals with our own, but we must be even more cautious not to block the voices of the Taliban and bin Laden from our own land, no matter how difficult they are to listen to.
Despite these tumultuous days, the American media must strive to report on this conflict with balance and objectivity. Osama bin Laden must be afforded the same time and focus that we allot to our own leadership so we retain the power to make our independent, fully informed evaluations. Failure to do so is a deep blow to freedom, liberty and American democratic tradition.