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The US media-led war on words

By Troy Duncan - posted Thursday, 15 November 2001

Since the events of September 11 the Western democratic system has revealed some serious faults. Most worrying, yet disturbingly predictable, are the attacks on free speech and, with it, constructive public debate, both stifled by authoritative actions.

Six days after the terrorist attacks, Bill Maher, host of the late-night US talk show, Politically Correct, questioned whether the labelling of terrorists as "cowards" was appropriate.

"We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly", said Maher.


Amidst a frenzy of complaints about the remarks, the program’s sponsors, Sears and FedEx, pulled the plug on their sponsorship and Maher was reprimanded and forced to apologise.

The saga intensified when Whitehouse Spokesman Ari Fleischer pounced on Maher’s comments:

"It's a terrible thing to say, and it's unfortunate…There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."

Shortly after claiming the IBF title, boxer, Anthony Mundine was lured into comment on the terrorism issue by music journalist Richard Wilkins on Channel 9’s Today Show.

"It’s not about terrorism, it’s about fighting for God’s laws, and America has brought it upon themselves [for] what they’ve done in the history of time," said Mundine.

Intense media and political pressure forced Mundine to apologise for his comments, later that night, on Channel 9’s Ray Martin Show, but was stripped of his International Boxing Federation ranking.


Then ALP Candidate, Peter Knott, was reported as saying that US foreign policy had "come back to bite them" and claimed that US policy had assisted the likes of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, and is now paying the price.

Knott was quickly forced to toe the party line and said, "My comments were wrong and misguided and I withdraw them."

Right or wrong, the men were merely exercising their right to freedom of speech on important issues. Yet their comments were ruthlessly labelled as irresponsible, unpatriotic or false. And on each occasion, being part of a wider establishment, they were forced to recant and protect their occupation.

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About the Author

Troy Duncan is a freelance journalist.

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