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The Differences Between Us and Them

A person taking one side or the other doesn't make one more or less an American. Being American is recognizing and respecting that there is more than one side of an opinion in any given issue. That's been our commitment at the Sierra Times, something that few if any other news services can say.
The Differences Between Us and Them
By J.J. Johnson, The Seirra Times

San Francisco - Not the place one would expect a pro-war rally, noting the politics of this city. But while here on business, one was taking place on the ground floor of my hotel at the foot of Market street. This author hadn' t been to any rally, so I thought I'd take a stroll and see what was going on. After this rally in support of our troops, it caused me to reflect not only about this war, but who we are as an American culture, what makes us who we are, and the challenges we have to face in the future.

The pro-war rally had about 20 in attendance, a small crowd waving American flags, wearing red, white and blue. The coordinator/host of the event went on to say that at least the number of supporters "had outnumbered the media." It began with his son signing "God Bless America", then moved on. The host, a well-dressed salesman made it a point to allow anyone wanting to voice their opinion to the microphone. This included the lone antiwar protester who dared stand among his opponents. After making his statement, Scott, the antiwar dude thanked the host for giving him the opportunity to voice his opinion to this pro-war audience.

It became clear to me that San Franciscans on both sides of the war debate were desperately trying to remove the image of blocking shipments to troops, throwing bricks at mounted police, and in fact, being seen as a completely antiwar city.

The rally ended with a small fund raising for the USO, and I went back to my room to begin working on The Sierra Times. But I couldn't help but look back down on the Embarcadero concourse, where Scott was still in conversation with the most colorful pro-war supporter in the crowd - long after everyone else had left.

Brian was on roller-blades. A 51 year-old wearing all black tights (including a black shirt with the words 'the UN is UN-American'), and holding what looked like a fishing pole holding the Stars and Stripes, the Union Jack (British Flag) and the POW-MIA flag in that order. An hour after the rally was over, it seems odd that two men so passionate about their beliefs in this heated debate could be having a calm discussion. It began to dawn on me that this sight represented what has taken place at the Sierra Times since this War talk with Iraq has began.

You guessed it - I went back down to talk to both of them.

I told them who I was - an Internet journalist who just happened to watch the rally, and wanted to know, with this being the most covered (and debated) war in history, why differences of opinions ran so deep. The antiwar crowd would expect Brian the Flag Wavier to be some right-wing 'neocon'. He is a loyal Democrat. Scott would seem to be your typical 'left-wing loony' holding two signs: One with a peace sign and the other stating: "Your tax dollars used for Big Corporations". Scott considers himself a conservative with libertarian leanings.

We found ourselves talking for almost two hours. Both gentlemen found it amazing that I could play 'devil's advocate' with both sides. I hit them both with tough questions: "How do you explain all the anti-American sentiment around the world," I asked Brian. "How can you protest when even some of your neighbors are over there in harm's way?" I asked Scott. "September 11 came up a lot. "We should celebrate that these people [Iraqis] are liberated" said Brian. "This is a war on terrorism. Saddam was a terrorist - he has to go." Brian spoke from a humanitarian standpoint, happy because in his mind, Iraq is now free, and terrorists around the world have been sent a strong message.

Scott, of course has a different take. "How many people around the world now hate us? We haven't found any weapons of mass destruction, and I think we're going to produce a lot more terrorists," he said. For the most part, both gentlemen eloquently gave their opinions which are the same heard from both sides during this conflict. I asked enough questions to prove that both men had received their news about the war from the same media. So why such a difference in opinions?

While listening to each other, they came to realized that they don't think that differently. Both agree that September 11 was an Act of War, and as Americans, we have the right and responsibility to take military action to protect this country. Scott, while understanding war, simply did not believe George W. Bush made a good enough case for going into Iraq, and not a better case to the world to building a broader coalition. "He's sent different messages about what this war is about. I voted for him, but now, I don't trust him." Brian transversally mentioned that he did not vote for Bush, but will be in the next election. Both did agree that the last two Presidents should have done more to stop Terrorism and deal with Saddam Hussein.

While talking, we were visited by an American gentleman from Australia, who was totally against the war, and against Brian for not having the Australian flag displayed with the others. Go ahead, laugh - we got a chuckle out of it too. Later, another man walked by. He was clearly from England. He support the troops without question, but was disturbed about missing artifacts from Iraqi museums. He was British, indeed. For the record, we were also visited by another pro-war gentleman. He looked middle-eastern, and professed to being a republican, and a frequent visitor to the Free Republic web site (a.k.a. 'freeper').

But there was something else all agreed on, which motivated me to write this article. Both men were troubled that more people could not have civil debates about the matter like the three of us were having. It's something that bothered me here at this publication as well. It led to a discussion about what's good about this country. In this country, we have the right to disagree about things. And to a degree, we have a duty to disagree, and even voice complaints. That's what makes us who we are, It's what makes us so good.

Since this war began, there has been some controversy over how the war was conducted. There have been many on the right (notably a few talk show hosts) that have used the success of the war to ridicule those that disagree, throwing everyone in the same camp. But would anyone prefer if there were no complaints whatsoever? Isn't, in fact, the complaints and the potential for criticism what makes us better than the rest?

No one wants our troops to return in coffins in mass numbers - we build better equipment to keep them safer. No one wants high civilian casualties or high number of friendly fire incidents - so we make precision guided munitions. Questions are raised about the humanitarian problems - the military rushes to restore electricity and water to the cities. When outrage ensued over the loss of artifacts, The Bush administration summons the FBI into the matter in hopes to track down the stolen loot. If we were a people that asked no questions, and/or a government that didn't accept any criticism, these things wouldn't be a priority. It is in fact that people do complain and criticize (and have the right to do so) that makes us a better country, gives us a better military, and makes us a better people.

This is the great difference between Us and Them.

Like the election standoff of 2000, this war has polarized the nation (news polls not withstanding). The Sierra Times took the side of the Constitution. News and other web sites took the position of either being for this war or against. The Sierra Times took the unique stance of allowing both side to express their viewpoints. This is in fact, the constitutional stance. For this reason, we have been called fascists, communists, and everything in between. Still we stuck to our guns. We took it upon ourselves to even omit certain articles from both sides that we felt went over the edge at times.

During our outside discussion, both Brian and Scott agreed that when CNN refused to report the issue about Saddam's brutal regime just to get a interview with the head of state, they should be held accountable for not reporting the facts. We here at The Sierra Times agree. A news organization should report all the facts. In CNN's case, it would have made our side look better. But what if a news story makes our side look 'not-so-good'; should that be censored as well for the sake of being 'patriotic?

That will be one of the nagging questions that will come out of this and future conflicts, especially with instant media. Of course, operational concerns must dictate what to report - especially when lives are at stake. But overall opinions about policy should be discussed in a open forum in a civil manner. Despite the issues we face, it is the right, duty and responsibility for Americans to question the policies of their government. That's why they call it a 'free society'.

A person taking one side or the other doesn't make one more or less an American. Being American is recognizing and respecting that there is more than one side of an opinion in any given issue. That's been our commitment at the Sierra Times, something that few if any other news services can say.

And that's the difference between Us and Them.

homepage: homepage: http://www.sierratimes.com/03/04/21/article_jj.htm

Bad journalism 23.Apr.2003 10:10

deebat

This might have been a good story, but the writer needs to stop patting himself on the back. "Both gentlemen found it amazing that I could play 'devil's advocate' with both sides. I hit them both with tough questions...." Well, Mr. Internet Journalist, aren't you just the bestest reporter ever!

If we want ACCURATE news reporting and analysis, we need to demand our journalists leave their egos out of it. Anything else is just one step down the road paved by Fox News.