Ghosts crowding in on drone stories

If I weren’t so sick I would have already done this but in the days to come, I hope to mark our anniversary by reviewing some of my work over 2012. But if there’s one thing I already know, it’s that I wish we’d focus more on what news isn’t covered as opposed to critiquing what’s there. When you look at some of the reader reflections Bobby solicited in recent days, many are wondering how wise it is to focus on areas where the actual coverage has faltered the most (as opposed to spreading it around more). I think that’s always a difficult balance.

But under-coverage is a serious problem and one that is most difficult to critique. I’m reading Spin Masters: How The Media Ignored The Real News And Helped Re-Elect Barack Obama. That’s the kind of title that leads you to become, as author David Freddoso is, a New York Times bestselling author. But the book is actually quite balanced in laying out criticism against all people — and very detailed in its research. As he writes, “The problem isn’t that journalists are too hard on Republicans. The problem is that they often won’t do journalism at all unless they are covering a Republican.”

Anyway, the book jacket says the book explores “how possible serious abuses of presidential power — including the drone killing of a sixteen-year-old American boy — have been swept under the rug by a partisan press that believes Obama can do no wrong.” It’s certainly true that this received a shockingly low amount of coverage during 2012 and has only quite recently been getting slightly more attention.

Admittedly much of this is outside the bounds of GetReligion, simply dealing with foreign policy and the rights we afford our citizens. But there is a religion component. Or as commenter Herbert Ely put it yesterday in a comment on Bobby’s post:

There are a number of just war issues that should be raised by the press, particularly since the Catholic bishops seem reluctant. Consider this statement by Leon Panetta on drone strikes against US citizens:” The Pentagon chief says he realized when he became CIA director that he was “making life-and-death decisions.” As a Catholic, he says, he’s “got to really think about it.” (link) There are, it seems to me a few religious and constitutional ghosts here.

You’re darn right there are! And they are so very rarely raised. While this is mostly an Obama presidency issue, I made this complaint more than four years ago as well.  Is it sufficient to quote Panetta and move on? Shouldn’t there be analysis from people who study Just War theory or have something to say about how it relates to drone killing of Americans and others? What about other religious or philosophical approaches to this type of warfare? Are we really so unserious as to not want this discussion in the news pages?


I wrote up a transcript of a Chris Matthews interview of Michael Isikoff, who broke the news about the recent Justice Department memo that had been kept from general view. I know that Matthews is a hack and avowedly so, but it’s all I have to work with.

Matthews: Can you tell from your reporting if there’s any conflict of conscience within the administration or do they agree we need to do this in the war we’re in now?

Isikoff: Look at Panetta’s comments to Chuck Todd the other day on “Meet the Press” in which he said, you know, making these decisions about who should go, should die and who should not, who should get targeted, were really tough ones and he agonized about that. That ought to give you a clue these are not all open and shut cases.

Matthews: I think Leon is a conscientious guy. He goes to church every day. But I still think sometimes you have to do things that are not nice. We’re fighting a war.

Isikoff: I don’t think –anyone disputes that

Matthews: It’s a tough one for me. Robin, I’m on the tough side of this one. I think we have to fight our enemies but great reporting. Great reporting, great disclosure. We ought to know what we’re doing. Michael Isikoff , thank you, and thank you. Great to have you at NBC and robin wright, one of my favorite correspondents. Up next, Chris Christie ‘s poll numbers are up through the roof. Here’s a guy who can laugh at himself. He was on Letterman and he’s making the jokes about his own weight eating a doughnut. That’s ahead, and this is “Hardball,” the place for politics.

Sigh. Again, I realize this is a partisan show, but is it really all that terribly different from the other discussions on drone warfare? The ghosts are filling up the room and we seem to be seeing less discussion on these important topics than ever. Not none, but not enough in the news pages of major media.

Ghost image via Shutterstock.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • In a way, it seems to me that virtually ALL political news has religious ghosts. Our government operates on secular principles that, depending on who’s in power, mean everything from explicit godlessness to implicit religiosity in policies, politics, and positions. Now I’m not saying religion beat reporters should be investigating a specific religious angle to, say, defense budget cuts or Post Office weekend closings or whatever. But especially in those issues where ethics – the deliberation of right and wrong – and lives are at stake, religious ghosts lurk, and they’re worth finding.

    I personally find it difficult to sort out politicians who assert a religious position for posturing and those whose work is actually formed by their religious convictions. “He’s a conscientious guy. He goes to church every day.” That doesn’t mean much to me.

    I don’t find the use of drones for surveillance in war too troubling, even if it leads to attack, but I find their use as killing devices very difficult. I also find their use as surveillance very difficult. We are entering a phase of history where “what we can do” is advancing very quickly while we have largely abandoned the serious and diligent deliberation of “should we do it.” And then we reduce it to superficial and utilitarian reasoning. That’s a story unto itself, but no one wants to read it, I’m afraid.

  • If the reporters ever do start making calls about targeted killings and the “disposition matrix,” they should ask about the just war criteria of “legitimate authority.” In our system of government, James Madison tried to restrict the power to declare war to Congress. The administration’s assumption of power to designate US citizens as targets should be questioned by the media and the Church. While they are at it, they might do a little linguistic analysis of the word “disposition.” When I was a civilian working for the Department of the Army, we made frequent use of a “Disposition Form” as memo describing how to “dispose of” a certain task. The use of the word “disposition” in the context of targeting drones is chilling. Where is George Orwell now that we need him?

    • Wherever he is, I bet he’s saying, “I meant it as a warning, not a strategic plan!”