Entry from March 10, 2008

“I can understand why Prince Harry would want the media to respect an ‘embargo’ for weeks or months so he could fulfill his dream of fighting on the front lines of a war. What I don”t understand is why editors would ignore their news judgment — and abdicate their mission — and play along.” Columnist Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post of March 4, 2008

Maybe it’s true. Unlikely as it seems, there is a remote possibility that Eugene Robinson really doesn’t understand something so simple. More probably, however, he is here stating the newsman’s credo — as he would be, for instance, in making the standard denial that The Washington Post is biased. It’s not that he can’t see either one — either the bias or the simple act of human kindness and consideration involved in withdrawing the glare of the media’s klieg lights from a young man who cannot hope to do his job while they are upon him. Wouldn’t any ordinarily decent person be so polite? Similarly, isn’t everybody, even The Washington Post, limited by his point of view and therefore guilty of bias?

Ah, no. That’s just it. Mr Robinson betrays the lawyerly consciousness that so great a concession to reality as an assent to either one of these questions would represent must mean the loss of his case for the divine right of the media either to publish whatever they like or, having done so, to claim immunity from any reproaches that mere human status might incur. In the court of public opinion, no shadow of a doubt of the journalist’s exemption either from the ordinary rules of social intercourse or from those of basic epistemology must ever be allowed to darken his self-presentation. Without these bright lines of special status to distinguish him from the ruck of humanity he would fade away like the Cheshire cat and a multi-billion dollar industry would be placed in jeopardy.

But what, he might ask, does the journalist’s “mission” have to do with mere money? That may be a concern of corporate headquarters, but for those engaged in the actual work of evangelizing on behalf of the media consensus, any money beyond that required to provide them with a comfortable living is a matter for scorn. The mission, it seems, can only be carried out by the anointed ones whose failure to perform it is tantamount to an abdication. In the context it is particularly piquant that Mr Robinson uses the word “abdicate” to describe ten weeks of reticence about a prince who, without them, really does have to abdicate part of his responsibility as prince, if not his princedom — principality? — itself.

Now it is the media that occupy the place of quasi-royal privilege and mere princes — like presidents or prime ministers — who are insolent upstarts, humbly petitioning on behalf of even a temporary respite from their new sovereign’s ever more burdensome rule. No, I take it back. Mr Robinson really must be as blind to such arrogance and self-importance as he pretends to be, or even he could not have the face thus to parade in front of the world in his borrowed royal robes.

A more sober and judicious objection to the media’s (all-too temporary) blackout concerning the prince’s honorable service in Afghanistan from mid-December until the end of February came from Minette Marrin of the London Sunday Times. Citing the Prince’s own words that “It’s bizarre . . . but I think this is about as normal as I’m ever going to get,” she insists that “However much one sympathises with this admirable boy, not one single drop of British blood should be risked or spilt simply for the sake of giving Harry a temporary illusion of being normal. No good comes of fostering illusions, least of all in war; it rarely ends well.”

I am usually a big admirer of Miss Marrin’s but here I think she is wrong. Not just wrong but nearly as wrong as she can be. Harry’s “illusion” — as she calls it — was not his alone. It was the illusion of the men around him as well, and of those who sent them and, in a sense, of the whole British nation. It is the illusion — if you want to call it that — which is essential to the conduct of wars: the illusion of honor and glory and leadership that eighty or ninety years of literary and other artistry has been bent on teaching us is belied by the “reality” of war: the blood and the guts and the death.

It is honor that tells us that this “reality” is in fact no more real than the heroism of those who brave it, and put their bodies and their lives at risk for the sake of others. Soldiers throughout history have not privileged — to use a contemporary word — the alleged “reality” of wounds and death over the honor they bring that is to them equally real. That the royal family, once seen as the source from which honor as well as honors flow, should once again be taking this role seriously should be a cause for celebration by all patriotic Britons. Not that anyone could have expected these to have included the media.

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