The ability of a democracy to flourish is, among other factors, directly related to the ability and willingness of citizens to inform themselves and the ability and willingness of a free press to do the informing. In our global and complex world, this task has become, on the one hand, ever more challenging. One the other hand, thanks primarily to Internet, the possible sources and variety of information has never been greater.
As the important mid-term elections approach in the USA, the 'war on terror' has become the key issue. As republicans fight to retain their majorities in both houses of Congress and as the President struggles to maintain his stranglehold on his terrorism policy, the battle of information, mis-information and manipulation is reaching new heights.
One of the key and controversial issues in the debate on how the 'war on terror' is progressing is the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. Is the West losing its grip there? Was Bush's decision to invade Iraq a dangerous and counter-productive detour or not? Are we losing ground in Afghanistan because attention and resources were misdirected to Iraq? All of these are extremely vital questions. The answers that people give to these questions will help determine how they vote in the upcoming mid-terms.
So it was very logical that Newsweek, one of America's two important weekly news magazines, devoted its feature article to Afghanistan. The cover, 'Losing Afghanistan' ties to the feature article, "The Rise of Jihadistan - Five years after the Afghan invasion, the Taliban are fighting back hard, carving out a sanctuary where they — and Al Qaeda's leaders — can operate freely." This is clearly an honest, legitimate, valuable and thought-provoking challenge to current policy in the 'war on terror.'
However, Newsweek did an extremely strange thing. While the rest of the world was confronted with Afghanistan, Americans were treated to something totaly different. The US edition of Newsweek ran with the cover, "My Life in Pictures," and related feature article, "Through Her Lens: In her new book, Annie Leibovitz, our most famous photographer, places celebs side by side with surprisingly personal images of love and loss. An exclusive."
At a time when Americans need to make tough decisions with enduring global impact about which vision of the 'war on terror' will prevail - that of Bush or that of his Democratic opponents - Newsweek's editorial board vacated their journalistic responsibility and decided to treat its American readers to a feel-good, nostalgic piece about a well-loved American celebrity photographer.
The role that the mainstream media plays as the key conduit of information for most people will continue to be a subject of much debate and analysis. I won't guess at what motivated Newsweek to make this strange editorial decision. For now, I only pose the question, "Who stands to benefit?" The answer to that question could lead to 'why' Newsweek did this.