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Media Switches from "Watchdog" to "Lapdog" By George E. Curry

We have lost several thousand lives since September 11. Now, four months later, we've experienced a less noticeable loss-the so-called mainstream media has tarnished its credibility by allowing George W. Bush and Rudolph Giuliani to reinvent their public image by wrapping themselves in the American flag.

Nothing demonstrates this better than Time magazine's selection of Giuliani as its ''Person of the Year'' for 2001. This self-promoting gimmick, originally called ''Man of the Year,'' is designed to go to ''the person or persons who most affected the news of our lives, for good or ill, this year.''

This should have been a no-brainer. Without a doubt, Osama bin Laden fits that description better than anyone else in 2001. It defies logic to declare that the person who most impacted the news one who reacted to events rather than the one who created them.

To be fair, Giuliani did display admirable leadership after the World Trade Center towers were attacked by terrorists in September. But the decision to make the ex-mayor ''Person of the Year'' rather than bin Laden was designed to avoid wholesale cancellations by irate subscribers that were certain to follow such an unpopular decision.

But journalists aren't supposed to make decisions based on popularity or corporate profits. And though Time officials contend otherwise, that's exactly what they did. For commercial reasons-and that will become a growing problem as a result of a shrinking number of media companies owning a larger share of media outlets-Time magazine wimped out. Rather than being the public's watchdog, Time magazine has become a lapdog.

Unfortunately, Time magazine is not alone.

In canonizing Saint Rudy, the flag-waving ''objective'' media has also abandoned its obligation to present balanced stories to the public. Prior to September 11, Giuliani could not keep his personal life off the front pages of New York's tabloid newspapers. First, came the rumors (which turned out to be true) that the mayor was having an extramarital affair. When Giuliani held a press conference to announce that he was seeking a legal separation, his wife, Donna Hanover, held her own press conference, saying: ''For several years, it was difficult to participate in Rudy's public life because of his relationship with one staff member.''

When it became public that Giuliani had become involved with yet another woman, his wife filed suit to prevent the woman from spending time at Gracie Mansion, the official residence that she and their two children shared with Giuliani.

Now, all is forgiven, if not forgotten-at least by the media-and the former mayor is now portrayed as a super hero, inspiring his own comic strip.

What's equally troubling is not only the self-induced amnesia by the media, but the public's voluntary memory loss.

New York City police officers and firemen are now hailed as national heroes. The firemen certainly get my vote-they should be lauded for their bravery. But we should not become so caught up in the hoopla that we forget Amnesty International's recommendation that: ''New York City authorities appoint an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality and excessive force by the New York City Police Department...''

Giuliani, the former federal prosecutor, did not move aggressively to curb police brutality, a major problem on his watch. During Giuliani's administration, New York police fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, killing the unarmed West African immigrant. In another case, an officer declined to contest charges that he that he rammed a broken broom handle into the rectum of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant. Amnesty International noted that most victims of police brutality in New York are unarmed people of color with no criminal record.

Undoubtedly, most New York City police officers do not brutalize suspects and some performed individual acts of heroism on September 11. But until New York City takes stronger action against the renegades who do violate the rights of others, the NYPD should not be hailed en masse as heroes.

The bad news of September 11 also has been good for George W. Bush.

Before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Bush was widely-perceived as a dunce who could not find his butt with both hands and a map. Surprisingly, Bush, as the media likes to say, has grown into the job; he has been a decisive and effective leader during this period of crisis. In fact, Bush dominates the Gallup Poll as the man most admired by Americans. A record 39 percent admire Bush, the highest by a male since the question was first asked by Gallup in 1948.

At the same time Bush is riding high in the polls, he has invoked his executive powers to run roughshod over constitutionally protected civil liberties, he is stepping up his campaign to appoint Far Right judges to federal courts, and he seems more interested in providing retroactive tax subsidies to big businesses than helping thousands of workers who are losing jobs daily. Given Bush's popularity, it is imperative that the media serve as a watchdog over government excesses rather than an apologizing lapdog.

George E. Curry, editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and, is former editor of "Emerge: Black America's Newsmagazine."

George E. Curry

Thursday, January 17, 2002

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