American press must seek more facts about Georgia-Russia conflict

Thursday, August 21, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:40 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 4, 2009
David Rosman writes a weekly opinion column for the Missourian.

It's like the 1950s all over again.

Like you, I have been watching the Olympics and am in awe at the feat of one American swimmer; not Michael Phelps but Dara Torres. Torres is the real hero in terms of Olympian sportsmanship. The NBC reporting team, however, forgot what reporting was about.

Just prior to her 50 meter freestyle semifinals, Torres stepped out of her normal routine. She was clearly agitated and walked to one of the judges and talked to other swimmers. Then NBC's Rowdy Gaines did something reporters unfortunately do too often, he speculated. Gaines did not wait for all of the information when he said Torres was upset about a ruling. He speculated and he was wrong.

Gaines backpedaled quickly when the facts came out that Torres was asking for a short delay so another competitor could replace a torn suit. Torres' actions were honorable and Olympian; Gaines' was not.

Unfortunately, the press is doing the same while reporting on the Russian invasion of Georgia.

From the moment Americans heard of the invasion, when we saw George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin talking during the opening ceremonies at the Olympics, the members of the Fourth Estate speculated about the intentions of the Russians, Americans, Georgians, European Union, NATO and anyone else remotely involved in this conflict; sometimes with little regard for the facts.

I have acquaintances from the former Soviet satellite states of Belarus, Ukraine and Poland. They remember all too well the Stalin dictatorship rolling tanks through their nations, of the loss of sovereignty and the loss of national pride. They fear the USSR under the Russian Federation flag might return with vengeance. The Georgian invasion is their proof.

Russia has violated the sovereignty of Georgia by issuing Russian passports to the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazeti, both within the boarders of Georgia. The Russians are bullying the Georgian government with a Blitzkrieg military response to an internal Georgian dispute. To many it clearly appears to be the old Soviet mentality of military might is back.

With 24/7 news, the press has forgotten what reporting is about - the facts. Reuters, Associated Press and other independent news organizations and renowned news bureaus are providing day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute reports that are too often filled with more speculation than information. Facts have been left to the wayside.

Here is the problem with speculation: The press has no crystal ball, no idea what our government, the European Union, NATO or anyone else is planning to do. The press has no ears inside the Kremlin or the Pentagon. The press are not privy to NATO or EU conversations. The press does not know if Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin spoke about the invasion during their brief and animated meeting in the stands during the Olympics. They only know they met. The world leaders could have been talking about finding a good Chinese restaurant.

We can and should ask why America is not taking a stronger political, if not a military stance against the Russians? The press can and must ask.

It is easy to relate the current action of the Russian Federation to Stalin's Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. You might even compare Russia's invasion of Georgia to Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, an unprovoked attack against an American ally for oil. Maybe Russia's goal is Georgian's pipeline carrying more than 1 million barrels of oil a day to the West. Maybe not.

The press is speculating as much about the start of Cold War II as they do about ‘Survivor.' We guess at the intentions of the American president as we do the next batter in the World Series. Americans prefer guess work to facts and the press is not helping.

Let the citizens speculate and create conspiracy theories. Reporters must remember the words of "Dragnet's" Joe Friday: Just the facts ma'am. Just the facts.

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at



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