When Biased Journalism Is A Crime

Nov 19, 2020 23:45 · 808 words · 4 minute read Tags: history journalists

Gallows, attributed to Conrad Martin Metz, 1755-1827, courtesy of The British Museum

Journalists who knowingly incite hatred against their fellow citizens risk criminal prosecution under international law. Some have been sentenced to life in prison.

This fact will be of mere academic interest to American journalists, who are even-handed and unbiased and would never incite hatred against, say, older white conservatives or Trump voters. We are fortunate our disinterested guardians of the public interest are on the job.

The United Nations may be corrupt and opposed to the Second Amendment and largely a waste of American taxpayer dollars, but it has produced one useful thing. It has given us a practical framework for conducting criminal trials of unscrupulous journalists.

These procedures were established in U.N. Security Council Resolution 955. They were used by a panel of three judges in October 2000 to put journalists on trial for the crime of inciting violence.

The three journalist-defendants were well-educated Rwandan elites and members of the Hutu majority ethnic group. One was a lawyer who had written a book about international human rights. Another was editor-in-chief of the best-known newspaper in Rwanda, who hobnobbed with international human rights groups. The third was a well-known professor at the National University of Rwanda with access to a radio station.

These media elites shared an implacable hatred of the Tutsi ethnic group, an unreasoning and perfervid revulsion that in no way would sound familiar to Americans accustomed to our professional news media. The criminal charges, as laid out in an extensive U.N. report, included:

  • Dehumanizing enemies: Tutsis were called “cockroaches” and a “scourge.” One Rwandan journalist-defendant said they must “be exterminated.” Today, of course, we know that CNN contributors like Reza Aslan are only joking when calling Trump supporters an “evil, racist scourge” that “must be eradicated from society.” Same with journalist Keith Olbermann calling Trump supporters “maggots” who must be “removed from our society.” Or Sarah Jeong at the New York Times.

  • Opponents are Nazis: One Rwandan journalist-defendant wrote that Tutsis “have a desiccated heart where the Nazi worm nibbles in.” Fortunately journalists like CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour are kidding when comparing Trump supporters to Nazis. Everyone was rolling on the floor when David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic and MSNBC contributor, claimed that last weekend’s pro-Trump rally marked the return of the Third Reich. What a comedian!

  • Doxxing: A Rwandan radio station aligned with the ruling elite would “name and accuse individuals.” One Tutsi doxxed on-air “was afraid that an attack would follow the broadcast.” He and his 12-year old daughter were murdered. Also broadcast were license plates of political enemies, who were often shot on the roads. Of course our responsible and ethical press would never publish the identities of Trump supporters or unlawfully threaten them with doxxing. Neither would Democrat politicians. We are better than those uncivilized Africans.

The U.N. tribunal concluded the journalist-defendants were “fully aware of the power of words” and used their platforms to “disseminate hatred and violence.” Each was found guilty of “public incitement to commit genocide” that contributed to mass violence and ethnic cleansing. Two were sentenced to life in prison. One remains behind bars today.

Holding journo-criminals accountable is hardly novel. German publisher Julius Streicher was convicted at Nuremberg for the crime of incitement and hanged. U.N. General Assembly Resolution 59(I) warns of “malicious intent” in purported journalists. John Hickman, a Berry College professor of government, argues that journalists as “propagandists has been essential to governments committing war crimes, crimes against peace and genocide.”

Prosecutors should be aware that international organizations will distance themselves when journalistic reprobates are on trial for inciting violence against their adversaries. Reporters Without Borders' press release “welcomed the sentences of life imprisonment” in Rwanda. The Society of Professional Journalists blamed their criminal colleagues for “inciting the mass violence.”

Because America’s reporters today are honorable and understand that reasonable people might prefer Trump, they have nothing to worry about. We know our media elites follow U.N. standards saying the media must “present a balance of views” and “solicit a wide spectrum of opinion.” They abide by U.N. guidelines saying a “right of response is always provided to ensure balance and fairness.”

Executives at social media companies frequented by journalists have nothing to worry about either. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and his fellow CEOs would never willfully encourage the use of their platform to incite criminal hatred of any particular group of Americans.

At this time of Thanksgiving we must be grateful for America’s fair-minded cadre of professional journalists. They would never refer to political adversaries as Nazis or subhuman devil-worshippers or use genocidal language like calling for them to be “eradicated from society.”

Our media elites need not worry about future criminal prosecutions because their measured news coverage would never cause violence to increase and Americans to be killed. They should keep doing the excellent job they already are.

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