To See or Not To See

It's fascinating, isn't it, how this war has so often come down to what we are and are not allowed to see. We were not allowed to see (for long) the video deaths of those who jumped out of the World Trade Center. We were not allowed to see the coffins of soldiers arriving back in the U.S. We are still not allowed to see the most revealing photographs of what really happened at Abu Ghraib (the case is still tied up in appeals). We were not allowed to see the beheading of Nick Berg. And now we are not allowed to see the cartoons that are being used by Islamists for another round of violent intimidation of free societies.

And then, of course, there is what makes this war different. The web has made it possible to see almost all of this, if you look hard enough. Only the government-withheld Abu Ghraib pics are actually out of view for most people - and, even then, some have been kept back by editors, who see their job as preventing the flow of information, rather than enabling it. And so we have two media now in the world. We have the mainstream media whose job is increasingly not actually to disseminate information but to act as a moral steward, to become an arbiter of sensitivity and good taste. And it's up to places like Wikipedia or the blogosphere to disseminate actual facts, images and informed opinions. Obviously, I don't see the need to publish everything. And editorial judgment counts. But we are approaching a time when the MSM may have that as precisely its role - not as a source of informaton, but as an arbiter of social etiquette and good judgment. The NYT as Miss Manners.