Indoctrinating Children To Hate Freedom Of The Press?
from the lovely dept
I just listened to a recent podcast from This American Life with the theme of “Kid Politics.” As per usual, it’s an entertaining hour, but the First Act struck me as especially interesting, given the current debates about Wikileaks and free speech. In that story, reporter and TAL regular Starlee Kine visits the Ronald Reagan library, where a bunch of school children visit and run through an exercise in which they get to simulate the invasion of Grenada and get to make all the decisions just like Reagan did. They’re prepped for this with a bit of laughably propaganda-filled version of history (e.g. if we didn’t invade Grenada, then Grenada, Cuba and Nicaragua would have invaded the US and made us communist). Then, they go through this simulation — in which they’re told there are “no right or wrong answers.” However, it later turns out that if you answer differently than Ronald Reagan actually did, an angry buzzer buzzes and the students are told they’re wrong — if you answer the same as Reagan, a bell dings, and the students are told they made “the correct choice.” In most cases, of course, the students are lead to the “easy” answer being exactly what Reagan did.
Then, suddenly, in the middle of the exercise, the evil press ruins everything, by revealing that two US carriers have been rerouted to Grenada, ruining the element of surprise. To be honest, if you look through historical reports of the invasion of Grenada, the press leaking this bit of information is pretty hard to find. Yet, in the Reagan Library, it’s the key to the whole story. The element of surprise has been blown, and now the faux-Reagan needs to decide whether to move forward with the invasion. The “correct” answer, of course, is yes — and woe is the poor child Reagan-stand-in who suggests that perhaps it’s best to focus on just evacuating the US medical students in Grenada first, and consider an invasion at a later date when the element of surprise has returned.
But after the story plays out to the inevitable, rose-tinted-glasses-of-retrospect conclusion, the library staffer makes sure that the kids in the fake Oval Office know that everything would have worked much better if that darn press hadn’t interfered. And while freedom of the press is discussed briefly, the woman encourages students to think about the value of self-censorship of the press, reinforcing it by asking the students if the press should have reported on the news, to which they all say no. She follows this up immediately by suggesting that the 19 soldiers who lost their lives in Grenada was really due to the press and their big mouths, with an amusing hedge about how “we can’t directly say that’s because of the press, but… did it help that they released the story?” The students (who had been divided into different groups — including some who play “the press”) are brought back together, and the child-politicians immediately start attacking the child-press for killing 19 soldiers. The child-press are suddenly being accused of being murderers, and are pressured into agreeing that the press should simply shut up when it has information like this.
It’s really disturbing to listen to this.
In an era when we’re having a number of important and active discussions about the importance of free speech and the freedom of the press, it seems quite unfortunate that school kids are being walked through an exercise, whose sole purpose appears to be to suggest that the press should never report on what a government is doing — especially if it might involve activities that many considered to be illegal (as was the case at the time of the invasion of Grenada). I’m sure as the kids grow up, many will realize just how silly this particular lesson was at the time, but it still seems quite odd that the entire purpose of an exercise at the Reagan Library appears to be about attacking the press for actually doing what it’s supposed to.