What CBS News Is (and Is Not) Saying about the Battle over Closing Guantánamo Bay

Curator's Note

I often tell my students to focus not only on what is said but also what is not said when reading or watching the news. Instead of centering its piece on President Obama’s arguments for why Guantánamo Bay prison must be shuttered right away (i.e., its use as a propaganda tool, high maintenance costs, detrimental effect on diplomacy efforts, and conflicting relationship with American values), CBS News chose to focus on another theme: the battle between the White House and congressional Republicans. The initial soundbite in reporter Margaret Brennan’s piece is of Obama saying, “The politics of this are tough.” Then she discusses bringing prisoners to the United States, which leads into the opposition from members of Congress. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) say they are standing firm against bringing detainees to the United States, and Brennan mentions that the White House is not backing down and is even considering executive action. The danger of this portrayal is that the facts of each side’s case take a backseat to the battle itself. Are President Obama’s arguments valid? Is he avoiding a discussion about certain things such as prisoner treatment at the Guantánamo Bay facility? Why are members of Congress and Republican members in particular so adamant that the prison should remain open, especially given that President Bush even wanted to close the prison during his term in office? These questions are not being asked or answered by much of the media today. The lack of open and truthful debate over the issue help to ensure that nothing gets done. Instead of focusing solely on the news value of conflict, journalists could be concentrating on more substantive elements. For example, to which other countries are the 35 prisoners being transferred, and why are 46 deemed unfit for transfer? Why are only ten being charged? This type of information is much more valuable to the public than the infighting within the governing elite, and without a change in focus from the framing of debates as strictly about conflict to a more facts-based approach, the fate of the prison, like that of the prisoners, is likely to remain in limbo.

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