A recent story I heard illustrates why I think we live in an age of transparency as never before and why I think that is a very good thing. It also illustrates why millions of “citizen journalists,” bloggers, social media participants, user content providers or whatever you want to call them have made this a more open, honest and truthful world.
It was at our company Christmas party and the husband of one of our employees relayed the story of his incredible experience as a hijack victim in 1985. It was Air Egypt flight 648 from Athens to Cairo. Our subject was a young American traveling the world. The plane was hijacked by three members of the Abu Nidal Palestinian terrorist organization brandishing guns and hand grenades with pulled pins. A gun battle on board with a sky marshall killed one hijacker. The plane landed on Malta and the hijackers threatened to kill one passenger every fifteen minutes if their demands for more fuel to fly to Libya were not met. A young Israeli woman was the first–brought to the front by the door, shot in the head and dumped out of the plane. Fifteen minutes later, the second Israeli woman was brought forward and was also shot and dumped. Our friend was next, hands tied behind his back, talking to two American women who would follow him. He was called forward, tried to jump from the plane, was shot in the back of the head, but miraculously survived–not only the shot, but the 12 foot fall from the plane face forward with his hands still tied.
The hijackers had allowed 11 Egyptians to get off the plane but there were more than 70 left when our friend made his miraculous escape. It turned out he was one of the few fortunate ones, because the Egyptian commandos arrived, attacked the plane with grenades, automatic weapons, started the plane on fire, and killed anyone indiscriminately. 60 of those left on the plane died in the “rescue.” One of the few who survived it was an Englishman who ended up in the hospital next to our friend. He told the media repeatedly how the Egyptians botched the rescue and caused so many needless deaths, but it was simply not reported. The story was that the terrorists blew up the plane.
Why? Why would the international media not tell the truth? This was an era of strained relations between Egypt and the US but a need for strong cooperation in trying to get peace with Israel. Egypt had been embarrassed when the US forced an Air Egypt flight down with F-15s to capture a terrorist leader, and they needed to prove to the west they could be tough on the terrorists. So, pure speculation, but is it possible that the Reagan administration made it clear at least to US news media that telling the real story of the botched rescue would harm Mid-East peace hopes? It is possible and plausible. Which leads me to my point.
Let’s say any administration or powerful entity attempted to influence the coverage of such a volatile story today. Would they have any hope of success? No, and therefore wouldn’t even think of it. We now have so many and varied sources of information that it seems impossible the truth would escape from the great many who seek to reveal the “true” story. Sure, there is a lot of junk, garbage, misinformation, hidden and non-hidden agendas in all the blog coverage of events of the day. But the some total is, in my mind, much more likely to be true than when the power to inform the public was held by a handful who controlled the machines of mass media.
Wikipedia provides another example. Despite its early detractors who couldn’t believe a user generated information source could possibly be accurate, it is now known to be nearly as–or perhaps more–accurate than the most credible encyclopedias. And it is the sheer number of participants that helps make it so. I am writing a book on a survivor of Buchenwald and went to Wikipedia to get additional info. There I found a report that the Allied airmen who got sent to Buchenwald arrived in April, 1944. Well, I am writing the eyewitness account of one of those fighter pilots and I know for a fact that the group of 168 did not arrive until August 20, 1944 and were rescued from there on October 20, 1944. So I commented on the post and provided my source. Sure enough, my information was incorporated into the report with the citation to my source.
Now I can’t contribute much to the overall knowledge in the world, and very few people perhaps care whether or not these airmen arrived in April or August. But as an amateur historian I care a lot and so do the millions of others who have specialized knowledge and both use and contribute to wikipedia.
I am glad we live in a post-media world, where many many millions more are contributing to the information, knowledge and discussion that we all benefit from.