Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A serious flaw in a contemporary fiction book

I just finished reading The Last Days by Joel C. Rosenberg. It's a work of fiction, but has so many references to current-day politics that it feels like reality is intertwined in its pages.

Rosenberg has gained a following partially because he has written things that ended up coming true -- including terrorists hijacking a jet for a kamikaze attack against an American city, leading to war against Saddam Hussein over WMDs (The Last Jihad, written before 9/11), and an alliance between Russia and Iran to pursue nuclear weapons and annihilate Israel (The Ezekiel Option, written before the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad).

Though it's not for everyone, I very much enjoyed it -- it's an exciting page-turner, and it has a contemporary element that brings it to life, somewhat how I remember Tom Clancy's novels (though I haven't read his work in more than a decade). It also deals with issues of faith drawn from Rosenberg's journey from orthodox Jew to evangelical Christian, which was interesting to me, though I thought a little misplaced from the overall story.

But here's my gripe (spoiler ahead): the story includes a New York Times reporter named Marcus Jackson, who (in typical MSM fashion) writes a series of stories that reveal information which could jeopardize secret peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Stories that could lead to the death of the parties if their location is revealed.

But in one of the final chapters, Jackson is sitting in a Washington D.C. Starbucks when a man in a bulky green parka walks in, then walks out. Jackson doesn't think much of it until a few minutes later, when he sees a picture of a suspected Washington D.C. suicide bomber and recognizes it as the person he had just seen in the Starbucks.

So he does what any red-blooded American would do -- he notifies the authorities. And the authorities track down the would-be killer before he's able to take out the Washington Monument and any innocent civilians standing in the way.

So what's wrong with this picture? I seriously wonder whether a New York Times reporter would report such a situation. In a 1989 PBS series called Ethics in America, Mike Wallace and the late Peter Jennings were faced with a scenario in which they were embedded with enemy forces fighting US troops, and learned that the enemy forces were about to launch a surprise attack on the Americans. They both agreed that in that scenario, their duty as reporters outweighed their duty to warn American troops. Wallace said he -- and other journalists -- "would regard it simply as another story that they are there to cover."

When the discussion moderator asked if they had a higher duty as Americans to save the lives of American soldiers, he responded, "No, you don't have a higher duty...you're a reporter."

That's why, despite my enjoyment of Rosenberg's book, I find the ending a bit far-fetched.

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