Is the American press complicit in covering up Washington's less-than-glamorous forays in national security? According to a recent op-ed by the Guardian's Mark Weisbrot, the answer is a definite "yes."
Weisbrot's focus in the article is on the 1982 massacre of indigenous peoples in Guatemala carried out by the military dictatorship of General Efrain Rios Montt. Military personnel murdered an estimated 200 people in the village of Dos Erres on December 6, 1982 as apparent revenge for the killing of 21 soldiers by guerrilla forces outside the village two months prior.
The case was largely ignored by the mainstream media at the time, surprising considering the amount of people killed and the relative closeness of Guatemala to the United States. However, the United States government at the time backed the anti-communist Montt regime, with both military and financial aid during what was the height of the Cold War. It certainly wasn't the first time the U.S. backed anti-communist military regimes in Latin America, as in previous years Washington backed dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil in the fight against the spread of communism into the Western Hemisphere.
The mainstream media's reluctance in covering such stories as they are happening (the after-the-fact profile of the Dos Erres massacre by NPR spurred the writing of Weisbrot's piece) is largely based on the political climate of the times. The lack of coverage on the massacre in Dos Erres, or the distorted coverage of other coups, stemmed from the Cold War and the need to propagandize events that made the United States look good, and gloss over events that reflect poorly on America.
However, even after the end of the Cold War, there are still instances where the press goes along with whatever the newest foreign policy adventure is today. Largely the mainstream media was in lock-step with Washington in the run up to the Iraq War 10 years ago, and they have generally glossed over the effects of drone operations in Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, save for a few intrepid reporters.
Not covering the whole story, whether by obfuscating facts or outright denying their existence, does indeed do American citizens a disservice, especially with regards to foreign policy. Purposely leaving Americans ignorant of these types of stories leads to an ill-informed, disengaged public that either mindlessly cheers on America's actions or simply ignores them.
However, there are changes afoot. With more and more questions being raised about the sagacity of US foreign policy combined with the advent of Web 2.0 platforms, the amount of people who actually know the truth behind stories the press tends to gloss over/ignore continues to rise. Journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill are two of the more prominent writers out there who have helped expose the dark side of the War on Terror and have sparked debate on its merits (or lack thereof).
Having such open debates can only be a good thing for the public, and as a result will lead to a more informed citizenry that understands the risks inherent in American foreign policy. The more the public is engaged, the more likely reforms can occur at the top.