Last Saturday, the third day of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I was watching Fox News Channel, the top-rated 24-hour cable news outfit, and in the studio there appeared a female field correspondent who had just returned from covering a war protest. I believe it was the huge one in New York.
Seems some protesters treated her rudely-they had shouted nasty things to her and one man even pushed away the microphone she had shoved in his face. She just couldn't imagine why people would lash out so at the mainstream media. The shock she expressed at this behavior, and the attitude she copped on camera, suggested she's had little interaction with people who don't immediately fall in line behind the U.S. government.
Her apparent worldview is, of course, right in line with Fox's conservative, pro-war stance, which has been unabashedly on display during the channel's invasion coverage.
My eyeballs have been super-glued to my TV screen for a week now. My channel of choice is usually MSNBC-I'm not sure why; the difference between it and Fox and CNN is negligible. All three are turning brutal violence into a goofy spectacle, with their war-like musical intros and their big "Target: Iraq" coverage titles. I find the pomp and circumstance rather offensive, far more so than any photo of dead American soldiers.
None of the news channels would show those grim images that were broadcast around the rest of the world. I can understand the pathos behind not showing them out of consideration for military families. Without a doubt, it would be a tough decision if I were the one making it. But I probably would have come down on the side of those who argue that war is gruesome business and the world needs to witness its naked brutality. Perhaps fewer people would be so thrilled about sending young men and women off to die if they were exposed to war's ugliness.
Which brings me back to mainstream TV coverage. The "imbedded" reporters for the most part are providing quality journalism. And the military's decision to allow it is paying off for the government. Now the government doesn't have to deal with the media's complaints that access to the war is being denied, like we saw during the first Gulf War. The reporters, understandably, are identifying with the soldiers they're covering. They're in gnarly situations, and they're in them together. It's bound to create a bond. And that bond will benefit the military from a public-relations standpoint-unless things start to go badly in Baghdad, then all bets will be off.
Despite the decent coverage from the battlefield, the invasion is being sanitized and spun by the producers, writers and anchors back in the studios. For example, before it was revealed that an American soldier was responsible for the grenade attack that killed an officer in Kuwait, the TV media were saying the incident was probably a "terrorist" attack. Why is it that relentless bombardment of Baghdad is "war" and a grenade attack in response to an invasion is "terrorism"?
Then there was the case of the chemical-weapons plant that probably isn't. The cable channels rushed the news that the troops had discovered a hidden weapons plant-which, for a lot of folks, would justify the war-and then had to backtrack when the military said it might not even be a chemical plant.
And the use of pro-war analysts and retired military men is out of control. Sure, every now and then I want someone who understands military operations to explain what's going on, but how about sprinkling the breathlessly patriotic coverage with folks who can provide some historical, cultural or geopolitical perspective that doesn't come straight out of Central Command or the military-government establishment?
One more thing: if I hear the words "shock and awe" one more time, I'm liable to puke and spew.
Maybe the cable channels are covering the hostilities this way because their viewers demand it. It's well known that the American public, generally speaking, leaves its skepticism and criticism at the door when war finally breaks out. Perhaps they need their news to be friendly to "our team."
Not me. I'm going to consider extracting my eyeballs from the TV screen and affixing them more often to my computer screen for some intense reading and maybe a little viewing of the wonderfully simple and austere BBC.