U.S. media in bed with military
Globalvision - January 20, 2003
War calls and many journalists are answering. Throughout the world, media
organizations are planning their sojourns to Baghdad to be in place for
the "big one." They are lining up at Iraqi missions asking for visas.
Others are lobbying the U.S. military to give them a front row seat.
In the old days, there was a sharp debate about whether to get "in bed"
with the people you are covering. Today it is the military that is
pursuing a policy of "embedding" journalists with U.S. units. Back in the
Gulf War, reporters had to demand access. Today, it is the military doing
Why? "What is driving this is a fear that Iraq will win the propaganda
war if reporters are not on the ground with troops," writes Dave Moniz of
USA Today. As a result, explains News World: "The Pentagon has pledged
that reporters will gain more access to troops on the ground during a war
But the promise has met with a mixed response from journalists. Most
welcom the move, but some question whether the fine words will be
translated into action, while others question the Bush administration's
motives. The U.S. press corps heavily criticized the Pentagon for keeping
journalists away from the action during the recent war in Afghanistan.
At a recent media panel in New York, Judy Miller of the New York Times
said that the press will "not allow" the Pentagon to exclude them. She
and other journalists are also taking training in self-protection. If she
goes, she says she will learn how to use a suit to defend against
chemical warfare. Chris Cramer, president of CNN International, revealed
that 500 CNN journalists have had war safety training already.
Access to the war is one concern, shilling for it is another. Far too
many journalists take an uncrititical, even fawning attitude toward men
in uniform. Says Cokie Roberts of ABC: "I am, I will just confess to you,
a total sucker for the guys who stand up with all the ribbons on and
stuff and they say it's true and I'm ready to believe it."
Independent radio producer and author David Barsamian amplifies this
point: "When the U.S. marches to war, the media march with it. And within
the media the generals generally are heavily armed with microphones. The
din of collateral language is rising to cacophonous levels. The
mobilization and ubiquity of present and past brass on the airwaves is an
essential component of manufacturing consent for war."
He assessed some U.S. media coverage earlier this month. On PBS "The
NewsHour" on Thursday, Jan 2 with Ray Suarez as host, the lead story was
Iraq. The guests were Patrick Lang, U.S. Army, and John Warden, U.S. Air
Force. They were joined by Geoffrey Kemp, a war hawk and ex-Reagan NSC
staffer. The discussion totally focused on strategies and tactics.
How many troops would be needed to "do the job?" What would the bombing
campaign look like? And the inevitable, when will the war begin? It's
kind of like placing bets on a bowl game. Suarez, formally of NPR's "Talk
of the Nation" played the classic role of the unctuous and compliant
"There were no uncomfortable inquiries about the U.N. weapons inspection
process, casualty figures, international law, the U.N. Charter or the
notorious U.S. practice of double standards on Security Council
resolutions. Instead, the pundits pontificated on troop deployments,
carrier battle groups and heavy infantry forces such as the 3rd
Mechanized Division," Barsamian states.
This type of pro-Pentagon punditry also informs the reporting in major
U.S. newspapers, says Mathew Engel, a Guardian reporter based in
Washington who notes that military leaks there are often not accurate.
"Most of these stories, which look like impressive scoops at first
glimpse, actually come from officials using the press to perform
Whatever the category, the papers lap this up, even when it is obvious
nonsense, a practice that reached its apogee last year when palpably
absurd plans for the invasion of Iraq emerged, allegedly from inside the
Pentagon, on to the New York Times front page.
"It's a very cynical game," says Eric Umansky, who reviews the papers for
slate.com. "The reporters know these stories are nonsense and they know
they are being used. But it's an exclusive. It's an exclusive built on
air, but CNN says 'according to the New York Times,' so the paper's
happy, and it stays out there for a whole news cycle. So what if it's
In the face of this, only one White House reporter, Dana Milbank of the
Post, regularly employs skepticism and irreverence in his coverage of the
Bush administration — he is said to dodge the threats because he is
regarded as an especially engaging character. It is more mysterious that
only the tiniest handful of liberal commentators ever manage to irritate
anyone in the government: there is Paul Krugman in the New York Times,
Molly Ivins down in Texas and, after that, you have to scratch your head.
Danny Schechter writes a daily weblog on media coverage for
Mediachannel.org, a media network he serves as executive editor.
(Globalvision News Network)