Monday, March 31, 2003

Pro-Government Bias in Mainstream Media… Baghdad Rekha on Planet Basu

There has been no small amount of controversy in the last week and a half regarding mainstream media’s coverage of the war in Iraq. It has been claimed that viewers and readers are not getting the full story. There are charges that reporters are cozying up with the government. In fact one reporter was recently fired for acting as a shill and a mouthpiece for the government. However, unfortunately for Peter Arnett, the government was that of Iraq.

My God, how can anyone watch the network news and think that there is an intentional, orchestrated pro-U.S. bias? The coverage for the most part is all so much “Schlock and Ahhh”. Okay, this in itself is not a surprise, given the typical quality of reportage on network television, but pro-U.S.??? Good Lord, every firefight is characterized as a “setback” or “heavy resistance”. Every allied casualty is profiled and made personal by airing interviews with surviving family members. Pictures of Iraqi civilian casualties in the recent “marketplace” attacks have been shown repeatedly on the news. Iraqi government officials’ news releases and statements are reported without comment or question.

The mainstream media have done more than their share to provide “objective” coverage on the war. Some crazies like me would even say they lean somewhat to the left.

But, not surprisingly, Baghdad Rekha has another take on this. She thinks that in fact our government is actually controlling the media. Where does she get this information? You’ll never guess…

At recent demonstrations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., picketers have complained that war reporting, particularly on CNN, is skewed in favor of championing the troops while omitting critical coverage of the human costs in American and Iraqi deaths.

Yep, that’s where I’d go to get good perspective on war coverage, anti-war demonstrators in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington. But it gets better…

The rest of the world is seeing burned children and screaming mothers in hospitals," said Medea Benjamin of Code Pink for Peace, an anti-war women's group, in a prepared statement. "The American public is seeing the Pentagon's version of war. The public should be able to see the gory reality of war so they can make up their minds about the price of conflict.

The rest of the world… oh, world media in Rekha’s mind means Al Jazeera. Oh, okay… as long as you’re not talking about propaganda. On a side note, I tend not to give too much credence to someone named after a character who killed her sons to piss off her husband. As for “Code Pink for Peace”… need I say more?

One big reason for the kind of coverage we're getting is that reporters traveling with troops - "embedded" journalists - are given access on condition they agree to withhold certain details the military says could compromise its mission. It's a Faustian bargain: Unembedded journalists are freer to report what they see, but they face serious dangers moving about on their own. Several international journalists have already been killed.

The military is not censoring any information that is not directly related to unit safety or intelligence security. At this writing, there is a story on the wires that Geraldo Rivera has been ousted from his embedded position with the 101st Airborne because of a map he drew in the sand that included city names during a live broadcast. THIS is the kind of information that, if released can compromise the safety of our fighting men and women. There have been no reports so far of embedded journalists being censored in other areas of reporting such as showing casualties.

I love Rekha’s use of the term “Faustian bargain”. Faust according to the story, made a deal with a devil. So, logically, the US military is… you guessed it (in my best Church Lady voice)… SATAN!!! Perhaps she means a “Hobson’s choice”? No, far be it from me to tutor Rekha Basu on her writing style…

"The coverage, so far, has depicted U.S. soldiers as brave, enthusiastic and conscientious warriors who, as they bomb and shoot their way to Baghdad, uphold the highest professional standards of the art of war," wrote Jack Shafer in the on-line magazine Slate.

But what if that image is not always accurate?

Is that all you’ve got Rekha? Quote a source (a very good one, by the way… read this) and then question it with “what ifs” again? Okay: What if this depiction of U.S. soldiers is accurate and Rekha is not simply no willing to face the evidence? What if we’re all really in suspended animation and all of our waking life is a dream driven by a computer under the control of the intelligent super-machines that need our bio power to provide them energy?

Okay, stay with me here, Rekha, one more time… just for you: The armed forces of the United States are making Herculean efforts to minimize Iraqi civilian casualties. The pace of our advance and eventual victory are slowed because of this tactic. We are doing this BECASUSE we are Americans who LEARNED from the nightmare of Viet Nam and are hell bent NOT to repeat the same mistake. We now have weapons that now allow us to fight the war in this manner. We want Iraq to be the turning point in Arab culture toward democracy, tolerance, free minds and free markets. And, believe it or not Rekha, we Americans are not the baby killing lot of savages you think us to be.

It's ironic that at a time when live-action war coverage has never been more immediate or up close, we're in danger of missing the big picture. While TV might offer blow-by-blow accounts of what a particular military unit is up to, it's not answering larger questions, such as whether U.S. and British forces are making overall progress, inflicting heavy civilian casualties, or facing more setbacks than victories.

Okay, I know this is a hard concept to grasp, but bringing us the “big picture” is the job of the anchor people… not the embedded reporters, okay? And if you only watch network news, from the anchors, commentators and military experts you could still learn that we are (at this writing) within 50 miles of Baghdad. We are providing vast amounts of humanitarian aid in southern Iraq where the situation is secure. We are still doing precision bombing of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities in order to minimize civilian casualties. Our supply lines are being harassed, but are still functioning well.

The first rule of journalism is balance. But stories of Iraqi families trying to live their lives during the bombings are far outmatched by stories of troop experiences. On National Public Radio Thursday, I heard an American woman with Voices in the Wilderness describing from Baghdad some of what her group sees. They make daily rounds of hospitals and bombing sites to chronicle the effects on injured and homeless civilians. In one neighborhood, she said, there is simply nowhere residents can go to be safe.

Must… stop… laughing… and… continue… Alright, I’m okay now.

First things first, Rekha Basu preaching about journalistic balance is like Adolph Hitler talking about what a great time he had a time at a Bar Mitzvah. Next, I just happened to hear that NPR report on Thursday. (Yes, radio in south central Iowa is so abysmal that I am forced to listen to NPR.) The report was propaganda, pure and simple from a woman, who by her very presence in Iraq gives legitimacy to Saddam Hussein and his murderous regime. And what Rekha fails to mention was the part of the NPR piece in which this woman describes a birthday party (with a chicken dinner, by the way…) for a little Iraqi boy that is held OUTSIDE in a riverside park. Now, if you were REALLY afraid of being killed by indiscriminate American bombing; if you had seen its results up close and personal, would you take a bunch of kids to the park?

“Also missing are stories about what we were not seeing late last week: Iraqi civilians jumping for joy at troops' arrival.”

Could that have something to do with the execution by Fedayeen militia of Iraqi civilians who welcomed coalition troops? Could it be that the Iraqis near the Kuwaiti border could show their true feelings because the Baath Party Gestapo, knowing that they would soon be overrun had already gotten the hell out of Dodge? And look what happened a day after Rekha's column was published!

Some media balked at showing images of injuries or deaths that might be too graphic - like video of U.S. soldiers slain or captured after an ambush near An Nasariyah. It's not pleasant to see American soldiers degraded or hurt. But that's what war is about.

So Rekha, you want the relatives of an executed soldier to see his body on the network news before they even get notice from the government? Surely you, the font of all sensitivity would NOT want this. For anyone that wants to see them, these images are readily available. Just do an Google search or watch Al Jazeera. For those of you with the stomach for it, please, please DO go check them out. For everyone else, the KIA, MIA and POW stats are shown at least once during every national and local news broadcast. We have a good view of the ongoing human cost. But, you know, close ups of American dead, killed execution style may just have the opposite effect that you want Rekha. It might just enrage the average American…

Nor is crucial context always offered to stories that are reported. For example, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld criticized the parading of five POWs on Iraqi TV as violating the Geneva Convention, it was not pointed out in the American press that the U.S. military did the exact same thing with captives it has held at Guantanamo Bay after the Sept. 11 attacks. I read that in the British Guardian.

First of all, I do not recall any televised “interviews” of the detainees at Gitmo that were remotely like the Iraqi videos we saw of the American POWs last week. Second, those detainees from the Afghanistan action are NOT POWs, they are “unlawful combatants” as defined by international law and therefore not subject to the Geneva Convention. Finally, the fact that you get your news form the Guardian may sound impressive to the average reader, but not to anyone who is aware of the far-left editorial stance of that paper.

At the very time we're trumpeting our freedoms to Iraq, it would be a sad irony if our own media's independence is taking a beating.

And here’s the capper. Here we see the insanely hypocritical moral equivalence rot that the left brings to the argument. We have NOTHING to show the Iraqi people about freedom of the press. Until we are perfect, we’re just as bad as they are.

The bottom line is that Rekha is about as objective about the war in Iraq as the Code Pink people. She WANTS the media to flood us with disturbing images of the war; civilian casualties with the presumption of being the product of allied assaults. She wants these images to be combined with jaundiced, defeatist coverage of the war (strategic and tactical) that presents every skirmish as a major setback, every plan as fatally flawed, every casualty as heartbreaking and intolerable. She wants public opinion turned against the war. She wants us out of there NOW. She’s written as much.

Rekha, I’m shocked, shocked to learn from you that media independence is taking a beating. I’m stunned to discover that the American media is composed of American journalists and writing primarily for an American audience and, while America is at war is showing a bias toward... America. Embedded reporters, because of close, daily contact with our soldiers are actually starting to identify with the American kids that are serving in Iraq. You know, pretty soon, the media will start referring to the United States in the first person plural again. Now that would be a pity, wouldn’t it?


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