By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Against the odds, a few reporters have managed to let their humanity shine through. ABC's Richard Engel was on the roof of Baghdad's Palestine Hotel when the bombs started to hit last Friday, and his panting, gasping, terrified words let you feel the force of "shock and awe" (a term that most anchors repeated almost gleefully). Later, CNN freelancer May Ying Welsh talked to an Iraqi family who emerged from a bomb shelter — "They had their dog with them," she noted, in a humanizing touch — and she had to persuade them to go back in because they preferred going home where they had food and water. Still, despite such immediate moments, TV offered no reporting to match Jon Lee Anderson's New Yorker dispatch from Baghdad or the L.A. Times' superb articles about the village of Safwan, whose citizens began by cheering U.S. Marines, soon moved on to looting, and eventually wound up angry that they'd suffered too many casualties and received not enough aid.
Such real journalism had little place in the 24-hour stridency of jingoistic Fox News or shameless CNN, whose eager-beaver anchors seem giddy about all the new toys on display in their telecasts. In the great marketplace of images, TV is now in a position to have its own Cops-style version of Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down. We are being offered the experience of war as it's really fought. Except, of course, for the commercials and crawls, the missing corpses and censored language, the chattering anchors and edited footage (to eliminate the dull parts) — not to mention our total freedom from personal danger.
The newsman's thrill at these technical possibilities erupted during the battle of Umm Qasr, when CNN's obviously exhausted Aaron Brown stopped talking about what was happening with the soldiers and declared the battle a great moment in journalistic history:
"This is literally the kind of thing that we, in this business, have talked about for 20 years, 30 years probably, that some day we would have the ability, the technical capacity, to cover war live. And on this day, at 2:35 in the morning Eastern Time on a Sunday, that which we used to talk about . . . has come to be." Amen. Allah Akbar.
While this was surely a memorable moment for Brown, one suspects it was unforgettable for the actual combatants, the rifle-aiming Marines lying in the sand tensely just outside Umm Qasr and the overmatched Iraqi soldiers who were holed up in a dismal concrete building, unaware that "coalition forces," as the Bush administration desperately terms them, had called in a British air strike against their position. They were even more doomed than they knew.
Brown didn't stick around to see the actual fighting slowly play out with the logic of a high-tech snuff film. He was replaced by Carol Costello and Anderson Cooper, who asked retired General Wesley Clark dumb questions and twittered away about the impending air attack as if it were the next float up in the Rose Parade. At one point, Costello commented, "I really wish we could drop the banner [with the network logo and commentary] for a few seconds so we could see the Marines."
Sorry, babe. CNN was too busy branding the war to actually show us the soldiers whose lives we were supposed to care about. As for the men whose lives we weren't supposed to care about — those poor Iraqi bastards inexorably met their fate in the wee hours of the L.A. morning. Network executives were no doubt heartbroken that this newfangled reality show couldn't have been on in prime time.
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