Coverage of Iraq made this an annus horribilis for Americas major media. If you want to know why public opinion in Western Europe has been so overwhelmingly against the U.S. war in and occupation of Iraq, theres one obvious answer: the difference in television news between theirs and ours. You can easily determine this for yourself: Spend a week watching the news broadcasts and TV magazines of the BBC, France2 and Deutsche Welle, all available on many U.S. cable systems. The footage of dead Iraqi babies and children victims of U.S. attacks on "terrorists" that you will regularly see on European public television is rarely aired on U.S. networks. The regular interviews in Iraqi hospitals with doctors recounting the slaughter of the innocents that show up on European news broadcasts arent often seen on the all-news cable networks here, let alone on the Big Three broadcast nets newscasts. Iraqis, of course, know this daily reality all too well which explains their overwhelming hostility to the U.S. occupation.
An on-the-ground study of Iraqi casualties between April and September by Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder newspapers demonstrated that "Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis most of them civilians as attacks by insurgents." But youre not told this by U.S. TVs "embedded" reporters, whove traded their reportorial independence for access to the boom-boom footage that drives what Time magazine has labeled the "militainment" proffered by American television. In fact, embedded reporters are enrolled in what the Pentagon calls "information operations" a counterpart to military operations designed to exact the rosiest possible picture of the U.S. occupation from accredited reporters. Those who dont toe the Pentagon line, and who report negatively on the occupation of Iraq and the indiscriminate effects of U.S. forces combat there, are simply blacklisted.
The demagogic nationalism of Fox News, the ratings king, has dragged the other networks down to its level as they seek to win back lost viewers. In a must-read article on "Iraq, the Press and the Election" in the December 16 issue of The New York Review of Books (available online at www.nybooks.com), the Columbia Journalism Reviews Michael Massing dissects U.S. media coverage of Iraq with devastating effect. CNN, for example, he portrays as "careening wildly between an adherence to traditional news values on the one hand and a surrender to the titillating, overheated, nationalistic fare of contemporary cable on the other. In the end, CNN . . . offered the superficiality of Fox without any of its conviction."
The degree to which coverage of Iraq reflects the structural corruption of U.S. major media is even more damningly portrayed in Weapons of Mass Deception, the superb new film by Danny Schechter. Schechter, a TV veteran of three decades, is an Emmy-winning former investigative producer for ABC and CNN (he calls himself a "network refugee"), and the founder of the independent TV production company Globalvision and also of MediaChannel.org, the Web site where his sharp-eyed, acid-tongued media criticism punches gaping holes in official newsdoms coverage of Iraq. In this film which is much more meticulously documented and more accurate than Michael Moores Fahrenheit 9/11, and therefore infinitely more devastating Schechter shows with precision how U.S. mass media have been recruited as part and parcel of the Pentagons war-propaganda machine.
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There is no end in sight in Iraq. Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, reported recently from Iraq that he hasnt talked to a single U.S. military commander who doesnt believe the U.S. occupation will last "three, or five, or seven years more" at least. So, to penetrate the fog of propaganda relayed by our major media, youll need to be well-armed. Here, then, are a few suggestions of how to get your head around the reality of whats truly happening in Iraq from online sources, in addition to the previously mentioned MediaChannel.org:
Undernews (http://prorev.com/indexa.htm), the daily press review by veteran Washington journalist Sam Smith, is in the I.F. Stone tradition: He culls open sources in the English language from which to construct an alternative version of reality. Its the perfect solution for the average news consumer too busy to wade through all of the English-language press including the fine coverage of Iraq from British and Australian newspapers from which Undernews provides brief extracts and links to complete articles.
Truthout (www.truthout.org/) is edited by William Rivers Pitt, the author of the best-selling War on Iraq What Team Bush Doesnt Want You To Know. Truthouts daily e-bulletins bring you a selection of the latest news and analysis that counters official Washingtons worldview augmented by Rivers scintillating commentaries and contributions from Truthouts own foreign correspondents.
Informed Comment (www.juancole.com/) is the Web site of University of Michigan history professor and Middle East specialist Juan Cole, whose analysis has become a must-read for anyone seriously interested in Iraq.