Now that the war part of the war is over, a media war is heating up as more diverse perspectives emerge within a news business that was accused as acting as publicists for the Bush Administration.
With the adrenaline no longer pumping on front lines or control rooms, with testosterone levels coming down, and the flags off the sets, some self criticism and reflection is finally being heard.
Ted Koppel was on CSPAN with Marvin Kalb noting he wasn’t able to see most of the coverage because he was doing his own. Nevertheless he insisted that TV channels “going live” to a war, and pointing cameras at events does not journalism make.
“Watching war on TV from a distance,” The Nightline anchor asserted “is pulse-pounding entertainment That’s damn good entertainment. We need to show people the consequences of war. People die in war.” As an icon in the media world, no one turned on Ted for his mild dissent.
That wasn’t the case when MSNBC’s Ashleigh Banfield spoke at a college, not heaven forbid, on the air.
“There were horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism? Or was this coverage?,” she asked. “As a journalist, I have been ostracized just from going on television and saying, ‘Here’s what the leaders of Hizbollah, a radical Moslem group, are telling me about what is needed to bring peace to Israel,’” she said. “And, ‘Here’s what the Lebanese are saying.’ Like it or lump it, don’t shoot the messenger, but that’s what they do.”
The “they” undoubtedly was her bosses who uses the war to Out -fox Fox with promos proclaiming “God Bless America.” They quickly let Banfield know it was not a good career move.
“NBC News president Neal Shapiro has taken correspondent Ashleigh Banfield to the woodshed for a speech in which she criticized the networks for portraying the Iraqi war as “glorious and wonderful” wrote Hollywood Reporter.
An official spokesperson for the GE owned net said: “She and we both agreed that she didn’t intend to demean the work of her colleagues, and she will choose her words more carefully in the future.”. This sounds like the kind of patronizing statement you would expect in Pravda-or Baghdad’s old Ministry of misinformation. In Saddam’s Iraq, she would have been done for. Let’s see what happens at NBC.
Even mainsteam media monitor Howard Kurtz,, is looking back in anguish. “Despite the investment of tens of millions of dollars and deployment of hundreds of journalists, the collective picture they produced was often blurry,” he wrote, raising questions, like: ” “Were readers and viewers well-served or deluged with confusing information? And what does all of this portend for coverage of future wars?”
Good questions to which others should be added. Why all the patriotic correctness? Did the Pentagon subsidize all the embedded journalists? How effective were their spinmeisters and behind the scenes information (IO) operatives? What were military “perception managers” doing to contain the critics. Did they exercise the right of approval over all those armchair generals on the air? Were media companies pulling punches to curry favor with an Administration they are lobbying to lift regulations?
Propaganda is a term that TV News in America uses freely to describe others. It is rarely applied to what we see and hear.
Remember all that on-air cheerleading for “taking out” Iraqi TV even though bombing TV stations violates international law?. Remember all the vicious attacks on Al Jazeera for showing images of US POW’s which Mort Kondracke on Fox denigrated as “culturally Arab? ”
Again, that’s propaganda, whereas our sneering coverage of Iraqi prisioners, or detainees in Guantanamo Bay, is just, (gulp, keep a straight face) objective news.
This is an old debate. Perhaps its time for our generation of embeds and TV hot heads to become acquainted with the findings of Harold Lasswell, one of our greatest sociologists. He explained that all sides rely on propaganda in every war. Why? Because it engineers consent.
He wrote: “”[A] new and subtler instrument must weld thousands and thousands and even millions of human brings into one amalgamated mass of hate, will and hope. A new will must burn out the canker of dissent and temper the steel of bellicose enthusiasm. The name of this new hammer and anvil of social solidarity is propaganda. Talk must take the place of drill; print must supply the dance. War dances live in literature, and at the fringes of the modern earth; war propaganda breathes and fumes in the capitals and provinces of the world.”
He wrote that l927, before TV News could bring us all war all the time. Some say it was about oil and empire.
In the suites of network power, it was fought for ratings and revenues. People may die, but war, my friends, boosts business. Ultimatelly, it was a battle of the brands. Turn Turn.Turn.
“News Dissector” Danny Schechter, ex-CNN, ex-ABC, writes a daily blog on news coverage for Mediachannel.org. His latest book is Media Wars: News At A Time or Terror. (Rowman & Littlefield.)