The Media, Gulf War II, & The FCC




A

new poll tells us that—by a two-to-one margin—Americans
“use clearly positive words in their descriptions of the president.”
The Pew Research Center, releasing a nationwide survey on May 7,
declared “there is little doubt…that the war in Iraq has
improved the president’s image” in the United States. 


Such
assessments stand in sharp contrast to views of George W. Bush overseas.
In mid-March, the Pew center put out survey results showing, “U.S.
favorability ratings have plummeted in the past six months”—not
only in “countries actively opposing war,” but also in
“countries that are part of the ‘coalition of the willing’.” 


So,
why do most people in the U.S. seem somewhat positive about Bush,
while the figures indicating a “favorable view of the U.S.”
are low in one country after another —only 48 percent in Britain,
31 percent in France, 28 percent in Russia, 25 percent in Germany,
14 percent in Spain, and 12 percent in Turkey? In large measure,
the answer can be summed up with one word: media. 


Overall,
the U.S. news media do a great job of telling us how wonderful top
U.S. leaders are as they direct our stride across the planet. The
contrast with evil-doers —especially on our TV sets—could
hardly be more plain. 


Researchers
at the media watch group FAIR recently pointed out, U.S. news outlets
“have been quick to declare the U.S. war against Iraq a success,
but in-depth investigative reporting about the war’s likely
health and environmental consequences has been scarce.” 


During
the war, the London- based

Guardian

reported, the Pentagon
dropped 1,500 cluster bombs —weaponry that fires small pieces
of metal, which slice through human bodies. Unexploded cluster bombs
are now detonating, sometimes in the hands of Iraqi children. As
it did during Gulf War I, this spring the U.S. government fortified
some munitions with depleted uranium, which leaves fine-particle
radioactive dust that has been linked to cancer and birth defects. 


Those
are important stories, known to many news watchers on several continents,
but not in the United States. Searching the comprehensive Nexis
media database through May 5, the FAIR researchers found, “there
have been no in- depth reports about cluster bombs on ABC, CBS or
NBC’s nightly news programs since the start of the war.”
Those news shows provided just “a few passing mentions of cluster
bombs.” 


The
network evening news programs did even worse on DU reportage. “Since
the beginning of the year,” FAIR discovered, “the words
‘depleted uranium’ have not been uttered once on ABC ‘World
News Tonight,’ ‘CBS Evening News’ or ‘NBC Nightly
News,’ according to Nexis.” 


Meanwhile,
the deck of cards featuring 52 Iraqi villains—with Saddam Hussein
as Ace of Spades —became one of the great PR innovations of
the war on Iraq. By coincidence, on the same day that FAIR completed
its research, five “Army intelligence specialists”—who
designed the cards—stepped forward to take a bow in Washington. 


A
spokesperson for Central Command said that there was “no word
on the cards helping find anyone.” But the Pentagon’s
deck has tapped into the U.S. public’s appetite for fun ways
to identify bad guys who’ll be hunted down. 


News
media keep encouraging us to believe that leaders in the United
States are cut from entirely different cloth than the Iraqi thugs
on the most-wanted cards. But in some respects, the terrible choices
made by those men and women are more explainable than ones that
are routine in U.S. politics. 


Many
of the Ba’ath Party operatives had good reason to fear for
their lives—and the lives of their loved ones—if they
ran afoul of Saddam. In contrast, many politicians and appointed
officials in Washington have gone along with lethal policies merely
because of fear that dissent might cost them prestige or power.
Why take a moral position against a war and risk losing the next
election? 


A
deck of cards might be printed someday featuring the faces of certain
high officials in the Republican and Democratic parties of the United
States. Of course, in the absence of independent-minded news media,
the cards would need extensive annotations on the back to explain
the human costs of decisions made by those officials. 





The
FCC’s Rules Matter 



I

n
early June, the FCC is scheduled to vote on a revision of media
ownership rules. Around the country, grassroots activists have been
challenging the move to further loosen regulations. But clearly
the interests of huge media conglomerates are getting a big boost
from the FCC chair, Michael Powell, son of the secretary of state. 


For
a long time, the situation has been grim. Two decades ago, former

Washington Post

assistant managing editor Ben Bagdikian sketch-
ed out the nation’s terrain of media ownership. In 1983, when
his book

The Media Monopoly

first appeared, “50 corporations
dominated most of every mass medium.” With each new edition
of the book, that number kept dropping—to 29 media firms in
1987, 23 in 1990, 14 in 1992, and 10 in 1997. 


Published
in 2000, the sixth edition of

The Media Monopoly

documented
that just a half-dozen corporations were supplying most of the U.S.’s
media fare. 


Overall,
the news coverage of the latest FCC proposal has been badly skewed,
with radio and TV networks opting to tread lightly on the matter.
That’s not surprising. Billions of dollars in revenues are
at stake for mega-media owners. 


A
few prominent journalists, such as

New York Times

columnist
Paul Krugman, have raised an alarm this spring. Some newspaper stories
have laid out basic facts. But—as part of a classic pattern
—news coverage of the FCC controversy has been largely relegated
to business sections, as though the FCC decision was just a financial
matter. “Most people in this country have no idea what’s
about to happen to them,” says dissenting FCC commissioner
Jonathan Adel- stein, “even though their very democracy is
at stake.” 


One
of the impending rule changes would allow a single company to own
TV stations reaching 45 percent of the nationwide audience (instead
of the current on-paper limit of 35 percent). But that understates
the impact, as Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project points
out: “The 45 percent number that has been floated is a fake
number. It will realistically be much much higher.” 


Another
FCC change would end the ban on a single firm’s cross- ownership
of daily newspapers and TV stations in four-fifths of the country’s
media markets. The limits on ownership of television stations in
large metropolitan areas would also be eased, so that one company
could own three TV stations. 



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ppearing
on Bill Moyers’s program “Now” on PBS in early May,
FCC commissioner Michael Copps warned: “This is not just some
little mechanical thing about numbers or a little decision about
numbers of stations. This is something that has very widespread
and profound implications.” 


Said
Copps: “I understand they [broadcasters] live in a commercial
culture and a business culture. But this is a special industry with
a special charge—administering the public airwaves. Nobody
owns these airwaves. There’s no TV company or radio company
that owns the airwaves. The people of the United States of America
own the airwaves.” 


All
the signs indicate that early June will bring another triumph for
the corporate forces that have hijacked the public airwaves for
private gain; and they call it democracy.







 





Norman Solomon
is co-author of



Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t
Tell You.