New York, August 29: In the world of mainstream media, there is always something “breaking.” Who wants to hear about old news when there are so many new disasters to keep up with? As a new hurricane threatens, the watch is on and reporters get out their storm gear. JonBenet is still getting massive coverage, and Tom Cruise is back in the news-always good for a story or three. And this is the week of the Katrina anniversary and every news organization in America is doing specials and recycling footage.
But there is one word missing, and that word is, class?
Watch the Katrina specials and see how many references there are to the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guards bringing “freedom’ to Iraq when they should have been helping with relief and rescue in their home towns. How many references will there be to the costs of the war compared to the costs of the monies allocated to reconstruction but not yet sent or spent? One recent report placed the costs of the war at $1.75 billion per week. The Cost of Iraq War calculator is set to reach $318.5 billion September 30, 2006. With the skyrocketing costs of the war in Iraq, worldwide military spending soared. Wouldn’t you think that that alone would have our news media all over the story? If you think that, think again.
Flashback to March 2003 and remember the 24 hour war-a-thon with round the clock coverage and all the war all the time. Remember all the “experts” who to told us how we were going to “go in and get it over with.” Remember President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech. It felt so great to be American when we seemed to be winning.
And then look at most of our news reporting today. What do you see just three short years later?
Iraq has been reduced to a litany of bloody incidents and body counts. For many, it is both boring and hard to follow, and so they tune out. Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, terrorists, insurgents, private militiasâ€¦whatever happened to ‘us’ and ‘them?’ No wonder that when the JonBenet Ramsey story resurfaced the TV channels flocked to it like flies to a flame. When I worked for network TV, we had a term for stories we lost interest in. We would say, “Been there, done that!”
In the nation’s newsrooms, the triage has begun-with Iraq sounding more and more like something that happened long ago. Get ready for more History Channel specials and somber retrospectives that help us to believe that we can be forgiven for thinking of the Iraq War in the past-tense.
Besides, covering Iraq is so dangerous. Few reporters want to take so many risks for so little “face time” on TV. And there are hardly any “positive” stories to report-even though the conservative media keep beating the bushes for them. Their latest ploy, now that Zarqawi and Al Qaeda are supposedly out of action, is to blame it all on Iran. In that way, they take the US off the hook and start getting us ready for the next war.
Meanwhile, the death count rises with the Iraqi summer heat.
To read this whole sordid story in gripping black and white, check out Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber’s new book “The Best War Ever.” It is filled with facts but reads like fiction because it’s hard to believe that Americans have put with this abysmal, disastrous failure. All the flag waving and 911 cheerleading can’t put this tragic Humpty Dumpty together again.
And part of the reason is that much of our media has been asleep at the switch, still taking the President’s and Rumsfeld’s pronouncements at face value. The Defense Secretary visited Baghdad last month and, with a straight face, talked about the ‘great progress’ made since last year. How many times can that broken, out of tune record be played?
Thankfully, it’s been several months since Cheney has re-declared that the insurgency is in its ‘last throes,’ and it appears that ‘winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis’ has been dropped from the official Whitehouse list of talking points.
Isn’t time for the networks to pull the plug on presidential press conferences and Bushian blather like they have on political party conventions? If there was ever a case for admitting the Emperor has no clothes, this is it. Who in the press corps(e) will have the courage to turn their backs on the Rumsfeld Comedy Hour once and for all?
Now there are some media outlets beginning to draw these lessons and tell the truth.
The NY Times which shamefully did so much to sell the war is now returning to its senses with more stories than can no longer be suppressed of setbacks in the field and corruption at home.
But even it seems more caught up with “perception” and image” stories than connecting the dots about demoralized and ineffective military effort and the continuing erosion of US influence and “progress” in a country devolving into a civil war US policies contributed to-without accountability.
Many Democrats are starting to hammer at the incompetence of those fighting the war without being willing to admit that the whole pre-emptive adventure is as flawed as the Vietnam War before it.
So here we are in the last week of the summer of ’06. Much of America is on vacation along with the news media that seems to have withdrawn from Iraq before the government has the guts to.
Now is the time for all good news consumers to come to the aid or their media and demand coverage and courage to stop the blood letting and save what’s left of our national honor. We need to find the news which is there to be found and keep the Iraq war issue alive.
News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org. He wrote “When News Lies” about Iraq media coverage (Newsdissector.org/store.htm.) Comments to [email protected]