Media mindlessly promote war

It’s a sad time to be a journalist. If there’s one thing that’s been made quite clear over the past two weeks during Operation Iraqi Freedom, it’s that the American people have been misled and misinformed, and it’s all the media’s fault.

Any accusation that the American press is overly liberal or leftist has surely been negated as a result of the zealous jingoism and blatant band-wagoning that has been present since the start of the war in Iraq, a presence found everywhere from news magazines to broadcast journalism, the evening news to the Saturday Evening Post. Instead of faithful, bi-partisan reporting, the public is given gung-ho, pro-war propaganda. Instead of in-depth press coverage, the public receives slanted, demonizing tactics that reach back to the beginning of documented warfare. And instead of accurate, timely news the public gets dramatized reality shows that encapsulate the worst aspects of the American media.

Take the reality show “”Profiles From the Front Line.”” According to an article in The Washington Post on March 26, ABC has cancelled the show due to worries that viewers would confuse this reality series, shot months ago, with news coverage. The fact that top TV executives consider the failed Jerry Bruckheimer production comparable to Tom Brokaw is a reason for concern in itself. News has become more than information; it’s now a source of entertainment. And even if the reality show is cancelled, the subjective coverage of individuals will doubtless continue.

Or look at the glut of coverage showing shocked and horrified military personnel describing the cruel and unusual tactics of Saddam’s Republican Guard. Obviously, the idea that someone would pretend to surrender only to open fire on troops is disgusting, as is the idea of attacking one’s own population, or disguising armed troops as civilians. But surely these violations of civilized warfare should come as no astonishing revelation from an army — perhaps a group of guerilla militia would be a better term — that is outmatched and outclassed in nearly every realm of technology and training. Those strategies should be condemned, but they shouldn’t be a surprise.

The media’s force-feeding interviews with U.S. military men who seem not only appalled but amazed by these atrocities is merely an age-old attempt to demonize the enemy, an attempt to justify and rationalize invasion. The repeated cameos of one brigadier general after another shaking his head in sad shock at illegitimate military tactics is the result of a press eager to paint a damaging portrait of Iraqi troops and their repugnant leader. Evil as Saddam and his regime may be, the press is under no obligation to go out of their way to make sure that every evening news broadcast illustrates every Iraqi troop as a carbon-copy of their head of state.

Of course some blame should probably go to the military itself. Reporters have been given unprecedented access to the U.S. and British military during the war in Iraq, but with that unprecedented access comes an unprecedented opportunity to control media coverage.

The practice of “”embedding”” correspondents — assigning an individual member of the press to a single division or battalion — is not perhaps as much a boon to the media as one might think. After all, some journalists worry that being embedded with the military might be tantamount to being in bed with the military. And such coziness is more likely than the contrary fear of some in the military that letting journalists into their tent, literally and figuratively, will lead to a barrage of negative stories.

In fact, this is most likely a response to the power of the media to paint a picture of war. Think back to Somalia in 1992, and evening news images of American soldiers being dragged through the streets. The military can avoid being forced out of a war by an angry populace if they can better control the media. And thus they’re using a system in which each reporter is kept from access to the war as a whole, and will be limited to coverage of a sole unit.

Embedded reporters could be tempted to stay on friendly terms with their unit in order to ensure continued access. Some might even be prone, for the sake of a good story or because they have been swept up by the camaraderie, to play up acts of heroism and play down any lapses. Embedding reporters is the best alternative for a lot of parties — the military is able to control much more of the press than usual, and the reporters get to transmit live coverage of any interesting activity. The people who are most likely to suffer from this practice is the public.

If the Vietnam War was the first to be seen in the living room, this is the first one to be watched live. It is important, then that these images we see are not tainted and twisted by a press that is rallying around the leader. It is more important than ever, in fact, to search for unbiased, uncompromised information from accurate and reliable sources.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “”Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”” This war is being fought in the name of freedom and democracy. It would be a tragic thing indeed if the American people lost their freedom to impartial information because of a press that was limited not by a totalitarian regime, but by its own self-imposed limitations of journalistic ethics and values.