Looking Backward — Into The Media Mirror
by Norman Solomon
Many of America’s most prominent journalists don’t like to talk about what they were saying and writing four years ago. Eager to be in sync with the reigning enthusiasm for the invasion of Iraq, they echoed the prevalent media dogma. Now, they tiptoe around their own roles in hyping the war and banishing dissent to the media margins.
The media watch group FAIR (where I’m an associate) has performed a public service in the latest edition of its magazine Extra. The organization’s activism director, Peter Hart, drew on FAIR’s extensive research to assemble some of the more notable quotations from media cheerleading for the Iraq invasion.
One of the earliest quotes to merit special attention came from ace New York Times reporter — and chronic Pentagon promoter — Michael Gordon. In a CNN appearance on March 25, 2003, just a few days into the invasion, Gordon commented on the invaders’ bombing of Iraqi TV.
Gordon cited “what I’ve seen of Iraqi television, with Saddam Hussein presenting propaganda to his people and showing off the Apache helicopter and claiming a farmer shot it down and trying to persuade his own public that he was really in charge, when we’re trying to send the exact opposite message” — and so, the Times reporter went on, Iraqi TV was “an appropriate target.”
Let’s unpack Gordon’s rationale for a military attack on Iraqi broadcasters: They presented propaganda to viewers, aired triumphal images and touted the authority of the top man in the government, while an adversary was “trying to send the exact opposite message.” By those standards, Iraqis would have been justified in targeting any one of the American cable news networks, most especially Fox News Channel.
Hart — who is author of the book “The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly” — includes some quotes from Fox in his collection of Iraq-war-boosting statements from media. For instance, soon after the invasion began, Fox News commentator Fred Barnes declared: “The American public knows how important this war is, and is not as casualty sensitive as the weenies in the American press are.” (Unsurpassed bravery is a common denominator of rabid hawks in stateside TV studios.) But many of Hart’s examples are from U.S.
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media outlets with outsize reputations for judicious professional journalism.
On NBC News, Brian Williams was singing from the choir book provided by U.S. officials. “They are calling this the cleanest war in all of military history,” Williams said on April 2, 2003. “They stress they’re fighting a regime and not the people, using smart bombs, not dumb, older munitions. But there have been and will be accidents. … And there’s a new weapon in this war: Arab media, especially Al Jazeera. It’s on all the time, and unlike American media, it hardly reflects the Pentagon line. Its critics say it accentuates civilian casualties and provokes outrage on the Arab street.”
The next day, on the same network, Williams’ colleague Katie Couric was more succinct in her fawning. Viewers of the “Today” program listened as she interviewed a U.S. military official and exclaimed: “Thank you for coming on the show. And I want to add, I think the Special Forces rock!”
A week later, on MSNBC, the hardballer Chris Matthews was swept up in beach-ball euphoria as America’s armed forces toppled the Saddam regime. “We’re all neo-cons now,” Matthews exulted.
At the start of May 2003, when President Bush zoomed onto an aircraft carrier and stood near a “Mission Accomplished” banner, Lou Dobbs was quick to tell CNN viewers: “He looked like an alternatively commander in chief, rock star, movie star and one of the guys.”
On the same day, journalist Matthews assumed the royal “we” — and, in the process, blew with the easy prevailing wind. “We’re proud of our president,” he said. “Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple.”
All too simple.
Norman Solomon’s latest book, “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” is now available in paperback. To find out more about Norman Solomon and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at http://www.creators.com.
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