In last November’s bluprint (issue 2.2), I examined the media’s relationship with the US government as the ramping for Gulf War 2 was in full swing and the news agencies were doing little more than repeating the government line. What, if anything, has changed in this regard?
It turns out that if anything, the news media have become more entangled with the US government, while the authorities’ message has become increasingly hard to swallow. Since I wrote the story, the United States has invaded Iraq, missing its despotic leader. They have had more casualties since they announced the end of ‘major combat operations’ than during. They have managed to leak the name of an undercover CIA agent to spite her husband, who was talking smack about President Bush and his request for an additional $87 Billion to ‘rebuild’ Iraq. Speaking of which, everyone seems to have forgotten that one of Bush’s campaign promises was not to engage in nation building. How many more is he going to destroy?
The worst part about the mess in the Middle East is that the Americans truly believed they would be welcomed with open arms as liberators after ousting Saddam Hussein. The news media went over ready to capture the slaughter. Unfortunately, predictably, the cocky talk of Bush, Donald Rumsfeld et al underestimated almost everything, from resistance to monies needed, to time. Instead of the press access hassles that plagued the first Gulf War, reporters were allowed to be ‘embedded’ with individual units, living more-or-less as a soldier. This new-and-improved system resulted in something perhaps even worse. Instead of being denied access to the lives of soldiers, reporters were soldiers, and therefore got so enamored by the inherent camaraderie of an army unit that their stories lacked objectivity. You can’t very well criticize the very people who are directly protecting you every day.
In fact, objectivity can get you fired. Veteran newsman Peter Arnett was fired from NBC after he gave an interview on Iraqi TV in late March, saying that the US war plan was failing (which it was). Geraldo Rivera, in all his pompous glory, was forced to leave Iraq after reporting US ‘operational details.’ I suppose that’s what you get for embedding reporters. You make army details a reporter’s own personal details.
Aside from some exceptions, the reporting was straightforward and patriotic. Lots of shots of Saddam statues toppling and happy Iraqis (although not as many as anyone had hoped). President Bush landed in a jet on an aircraft carrier for no apparent reason, announcing the end of major combat. Presumably, this move only angered the USA’s enemies even more, encouraging the kind of small-scale but persistent and dangerous resistance that exists currently in Iraq.
Instead of focusing on fluffy pieces like the Jessica Lynch story, the news media should have been questioning the US authorities directly about their intentions for war. Did they intentionally mislead the American people into believing there were powerful weapons hidden in the desert, aimed at US interests? That this so-called rogue state simply by its nature could be a haven for terrorists? It turns out neither is true, and it’s believed now that Saddam was really just bluffing about his arsenal in order to keep the Americans out.
And, the USA is in much deeper trouble than they should be because they have elected an inept president. (Still the best description I have heard is ‘a semi-literate con man.’) George W. Bush is such a good liar because he actually believes what he is saying. Aides say he barely reads daily briefings, and seems to be a selective listener. His plainspoken manner that originally warmed a tepid press corps now just seems to alarm them. Of course, it is largely the media’s fault he was elected in the first place. The Florida debacle that put him into office was a media circus, except the media didn’t ask the right questions. Like why thousands of mostly black Floridians were taken off the voting list because their names were similar to out-of-state felons. Or why votes ‘spoiled’ by an extra mark on the ballot were thrown out at a rate of 12.5% in certain black counties versus 1% in mostly white areas.
The British press ran with these stories 3 weeks after Bush took office. The first stateside outlet to catch it was the Washington Post. Seven months later.
Years later, Bush is still spewing abstract statements about terror, evil, and ‘enemies of freedom.’ It’s all bullshit. If the elite newsmen and women of the United States would stop getting distracted by Michael Jackson and celebrity tiger attacks and do their job, we would begin to see a more accountable government. One that makes rational decisions, and one that doesn’t pretend that pre-emptive strikes are a good idea. Those in the news media need to be the ones jostling the status quo, because they have the ears and eyes of the nation (the continent!). Because, it feels like these stupid, silly, greedy men are getting away with it. And it sickens me.