MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow had a discussion last week (3/31/11) about the U.S. role in the Libya War with Col. Jack Jacobs, an MSNBC military consultant. Jacobs described the U.S. military’s “ability to jam communications that take place between units or among units of Gadhafi’s army,” then referred to the U.S.’s
ability to jam electronic transmissions that occur when Gadhafi’s army, ground forces try to fire at allied planes. The instant that a radar system is turned on on the ground, we can detect it and in very short order, send a precision-guided munition that follows the radar beam all the way down to its source.
After responding to that with “Wow,” Maddow asked:
One of the things that people have questioned is if the U.S. has this high level of electronic capability, why is Libyan state TV still on the air? Is that not one of the things they would want to shut down?
Maddow’s questions echo similar calls by U.S. journalists during the Iraq invasion for an attack on Iraqi government TV–calls that were heeded when the U.S. destroyed the TV studios with a missile attack on March 25, 2003. As FAIR wrote in a media advisory, “U.S. Media Applaud Bombing of Iraqi TV” (3/27/03):
Prior to the bombing, some even seemed anxious to know why the broadcast facilities hadn’t been attacked yet. Fox News Channel‘s John Gibson wondered (3/24/03): “Should we take Iraqi TV off the air? Should we put one down the stove pipe there?” Fox‘s Bill O’Reilly (3/24/03) agreed: “I think they should have taken out the television, the Iraqi television…. Why haven’t they taken out the Iraqi television towers?” MSNBC correspondent David Shuster offered: “A lot of questions about why state-run television is allowed to continue broadcasting. After all, the coalition forces know where those broadcast towers are located.”
There is a good reason, actually, why Iraqi TV should not have been attacked: Journalists are civilians, even those who enthusiastically support their country’s military efforts, and therefore targeting them is a war crime. The idea that journalists reporting in a country the U.S. is at war with deserve protection seems to have been rejected by the Pentagon, however. As FAIR wrote in “Is Killing Part of Pentagon Press Policy?” (4/10/03):
In the Kosovo War, the U.S. attacked the offices of state-owned Radio-Television Serbia, in what Amnesty International called a “direct attack on a civilian object” which “therefore constitutes a war crime.” On March 25, the U.S. began airstrikes on government-run Iraqi TV, in what the International Federation of Journalists (Reuters, 3/26/03) suggested might also be a Geneva Convention violation, since it the U.S. was “targeting a television network simply because they don’t like the message it gives out.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists declined to count the Serbian journalists killed by the United States in its annual list of murdered journalists, a move that FAIR warned at the time would contribute to a sense that “enemy” journalists are fair game (Extra!, 9-10/00). Maddow’s question suggests that treating reporters as enemy combatants has indeed become the new normal.