Extra! May/June 2003

    The Other Side of the Gun

    The Pentagon has held up its practice of "embedding" journalists with military units as proof of a new media-friendly policy. The treatment of independent journalists, however; was hardly friendly, with sever­al being killed by U.S. forces; on one day alone, April 8, there were three sep­arate incidents of U.S. attacks on non- embedded media. In one incident, a U.S. tank fired an explosive shell at Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, where most independent reporters were based. Two journalists, Taras Protsyuk of the British news agency Reuters and Jose Couso of the Spanish TV network Telecino, were killed; three other journalists were injured. ...


    When Journalism Becomes 'Terrorism'

    Senior Pentagon adviser Richard Perle abruptly announced his resignation on March 27 as chair of the Defense Policy Board, an influential Pentagon advisory panel. Not coincidentally, Perle had shortly before his resignation described the respected journalist Seymour Hersh as a "terrorist," and threatened to sue Hersh for libel in Britain. Pulitzer-winner Hersh’s report in the New Yorker (dated 3/17/03) on Perle’s messy finances became the first of a series of embarrassing stories that threatened Perle’s considerable access to power. It now looks as though Perle, frequently described as the chief architect of the war in Iraq, launched his counter-attack on ...


    When Journalists Attack

    Boston Herald correspondent Jules Crittenden, who covered the Iraq War as an embedded journalist, is a writer whose blunt prose deals in absolutes: good vs. evil, life and death. But there's one dichotomy that Crittenden doesn't draw so clearly: reporter vs. participant. Frequently drawing comparisons between "embeds" such as himself and the troops with whom they travel, Crittenden seemed to have crossed the line and effectively became a combatant in the war he was assigned to cover. In a column Crittenden wrote for the Poynter Institute (Poynter Online, 4/11/03), he admitted that while the unit he was following was on ...


    Official Story vs. Eyewitness Account

    When U.S. soldiers on March 31 killed 10 members of one family at a checkpoint outside the Iraqi town of Najaf, U.S. media initially presented the Pentagon's version of events--sometimes in terms that assumed that the Pentagon's word was truth. "What happened there, the van with a number of individuals in it...approached the checkpoint," reported MSNBC's Carl Rochelle (3/31/03). "They were told to stop by the members of the 3rd Infantry Division. They did not stop, warning shots were fired. Still they came on. They fired into the engine of the van. Still it came on, so they began opening ...


    O'Reilly's War

    We hope you depend on us for the truth, because we're going to report the situation in Iraq without an agenda or any ideological prejudice. —Bill O'Reilly (O'Reilly Factor, 1/17/03) Not so long ago, Bill O’Reilly had no particular interest in the threat Iraq posed to the world (2/16/01): "You know, I don't take Saddam Hussein all that seriously anymore as far as a world threat. Maybe I'm wrong and naive here. Should we be very frightened of this guy?" If the Bill O'Reilly of today were to meet the Bill O’Reilly of 2001, he'd denounce him as an appeaser, ...


    The Victories That Weren't

    It shouldn't surprise anyone that bureaucrats and politicians exaggerate their accomplishments; news media exist, in part, to check government claims against reality. But when reporters don't bother to look for answers beyond the press conference, they can turn an official fiction into a documented "fact." Perhaps the most significant embellishment repeated over the past couple of years is that the U.S. government is keeping Americans safe from terrorist attack, as demonstrated by the occasional arrest of suspects in the U.S. and abroad. Each well-publicized sting is accompanied by more declarations of victory from politicos and pundits--declarations that tend to crumble ...


    Dissent, Disloyalty & Double Standards

    In the following quotes, well-known cable news hosts express anti-war feelings to hawkish guests. Can you guess which quote is “anti-American”? * "Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?” * "We're sending 250,000 of our young men and women to die so that somebody in Washington can prove they're tough. It's not us. We're not the ones that are going to die, they are." For many right-leaning pundits, these seemingly similar expressions of dissent are worlds apart. To them, the ...


    Amplifying Officials, Squelching Dissent

    Since the invasion of Iraq began in March, official voices have dominated U.S. network newscasts, while opponents of the war have been notably underrepresented, according to a study by FAIR. Starting the day after the bombing of Iraq began on March 19, the three-week study (3/20/03-4/9/03) looked at 1,617 on-camera sources appearing in stories about Iraq on the evening newscasts of six television networks and news channels. The news programs studied were ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Reports, Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume, and PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. [The study ...


    Brushing Aside the Pentagon's 'Accidents'

    It's no secret that U.S. media outlets--particularly television news shows--did not devote anywhere near the same attention to civilian casualties and suffering in the Iraq war that overseas outlets did. But the nuances of how U.S. media framed war's impact on civilians are worth a closer look. Generally, the problem was not a total blackout of civilian suffering, but that the few stories that appeared tended to minimize and rationalize it. Death and disaster were often discussed as impediments to political strategy, rather than as matters of concern in and of themselves. Overall, reporting served to sanitize the U.S.'s invasion ...


    Where Did All the Weapons Go?

    If the media seem surprised by the U.S. military's failure, as of this writing, to find any hidden chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, maybe it's because they virtually ignored a critical story that was lost in a flood of stories about the dangers of a chemically armed Saddam Hussein. Weeks before the war began (3/3/03), Newsweek's John Barry published an account of a secret United Nations transcript recording the 1995 interview between U.N. weapons inspectors and Iraq's highest-ranking defector, former weapons chief Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel. For years, the story of Kamel's defection had been used by reporters, pundits ...


    That's Militainment!

    The media build-up to war presented a military attack on Iraq as an overwhelming natural force whose momentum could not be stopped. "The clock is ticking," NPR reported in early March (3/8/03), with soldiers in Kuwait complaining that there was "too much waiting around." Military preparations were like a "huge gun and every day you cock the hammer back a little more." February 15 marked the first time in history that millions of people around the world demonstrated against a war before it started. But Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw were already wearing khakis in the desert, driving humvees, profiling ...



Articles in the print edition

The Other Side of the Gun

Did the War Begin With a Big Lie?