Apr
01
1991

TV: The More You Watch, the Less You Know

Media polls have proclaimed, in self-congratulatory fashion, that about 70 percent of the public thinks the media did a good job in reporting the Gulf War. But if one measures the media by how well they inform the public, a recent study indicates they failed dismally. The study, conducted by the University of Massachusetts' Center for Studies in Communication, found that the more people watched TV during the Gulf crisis, the less they knew about the underlying issues, and the more likely they were to support the war. When the research team tested public knowledge of basic facts about the […]

Apr
01
1991

Iraqi Dupes or Pentagon Promoters?

CNN Covers the Gulf War

Whatever the Gulf War will do to the political geography of the Middle East and the world, the war changed the landscape of the American and international news media forever. The clear winner is Cable News Network, in ratings, name recognition, praise, even envy. CNN has become the international channel of choice. When Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz was asked if he was familiar with a pronouncement by President Bush, he sarcastically answered that he also watched CNN. Dan Quayle boasted that if you want "to know how successful the air campaign is... watch CNN." Compelled by the highly competitive […]

Apr
01
1991

Gulf War Stories the Media Loved -- Except They Aren't True

Bart Simpson

"Even though a story can be incredibly preposterous in the Western mind, it can resonate deeply in other parts of the world," Todd Levanthal, a U.S. Information Agency specialist on disinformation, told the New York Times (9/16/90). "The key is predisposition to believe, not the crudity of the charge." While the point of the article was to portray Arabs as conspiratorial and irrational, the U.S. media's acceptance of crude charges about the official enemy demonstrates that a "Western mind" is no barrier to a "predisposition to believe." Most U.S. news outlets uncritically accepted the story that 300 premature babies died […]

Apr
01
1991

Gulf War Coverage

The Worst Censorship Was at Home

US fighter planes over Iraq (photo: USAF)

The morning after the U.S. began the bombing of Iraq, NBC's Robert Bazell reported the Pentagon's assessment via the Today show: "It was spectacular news," Bazell summarized. "We've lost only one casualty." Other networks were similarly ecstatic. CBS's Charles Osgood (1/17/91) described the early bombing of Iraq as "a marvel," while the same network's Jim Stewart (1/17/91) spoke of "two days of almost picture-perfect assaults." The war ended on the same note of enthusiastic cheerleading from the media, with CBS's Dan Rather (2/27/91) pumping a general's hand after an interview and gushing, "Congratulations on a job wonderfully done!" The euphoria […]

Apr
01
1991

Brookings: Stand-In for the Left

Too Many Conservative Columnists, Says Conservative

The most important think tank for the media on the Persian Gulf Crisis was the Brookings Institution. In August 1990 alone, the group's representatives spoke 14 times on network evening newscasts, not counting appearances on Nightline, the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour or network news specials. A database search of citations in six national newspapers found 440 citations for Brookings, almost as many as the next seven top think tanks combined. Although network analysts imply that the Brookings Institution is a think tank of the left by balancing it against conservative institutes like the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the American […]

Apr
01
1991

Spin Control Through Censorship

The Pentagon Manages the News

The extent to which Gulf War reporting was controlled by the Bush administration was seldom detailed by the press and hence widely misunderstood by the public, which largely bought the argument that restrictions were necessary for some vaguely defined "security" reasons. Such arguments were belied by the Pentagon's arbitrary ban on coverage of coffins returning to Dover Air Force Base, and by the "48-hour news blackout" at the beginning of the ground war that was abandoned as soon as the news turned out to be good for the Pentagon. Nor were the pools formed because there would otherwise be too […]

Apr
01
1991

(Self-)Censored Stories

Eight Stories National Media Ignored

1. Secret U.S. Arms Shipments to Iraq (Murray Waas, Village Voice, 12/18/90): The Reagan administration reportedly sent sophisticated weaponry to Iraq through third-country cut-outs. Waas indicated that the secret policy violated U.S. arms export laws. 2. The Diplomatic Scandal (Murray Waas, Village Voice, 1/22/91): U.S. ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie now claims that her assurance to Saddam Hussein, days before the Kuwait invasion, "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreements with Kuwait," was taken out of context. But Waas showed that Glaspie's statement was part of a concerted effort by the Bush administration to signal […]