The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, May 12, 2003  

The New York Review of Books Slams Media War Coverage

In not one but two articles the New York Review of Books this week is giving the media, particularly the cable networks, their due: ravaging critiques of their fawning obsequiousness to the dictates of Washington.

"The Unseen War," by Michael Massing, is the longer of the two articles, both of which deserve your attention.

Writes Massing:

Before arriving in Doha, I had spent hours watching CNN back home, and I was sadly reminded of the network's steady decline in recent years. Paula Zahn looked and talked like a cheerleader for the U.S. forces; Aaron Brown kept reaching for the profound remark without ever finding it; Wolf Blitzer politely interviewed Washington's high and mighty, seldom asking a pointed question. None of them, however, appeared on the broadcasts I saw in Doha. Instead, there were Jim Clancy, a tough-minded veteran American correspondent, Michael Holmes, a soft-spoken Australian, and Becky Anderson, a sharp and inquisitive British anchor. This was CNN International, the edition broadcast to the world at large, and it was far more serious and informed than the American version. [Emphasis added.]

The difference was not accidental. Six months before the war began, I was told, executives at CNN headquarters in Atlanta met regularly to plan separate broadcasts for America and the world. Those executives knew that Zahn's girl-next-door manner and Brown's spacey monologues would not go down well with the British, French, or Germans, much less the Egyptians or Turks, and so the network, at huge expense, fielded two parallel but separate teams to cover the war. And while there was plenty of overlap, especially in the reports from the field, and in the use of such knowledgeable journalists as Christiane Amanpour, the international edition was refreshingly free of the self-congratulatory talk of its domestic one….

CNN International bore more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic edition -- a difference that showed just how market-driven were the tone and content of the broadcasts. For the most part, U.S. news organizations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see. [Emphasis added.]

For his part, Russell Smith, in "The New Newsspeak," is pointed and direct in his critique of coverage of the war by both the American and Canadian media:

The coverage of this war in the press and on television has been disgusting. North American reporting, and in particular on the U.S. television stations, has been cravenly submissive to the Pentagon and the White House.

The worst culprit was also the one with the most "embedded" reporters and the most exciting live footage, and so it was, sadly, the one that I watched most of the time: CNN, the voice of Centcom. CNN was more irritating than the gleefully patriotic Fox News channel because CNN has a pretense of objectivity. It pretends to be run by journalists. And yet it dutifully uses all the language chosen by people in charge of "media relations" at the Pentagon….

To recite from a Pentagon press release that an Iraqi division has been "degraded by 70 percent" is an astounding abdication of journalistic responsibility….The graphic reality of "degradation" is a large pile of dismembered bodies. Surely some picture or explanation of what the wiping out of an entire division with high explosives actually looks like is called for.

The rescue of Jessica Lynch aside, I can't help but wonder how many years it will take before we learn what really happened in Iraq.

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