Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Networks Return to the Front, and to TV Group Think

Media Democracy

In one of his more telling interviews with network journalists, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart asked CNN's Wolf Blitzer why so many TV news outlets failed, in 2003, to challenge the Bush Administration's bogus case for war in Iraq.

The New York Times and The Washington Post have since admitted to grave mistakes in their pre-war coverage. As yet, no mainstream television news network has done the same.

Following a Senate investigation of Iraq intelligence failures, which accused America's spy agencies of "group think," Stewart asked Blitzer if the same was true of TV news coverage in the run-up to war.

"Were you suffering from a case of group think," pressed Stewart, "or" — tossing Blitzer a curve ball — "of retardation?" Faced with the choice, Blitzer admitted to network group think.

Now, with embedded network journalists resurfacing on the Iraqi front, new questions must be asked: What if anything have the networks learned from their past mistakes? Have they admitted to a failure to provide Americans with timely and thorough investigations of official claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? Have they conducted media post mortems on their failure to investigate Iraqi civilian casualties -- recently tallied at more than 100,000?

Judging from the reporting that has accompanied the recent bloodletting in Fallujah, it appears that -- in the words of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd -- the media have, once again, bought the Pentagon war narrative "hook, line and sinker."

Soon after the invasion of Iraq began, military commander Tommy Franks told a New Yorker reporter that he considers the media a "fourth front" in fighting the war -- NOT as an autonomous "fourth estate" whose duty is to challenge official claims and better inform the American public.

By limiting information and embedding journalists in 2003, the government successfully spun the media's coverage in favor of war. Anti-war views were effectively marginalized. The cameras rolled alongside the tanks into Baghdad. Establishment media declared "victory" as Saddam Hussein's statue fell in al-Fardos Square, and later, "Mission Accomplished" with President Bush aboard USS Abraham Lincoln.

Today, we know that the war did not end then. And that few US media outlets prepared us for what was to come.

In the last year, more and more media critics have documented these media failures. None of their criticisms seems to have broadened the media's war coverage to include more diverse voices from within Iraq and around the world. The coverage of the war in this respect is similar to the coverage we saw of the election, where Administration "talking points" tended to dominate the evening news, leaving little room for substantive and contentious discussions of the issues that Americans say mattered to them most.

Media for Democracy is calling on our members to demand media integrity during wartime. Join us in a petition that calls on the news executives at NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News and CNN to diversify their sources, give more airtime to Iraqi and Afghan voices, scrutinize Administration claims, report on civilian casualties, and offer on-air analysis that includes more anti-war perspectives.

Stay Tuned.

Sign Petition Protesting the Media Coverage of the Iraq War

Sign this petition and notify:
ABC News President David Westin
CBS News President Andrew Heyward
CNN VP of News Susan Bunda
Fox News CEO Roger Ailes
NBC News President Neal Shapiro

I join other Media for Democracy members to call on mainstream news networks to restore integrity and balance to their war reporting by:

- diversifying your sources to include more independent, non-military experts;

- giving more airtime to Iraqi and Afghan voices;

- more thoroughly scrutinizing for accuracy White House and Pentagon claims;

- reporting on the full extent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq;

- offering balanced on-air analysis that includes more anti-war perspectives.

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