Journalists on the Controlled, Censored and Biased Media Coverage of the Iraq War

Paul de Rooij: Arrogant Propaganda—US Propaganda During the First 10 Days of the Iraq War (Counterpunch, 31 March 2003)

“In the good old days, the US used to tell a lie — crass propaganda — and it would stick for a long time. Journalists would have to scurry for months before they could expose the lies, but by then it would be almost irrelevant, e.g., the Tonkin incident lie provided to justify escalation in the Vietnam War, or the infamous throwing-babies-out-of-incubators story concocted to swing American opinion in favor of the Gulf War in 1991. In the run up to the US-Iraq war, it became increasingly evident that propaganda has a diminished half-life [1]. Whereas years ago the reigning technique was to repeat a lie often enough, now it seems to have given way to a constant barrage of lies or semi-lies with a very short half-life. As soon as a propaganda ploy has been exposed, the current media spinners will move to the next tall story. They seem to count on either the poor memory of the population, their general disinterest or their credulity. There are also good reasons to believe that the current barrage-propaganda approach is losing its effectiveness…

Jacques Ellul, in his book, Propaganda, states that for propaganda to be effective, it must have monopoly and drown out everything else. One of the reasons that propaganda doesn’t stick at present is that there are so many alternative information channels…

Propaganda also entails censoring things. Most Americans remember the TV scenes where dead US soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Within a week the US’s appetite for that intervention collapsed. Americans only accept clean wars, only the ones that appear like a video game. All the blood and gore must be excised, especially if there is blood of American soldiers, and Americans will not see this on TV. When Al Jazeera showed dead Americans it elicited a vicious reply from the censors shutting down websites and hindering Al Jazeera from broadcasting in the US. If the US finds out the coordinates of the Al Jazeera journalist in Basra, then this could be bombed. During the attack on Afghanistan, the Al Jazeera offices in Kabul were bombed when their reporting proved awkward to the media spinners…

Propaganda is about selling a war in such a way that the core populations don’t realize the realities of what such a war entails. The American population wants to see ‘enemy’ defeats, no losses of their own troops, and they want the effects to be antiseptic—video game style. Propaganda will attempt to direct your focus to the glamorous aspects of battle. Above all, propaganda papers over the fact that this is a war of aggression, that there are home team losses, and that the results are massively bloody. Propaganda hides the fact that there are virtually no painkillers left in Iraqi hospitals, and that the hundreds or thousands of Iraqi wounded will be operated on without anesthetics. The screams of the Iraqi victims as their limbs are amputated without anesthetics are what propaganda tries with all fervor to drown out. The propagandists must be pleased, as they have made it possible to demolish a country and to exact on the Iraqi people a horrendous toll—without the American public even noticing.”

 

Mark Steel: The minute it’s made up, you’ll hear about it (Independent.co.uk, 3 April 2003)

“You expect lies, but usually they’re found out once a war is over. But in this war the lying is so inept that it gets rumbled the next day. So the news starts ‘Oh, apparently that uprising we yelled about all through yesterday didn’t happen’ or ‘Ah, yes, that chemical weapons factory turned out to be an all-night petrol garage’. The military briefings must be given by one of those pathological liars you get in pubs. One day the press conference from Washington will begin: ‘Guess what, I won an Olympic swimming medal once. I had to swim underwater so no one could see me because I was in the secret service.’”

 

Saeed Haider: “Media Somersault” (Arab News, 11 April 2003)

“No doubt the biggest toll of the war in Iraq is human lives and human suffering, but the media has also suffered immensely in terms of credibility. Slanted news reports, biased analysis, and prejudiced coverage have created a kind of revulsion among the viewers and readers in this part of the world. One war was fought in Iraq, but at the same time another war was fought on our TV screens. People in Saudi Arabia — and for that matter around the world — were stunned to see how insensitively the Fourth Estate behaved.

The other day Fox News, a quasi-governmental American channel, was broadcasting a group discussion on the aftermath of the war while, in the other half of the frame, showing clips of injured civilians in an Iraqi hospital. It was a gruesome scene, but to Fox audiences it was made more repulsive by its juxtaposition with the panelists, who were cracking jokes and laughing, completely ignoring the human tragedy.

Throughout the war, the so-called embedded reporters unashamedly propagated the American and British point of view. Not a single journalist of Fox News, Sky TV, CNN and the BBC ever questioned the legitimacy of the war when the Anglo-American forces failed to recover weapons of mass destruction.”

 

Pierre Tristam: Pinocchios of G-Rate War Hide Scars of the X-rated Battlefield (Published on April 1, 2003 by the Daytona Beach News-Journal.)

“Americans are incensed at Al-Jazeera’s broadcasting of piles of bloodied civilians and American POWs. But it’s not sensitivity. It’s self-righteous cowardice. It’s also quite simple: If viewers are not disgusted by the images they see, if they’re not sick to their stomachs and wracked with insomnia, if their faith in humanity isn’t shaken to the core from watching the war news, then they’re not seeing the war. They’re watching a version as dehumanized as those blurry green shapes scurrying across a night-vision device before being evaporated. They’re watching high-tech propaganda. In that sense, the coverage of Al-Jazeera has been more honest than most of American media’s Goebbels-gobbled reporting. Al-Jazeera’s coverage disturbs. It angers. It keeps you up nights. As it should. War isn’t ‘The Tonight Show’ with bombs. Nor is an Iraqi victim any less sacred, any less deplorable, than an American.

It isn’t obscene to report war’s inhumanity no matter how repellent. It is obscene to romanticize soldiers, to sanctify the war and sanitize its consequences in order to make it more acceptable. And that’s one obscenity Americans are happy to live with, to peddle in schools, to hang on the rustle of yellow ribbons, to preach in church or at the next civic club meeting, and to doze off to at night when CNN’s latest from the battlefield is as good as warm milk for a good night’s sleep.”

 

Robert Jensen: Peter Arnett Paid a High Price for Being Truly Neutral (Published on April 2, 2003 by the Newsday)

“The assertion of neutrality is central to the credibility of U.S. journalists, who say, ‘Trust us, we don’t take sides.’ Whether one believes journalists live up to that standard — or that it’s possible at all — it is the bedrock on which reporters build their claim to special status. Except, it seems, in time of war. In those situations, many U.S. journalists do not hesitate to say they are on the American side. They are quick to say that patriotism won’t stop them for reporting critically about the United States and its war effort, and the degree to which they make good on that varies widely. But the point remains: One can’t be neutral and aligned with one side at the same time.”

 

Patrick Martin: Media bosses admit pro-war bias in coverage of Iraq (wsws.org, 2 May 2003)

“Two leading media bosses have admitted what has been increasingly evident throughout the month-long war in Iraq: the American broadcast media systematically distorted the news of the war and functioned as an electronic arm of the Pentagon and the Bush administration.

In separate speeches April 24 in London and San Francisco, BBC Director General Greg Dyke and Ted Turner, founder of CNN, discussed the performance of the media during the war.

Both sought to lay the blame for the super-patriotic tone of the war coverage largely on the media empire of billionaire Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns Fox News, the biggest US cable news network, as well as Britain’s Sky News and nearly 200 daily newspapers worldwide. While there is no doubt that Murdoch was the most strident of the voices for war, the BBC, CNN and the rest of the broadcast and print media followed suit…

Dyke admitted that the conduct of the American television networks was detrimental to ‘the health of our democracy,’ adding that the trend has been noticeable ‘particularly since September 11, when many US networks wrapped themselves in the American flag and swapped impartiality for patriotism.’

Turner’s comments were characteristically more blunt. Speaking to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, a leading business forum, he described Rupert Murdoch as ‘a warmonger’ who had ‘promoted’ the war. Turner, himself a billionaire and the largest shareholder in the world’s largest media company, AOL Time Warner, said the American media was far too concentrated: ‘There’s really five companies that control 90 percent of what we read, see and hear. It’s not healthy’…

As for CNN, it sought unsuccessfully to close its ratings gap with Fox News by aping the chauvinist coverage of the Murdoch-owned cable network. CNN anchormen and embedded reporters regularly referred to US troops as ‘heroes’ and ‘liberators,’ and joined with the rest of the American media in downplaying reports of Iraqi casualties, civilian and military…

…MSNBC general manager Erik Sorenson essentially confirmed Banfield’s charge that the network deliberately suppressed footage of Iraqi civilian and military casualties. ‘We were reluctant to run graphic images of any casualties, civilian or military,’ he told one press interviewer. ‘Antiwar activists have complained to MSNBC, ‘You’ve made war seem like fun. You cleaned it up.’ We saw and experienced a lot of the power and horror of these weapons. I didn’t need to see the body literally chopped in half.’

Such images, however, have been widely broadcast, not only in the Arab media, but throughout the world outside the United States, bringing the horrors of the American devastation of Iraq to a global audience.”

 

Abbas El Tonsi: “Impressions of an Arab viewer on the satellite coverage of the so-called ‘War On Iraq’” (Middle East Online, 28 April 2003)

“In the exciting article entitled ‘Welcome to the Third World Forum,’ published in Al-Ahram on 27 November 2001, Fahmy Howeidy noted that the advanced countries of the West, that have long preached democracy and human rights, have tended to become assimilated to Third World countries as regards the fettering of freedom and the granting of boundless exceptional competencies to security bodies. Now we may add Western media to the list: CNN and, though to a lesser degree, the BBC have shown themselves to be models for government media in the Third World, whereas FOX news was almost closer to the level of pre-war Iraq TV.

In contrast, the Arab satellites—Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Al Hayat/LBC, and Abu Dhabi—presented balanced, professional reporting, adopting the impartial, Western designations of this war, namely, War on Iraq, War in Iraq, or Third Gulf War and avoiding the use of words that might be considered more accurate and appropriate from the perspective of international law, such as ‘aggression against Iraq’ or ‘invasion of Iraq.’

Similarly, announcers and anchors repeatedly talked in neutral terms about ‘Iraqi troops’ and ‘allied troops’ and instead of references to the ‘occupation’ of a city or port we heard that such places had ‘fallen under the control of’ or ‘fallen into the hands of’ the allies. All Arab non-governmental satellites followed the same path save a new small channel, Al-Alam (The World). This reported under the title of ‘War of Domination.’”

 

Robert Fisk: Amid Allied jubilation, a child lies in agony, clothes soaked in blood (Independent Media Center Istanbul, 12 April 2003)

“It looks very neat on television, the American marines on the banks of the Tigris, the oh-so-funny visit to the presidential palace, the videotape of Saddam Hussein’s golden loo. But the innocent are bleeding and screaming with pain to bring us our exciting television pictures and to provide Messrs Bush and Blair with their boastful talk of victory. I watched two-and-a-half-year-old Ali Najour lying in agony on the bed, his clothes soaked with blood, a tube through his nose, until a relative walked up to me.

‘I want to talk to you,’ he shouted, his voice rising in fury. ‘Why do you British want to kill this little boy? Why do you even want to look at him? You did this – you did it!’…”

On television, it looks so clean. On Sunday evening, the BBC showed burning civilian cars, its reporter – ’embedded’ with US forces – saying that he saw some of their passengers lying dead beside them.

That was all. No pictures of the charred corpses, no close-ups of the shrivelled children. So perhaps I should warn those of what the BBC once called a nervous disposition to go no further. But if they want to know what America and Britain are doing to the innocent of Baghdad, they should read on.”

 

Carol Norris: Mourning Iraq (Dissident Voice, 15 April 2003)

“I am horrified and grief-stricken that the Bush administration and the media unconscionably parade a staged photo-op, where a meager couple of hundred people were corralled to fill a cameraperson’s lens, as US marines — not Iraqis — pulled down a statue of Saddam, for all the world to see, using this a ‘proof’ that all Iraqis unite in joyful liberation. The Bush administration knows the people of the US we will cling to this image, desperately wanting to believe it is true, trying to push what many of us know in our hearts — that this war was brutal and wrong — out of our minds.

I am grief-stricken because this photo-op is the cruel addition of insult to injury to the Iraqi people. It unflinchingly demeans their pain, and obscures their reality. Where are the photos of the rest of the millions of Iraqis? Where are the photos of those who have been devastated by the loss of entire families, those who desperately fight one another for a looted chair, who are angry at the US for not protecting them, scrounging for food and filthy water amidst the unexploded cluster bombs and tons and tons of birth-defect causing depleted uranium, hiding in what is left of their homes, if they are lucky, terrified, shell-shocked, and worn?

I am horrified by the colossal hypocrisy of the Bush administration that uses the US-orchestrated voices of a couple of hundred people as ultimate proof of the goodness of this war, yet when millions upon millions of people around the world raised their voices in protest for months on end, Bush relegated them to an inconsequential ‘focus group.’

I am horrified and saddened that the media at times prints grossly misleading polls, saying the majority of Americans are for the war, using sample sizes that wouldn’t be considered representative in any credible scientific study. (One major paper, for example, stated 63% of the people of an area with over 6.7 million were for the war. They polled 204 people.) Polls are used to manipulate opinion, not quantify it.”

 

P. Jayaram: “Escaped Arab Journalist Questions Western Media’s War Coverage” (Arab News, 7 April 2003)

“An ’embedded’ Arab journalist who escaped after being captured by Iraqis has questioned the coverage of the war by the Western media, saying it has become an integral part of the war machine.

‘Once you are embedded with them you can write only what they want you to write. You sign papers that stipulate you will get your reports cleared by them before sending it to your editors,’ Waiel S.H. Awwad, the New Delhi-based Syrian journalist who was covering the war for the newly launched Al-Arabiya television channel, told IANS on his return here…

He said the coverage of the war by the Western media had totally disillusioned him. All reports filed by the embedded journalists were censored. ‘If you want to be with them (US and allied troops) you have to follow what they tell you.’

‘They will never tell the truth of how many of their soldiers have been killed,’ Awwad said, adding that near Az-Zubayr at least 20 British soldiers had been killed though the official figure given was just two.

 

Venik: War in Iraq: Random Thoughts, Part IV (www.aeronautics.ru, 23 April 2003)

“This was a brilliant idea — to attach civilian reporters to frontline combat units. It’s not that something like this hasn’t been tried before, but for the first time war journalists became de facto spokesmen for the military. The flow of information was still under the complete control of the military: video footage and commentaries were reviewed and edited before broadcast in accordance with whatever the military demanded. The concept of embedded journalists killed two birds with one stone: the news networks raised their ratings by showing ‘live’ frontline footage and the military acquired an effective propaganda tool.

Previously this role was performed by the military reporters and it was called wartime propaganda. Now the same job is being carried out by civilian journalists representing world’s leading news networks and it is being regarded as open and unbiased coverage. And in both cases the viewer sees the same thing — whatever the military wants him to see. Moreover, under such circumstances a journalist’s safety and, indeed, his life depend on the troops around him. He goes wherever they go; he deals with the same dangers they deal with. In a very short time the journalist begins to identify himself with the soldiers around him. He is no longer an objective and rational reporter but a soldier with a camera and a microphone. This remarkable scheme is likely to stick around and we will see more examples of ‘embedded propaganda’ in the future wars.”

 

Uri Avnery: A Crooked Mirror: Presstitution and the Theater of Operations (Counterpunch, 3 April 2003)

“In the Middle Ages, armies were accompanied by large numbers of prostitutes. In the Iraq war, the American and British armies are accompanied by large numbers of journalists.

I coined the Hebrew equivalent of ‘presstitution’ when I was the editor of an Israeli newsmagazine, to denote the journalists who turn the media into whores. Physicians are bound by the Hippocratic oath to save life as far as possible. Journalists are bound by professional honor to tell the truth, as they see it.

Never before have so many journalists betrayed their duty as in this war. Their original sin was their agreement to be ’embedded’ in army units. This American term sounds like being put to bed, and that is what it amounts to in practice.

A journalist who lies down in the bed of an army unit becomes a voluntary slave. He is attached to the commander’s staff, led to the places the commander is interested in, sees what the commander wants him or her to see, is turned away from the places the commanders does not want him to see, hears what the army wants him to hear and does not hear what the army does not want him to hear. He is worse than an official army spokesman, because he pretends to be an independent reporter.

The problem is not that he only sees a small piece of the grand mosaic of the war, but that he transmits a mendacious view of that piece.

In the Falklands and the first Gulf wars, journalists were simply not allowed to reach the campaign area. It seems that a bright fellow at the Pentagon had an idea: ‘Why keep them out? Let’s allow them in, they’ll be told what to write and broadcast and eat out of our hands like puppies.’”

 

Khaled Mamdouh: Targeting Reporters: To Hide the Truth? (IslamOnline, 8 April 2003)

“Three reporters were killed and three others wounded in a matter of hours in separate incidents and different locations in Baghdad. Hardly a ‘mistake,’ surely not ‘friendly fire,’ and absolutely silly to call it an ‘errant bomb.’ Any term the US military tried to find in the dictionary to justify certain deaths can hardly be applied to Black Tuesday’s (April 8 ) incidents.

The first incident targeted the Aljazeera office in Baghdad, a US air force A10 ‘tank killer’ plane fired a missile at the office, then – according to the channel’s correspondent — the pilot circled the building and fired another missile, apparently making sure the hit was a success…

Less than four hours later, Palestine Hotel, residence of all foreign reporters covering the invasion from the Iraqi capital – but not embedded with the US-led forces — came under attack from US tanks, killing two reporters and wounding three others…

In between both incidents, another Arab TV station office — Abu Dhabi TV — was also hit, wounding a cameraman…

Now enters an important question: Why? Yes, indeed, why would the Americans — in a mission to liberate the Iraqis from the oppression of a despotic regime — target and kill reporters? And why now, today? The start of bloody fighting inside the streets of the Iraqi capital?

One correspondent said, ‘The Americans are killing the witnesses.’ Is that reasonable? Why not? Since minute one of that invasion, the Americans have been facing a serious credibility problem. How many times have they declared the capture of Omm Qasr? Four times, as I recall…

It is only clear that ‘time ran out’ for reporters to stay in Baghdad. In his press briefing in the US base in Qatar, US Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks made it clear: ‘We cannot guarantee the safety of reporters unless they are with us.’ A joke. This is a declaration that reporters outside the wing of the US forces are now military targets.

Farewell freedom of the Press! Farewell international law guaranteeing security and safety of reporters in war zones, farewell truth!

Welcome to law of the jungle!”

 

K.S. Ramkumar & Javid Hassan: “Exclusive: Outrage at Killing of Journalists” (Arab News, 9 April 2003)

“The killing and wounding of journalists in the US-led war on Iraq met with condemnation in the Kingdom yesterday.

As the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and many other international bodies of journalists protested against attacks that have left several journalists dead or injured, Saudi journalists condemned the attacks as a ‘deliberate and cowardly act’ by the American forces. ‘This is nothing short of a death-blow to free and fair journalism,’ an Arab journalist said.

‘The US-led coalition forces are killing journalists in Iraq to suppress the truth about civilian massacres. This also reinforces the Arab view that America wants the world to hear only its own account of the war,’ the journalist said.

The bombing of two Arab TV channel offices and a hotel serving as a base for foreign journalists in Baghdad yesterday killed three reporters, bringing to at least 12 the number of deaths among journalists and staff since the war began 20 days ago…

Businessman Ahmad Alkhereiji said many people saw the killing of journalists as a deliberate US policy to eliminate people who do not reflect its own views about the war and who are courageous enough to reflect the other side of the story to the Iraqi conflict.

‘The conflict is presented to the US public as a Hollywood production, where brilliant American generals are conducting a clean and surgical crusade, and not as the merciless abuse of the Iraqi people that is actually occurring. To say that this is against everything we hear about American beliefs in freedom of speech is really an understatement.

‘All you have to do is look at what followed the killings when Abu Dhabi TV office was surrounded by American tanks and Iraqi TV was taken off the air. This shows a desire not to let the other side of the story be shown to the world.’”

 

Chris Marsden: Embedding, repression and murder: How the US military degraded journalism in Iraq (wsws.org, April 11, 2003)

“The April 8 missile attack on the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV, as well as the tankfire directed at the Palestine Hotel, residence of the non-embedded press corps, is the culmination of the criminal efforts of the US army to silence all independent reporting of its bloody massacre of Iraqi civilians and militia.

The deaths of three newsmen—Tariq Ayoub, Taras Protsyuk and Jose Cuoso—prompted protests worldwide and led to several journalists denouncing the US actions as tantamount to murder.

Sky News correspondent David Chater asked pointedly in the Independent, ‘How are we supposed to carry on if American shells are targeting Western Journalists?’ The paper’s own columnist Robert Fisk asked, ‘Is there some element in the US military that wants to take out journalists?’

There is nothing exaggerated in such responses. The claim by the Pentagon that the attack on three separate sources of independent journalism in one day was accidental is beneath contempt. The Bush administration has done everything it can to prevent any honest reporting of the war against Iraq and in the process have mounted repeated bombings of media installations, arrested and physically beaten reporters and had already been accused of deliberately killing reporters prior to April 8…

The independence of journalism from the state is the crux of what is posed by the war in Iraq. The philosopher Edmond Burke, and after him the historian Thomas Carlyle, famously advanced the concept of the media as the ‘fourth estate’ that acts as a check on the three official branches of the state—the executive, legislature and the judiciary. Today the state power cannot and will not tolerate even a minimal check on its excesses.

The independence of the media has already been largely eliminated for the duration of the Iraqi conflict. Most news organisations have accepted this without complaint and those who object have been subject to sustained pressure to fall into line. This will only whet the appetites of the ruling elite in Washington and London for more of the same. For if the news organisations are prepared to accept such a degree of control in Iraq, then they will be asked to do the same in the interests of the so-called ‘war against terrorism’ at home.”