Published on Saturday, March 29, 2003 by the Contra Costa Times (California)
U.S. News Criticized for Sterility
by Jack Chang
An Iraqi man sits up on a hospital bed to reveal the bloody wound he has received on his back, apparently caused by a U.S. bomb. A child whimpers and cries for his mother, in obvious pain. Several Iraqi women moan in a hospital hallway, one ceremoniously slapping her own face in grief.
Watching these scenes on the Qatar-based cable station Al-Jazeera transmitted to her Walnut Creek home, Iraqi native Nibras Araim tears up and calls out uncontrollably, "Look at these people! My country is being destroyed!"
Then, her husband, Amer, switches to the U.S. news station Cable News Network, which is showing grainy footage of buildings photographed from far up in the sky and then a missile attack engulfing the scene in flames.
"You see, the American media show buildings more than people," Nibras Araim said.
With the U.S. invasion of Iraq well into its second week, many East Bay residents, especially Middle Easterners, have voiced similar complaints about U.S. media.
They say television in particular has been purposely shying away from pictures of civilian casualties and destruction in favor of prettified video meant to rally support for the war.
And they have been turning to alternative news sources such as Al-Jazeera and other news channels from the Middle East to get what they say is the full picture.
Even the mention of CNN elicits an exasperated cry from Helal Omeira, executive director of the Northern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"Most informed people feel this way," he said. "It's not just a Muslim thing. We're just asking they tell us the whole picture."
In a statement, CNN responded Friday: "CNN's coverage on the U.S.-coalition led war on Iraq offers reporting from all viewpoints, including the bombings in Baghdad and Northern Iraq; embedding with the coalition forces; regional and world reaction to the war; anti-war opposition; and anti-war protests. In addition, our programming provides viewers with insight into how the war is being covered in the Middle East press, such as Al-Jazeera and Iraqi Television."
Over the past week, peace protesters have been shifting their anger to CNN and other media, demanding they present more balanced and complete coverage of the war.
"They are showing the Pentagon version of the war," said Andrea Buffa, a peace campaigner for the public interest group Global Exchange. "All we have now are generals pointing to spots on the map like this war is a big video game."
New technologies such as small satellite dishes and the Internet have allowed people to seek their own news sources in lieu of mainstream U.S. media. What they have found there, especially on Al-Jazeera, has been upsetting.
"Look at what's happening!" a Jordanian man said in an Oakland pizza restaurant where Al-Jazeera was broadcasting video of wounded Iraqi children and of massive, chaotic anti-war protests from around the world.
"We go to Al-Jazeera to see what's happening on the ground."
Many U.S. observers have accused the news station, which reaches 35 million viewers worldwide, of applying its own pro-Muslim bias to the news. On Friday morning, the channel showed several interviews of Muslim clerics calling for Middle-Eastern resistance to coalition forces as well as press conferences by U.S. officials, all intercut with fresh, bloody footage of civilian victims of that morning's airstrike.
Other, more liberal sources such as the Web site www.commondreams.org generally offer more news about coalition military setbacks, Iraqi civilian deaths and anti-war protests. Buffa said she has found U.S. print media more balanced about the war.
But, even in the Muslim world, not everyone is complaining about CNN.
Pittsburg resident Fazel Abdiani,, who hails from Afghanistan, said he has been sticking to U.S. television news channels for information about the war.
He doesn't have much choice, at least on television. Abdiani, an Afghan, doesn't understand Arabic, the language in which Al-Jazeera broadcasts, and doesn't watch the channel.
Unlike Araim and Omeira, Abdiani supports the invasion.
"It's hard to tell and judge the media because we are not there in Iraq," Abdiani said. "I just know that war, all war, is ugly."
Copyright 2003 Contra Costa Times