Published on Sunday, April 6, 2003 by the Toronto Star
'Saving Private Lynch' and Other Tales
by Antonia Zerbisias
Nobody should have been surprised by TV's diversionary tactics yesterday.
It seemed that, every time I flipped between CNN and MSNBC, they were telling and re-telling "Saving Private Lynch," that archetypal, blonde-in-peril, made-for-TV movie coming to a ratings sweeps period near you. (And doesn't Saddam Hussein make the perfect Oil Can Harry, tying the pure-hearted heroine to the railroad tracks?)
It was perfect weekend viewing; all the better to keep you glued to the set, my dear. Neil Postman was so right when he noted in his Amusing Ourselves To Death that "Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television."
The Jessica Lynch story has all the elements of a Hollywood classic. As the Independent's Deborah Orr observed Friday, right from the day she disappeared, Lynch commanded all the media attention, far more than her less fortunate sisters-in-arms, Shoshana Johnson, whose terrified eyes in that PoW video will haunt me forever, or Lori Ann Piestewa, a Hopi Indian we will never see alive.
It is, wrote Orr, "recognizable that America does have a hierarchy of life, with pretty blondes at the top, black Americans and Native Americans further down and the rest of the world trailing hopelessly. Which might help explain the unseemly rush to war."
Confined to quarters again yesterday, trying desperately not to obsess over Judy Woodruff's floppy flip, it was difficult not to wonder how the Lynch story was playing in, forgive me, the Arab street - especially when things were going boom in Baghdad, causing who-knows-how-many casualties on both sides.
But then, Washington's "We will liberate you even if it kills you - or us" attitude is the message of the moment. The invading forces are so good and kind that, after they blow you up, CNN reporters (Dr. Sanjay Gupta) rush in to perform brain surgery on you.
"This feed-and-kill policy - throwing bombs in Baghdad and throwing food at the people - is not winning hearts and minds," Khaled Abdelkarim, a Washington-based correspondent for the Middle East News Agency, told the New York Times yesterday.
Why the new tack on the message track?
Because there's been plenty of gun smoke but no smoking gun.
As Reuters reported last Tuesday, "When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spelled out the eight U.S. objectives in Iraq on day two of the war, he said the first was to topple Saddam Hussein and the second was to locate and destroy Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
"On Day 10 of the war, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke restated those eight objectives `as Secretary Rumsfeld described just a week ago.'"
Not quite. Suddenly, unearthing those nuke-u-lar, chemical and biological weapons had dropped to fourth on the chart while destroying them slipped to No. 5. Which is why, for the past week or so, including yesterday in his treacly weekly radio address, President George W. Bush has been all about "ridding the people of Iraq from one of the cruelest regimes on earth."
Can't say I've caught any discussion of this shift on CNN. But then, being cooped up with Wolf Blitzer's blather is a form of brain-destroying torture so evil that I would recommend it to any brutal, vicious dictator looking to gas his own people.
Yesterday, it got so bad, I actually started to miss all the talking brass who were MIA. Maybe their contracts ran out, seeing as how the war has lasted more than two weeks now.
In fact, the TV generals are not the only things gone AWOL. Except for the occasional mention of how there will be singing and dancing in the streets once America lets Saddam's people go, there has been no naming-names talk of who is going to run the country and how.
But check the foreign print media, and the better U.S. papers, and it's clear that the Bushies have lined up a hawkish bunch of close pals, some with dubious commitments to democratic principles, as "ministers-in-waiting."
Which is why the scariest news I heard yesterday didn't come out of Iraq but from the Los Angeles Times, which reported that more than two-thirds of Americans rely on the cable news nets for coverage of the war.
And you wonder why so many Americans think Operation Iraqi Freedom is going to end happily ever after? You would, too, if all you heard was fairy tales.
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