Published on Friday, February 9, 2007 by the Toronto Star
Real News Loses to Fluff Again
by Antonia Zerbisias
Anybody want to bet against me that, over the next few days, the U.S. media will be more consumed with the sudden death of DDD-list blond bombshell Anna Nicole Smith than with Tuesday's report by a U.S. congressional committee that an estimated $12 billion (U.S.) – 360 tons of shrink-wrapped C-notes – were flown to Iraq between May 2003 and June 2004?
No, I didn't think so, even though the cash can't be accounted for, even though there are suspicions that much of it ended up with the insurgency, even though U.S. troops are getting killed for lack of proper armour and equipment.
Turn on the news and it's been all about "astro-nut" Lisa Nowak, she who should land a Depends endorsement deal, and her wild cross-country pursuit of love lost in space. Or something like that. Fill in your own space oddity pun. Every news organization has, as Jon Stewart pointed out the other night.
So here we are, on the eve of the fifth year of the Iraq invasion, and the "shock and awe" continues to be that the mainstream media watchdogs rolled over for the Bush-Cheney war and have yet to report on where they went wrong, what they missed, what they ignored, what they buried.
(This, by the way, is not an attack on the journalists who have risked – and even lost – their lives covering the conflict.)
Oh sure there have been a few mea culpas, I-got-it-wrongs, and slap me sillies with my soft-white-pundit's hands along the way from the likes of the Toronto Sun's Lorrie Goldstein, the National Post's Jonathan Kay and the National Review's Jonah Goldberg, who in 2002 wrote, "The United States needs to go to war with Iraq because it needs to go to war with someone in the region and Iraq makes the most sense."
But nowhere have the media answered the kinds of questions posed this week by a veteran editor in the Nieman Watchdog, published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.
Among the questions raised by Gilbert Cranberg, former editorial page editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune: "Why did the New York Times and others parrot administration claims about Iraq's acquisition of aluminum tubes for nuclear weapons when independent experts were readily available to debunk the claims?
"Why was a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace accusing the administration of misusing intelligence by misrepresenting and distorting it given two paragraphs in the Times and 700 words in the (Washington) Post (but deep inside), with neither story citing the report's reference to distorted and misrepresented intelligence?
"Why did Colin Powell's pivotal presentation to the United Nations receive immediate and overwhelming press approval despite its evident weaknesses and even fabrications?
"Why did the British press, unlike its American counterpart, critically dissect the speech and regard it with scorn?
"Why did the Associated Press wait six months, when the body count began to rise, to distribute a major piece by AP's Charles Hanley challenging Powell's evidence and why did Hanley say how frustrating it had been until then to break through the self-censorship imposed by his editors on negative news about Iraq?"
But why is not a question often answered nowadays. It's all about who. The celebrity who. The space cadet who. The who did who.
The danger is that, as the Bush-Cheney administration continues its bellicose bellowing, not only about Iraq but also Iran, the media again take at face value whatever the White House throws its way, not investing the resources to go beyond cheap and easy "live" time-fillers.
Oh, and if you think that what happens on their news doesn't affect Canada, think again. It would be a much easier sell for the Harper government to march us unto war if the Amnets and their counterparts in print once again did not do their jobs.
Meanwhile, don't wait for serious discussion of the missing billions or another downed U.S. chopper. For the next few days, your TV will become a boob tube. Can't you see it already: "Thanks for the mammaries."
FEAR: The media world is buzzing about this sound byte New York Times chair and publisher Arthur Sulzberger gave Israel's Haaretz; "I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either.
"The Internet is a wonderful place to be, and we're leading there."
LOATHING: Then there's this from News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch, picked up by the Hollywood Reporter at last month's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Asked if his media empire attempted to set the agenda on the war in Iraq, he said: "No, I don't think so. We tried." Tried and succeeded.
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