The third anniversary of the war came, and the third anniversary went,
and an opportunity for media outlets to offer hardnosed assessments on
the state of the conflict or reflect on their own coverage flashed by as
quickly as one of those network logos.
It was news business as usual with a few minor exceptions and little
deviation from the template of a pro-war media-frame, even as more
critical comments percolated through - usually from people wearying of
the story and upset because the invasion has not been more effective.
USA Today even reported that one out of four Americans admitted the war
had, at one point or another, made them cry.
If the outcome had been different with a clear-cut victory, a real
"mission accomplished" or a decisive bad-guys-gone/good-guys-win
formulation, we would be seeing parades and we told-you-sos all over the
media. Reality forced media outlets to tone down the celebratory tones
we saw when the war was originally being described as a "cake-walk."
At the advice of his media managers, President Bush remained upbeat,
jumping out in public early to reinforce his policy with a series of
political campaign-like speeches and the promulgation of a "new"
strategy document based entirely on an old one. It was a PR maneuver
straight out of the information war-info dominance play book in which
positioning is everything, ie. the person who defines the issue first
shapes the news.
In his case, the President was mindful of the erosion of public support
and so careful not to even use the word "war." Democracy is now his
buzzword du-jour. His rhetoric sought to do what his Pentagon couldn't -
convert defeat into a victory. This media strategy is designed as a
pro-active way to manage perceptions because everyone else is then
forced to react to you. After several sound-alike speeches, he appealed
to the public to leave the war behind as in 'lets not talk about it
Not everyone in the press played along. The AP carried an analysis
showing how the President's speechwriters cited quotes from "straw men"
to concoct phony arguments that he then verbally knocked down. I saw
that story on YAHOO, not on the air.
With a two billion dollar media budget the Pentagon staged its own media
anniversary war game with a special military maneuver tantalizingly
titled "Operation Swarmer." They know that the TV cameras need pictures,
so we were treated to images of an armada of helicopters out to "smoke
out" some terrorists instead of the nightly display of dead bodies. Like
film producers they "deployed" Hollywood narrative technique to create a
visual storyline infused with the "bang bang" that networks love, along
with an animation showing how their gung-ho tactics are "making progress."
It was this made for TV media story that spun the anniversary on the
ground, until a few days later when TIME came out to report that the
whole staged spectacle "fizzled."
Time's man on the spot writes:
"But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously
reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower
since the start of the war. ('Air Assault' is a military term that
refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there
were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation
that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a
photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units
had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders."
l. Escalating Costs
The non-partisan Congressional Research Service reported that funding
for the war we are supposedly winning will go up. U.S. military spending
in Iraq and Afghanistan will average 44 percent more in the current
fiscal year. Spending will rise to $9.8 billion a month from the $6.8
billion a month the Pentagon said it spent last year, the research
2. The Role of Oil
Greg Palast is one of the few journalists to suggest that President
Bush's upbeat assessment is less about the war - which is seen as a
means to an end, not and end itself - but about oil. Palast writes:
"a 323-page plan for Iraq's oil secretly drafted by the State
Department.. what's inside this thick Bush diktat: a directive to Iraqis
to maintain a state oil company that will 'enhance its relationship with
Enhance its relationship with OPEC??? How strange: the government of the
United States ordering Iraq to support the very OPEC oil cartel which is
strangling our nation with outrageously high prices for crude.
Specifically, the system ordered up by the Bush cabal would keep a lid
on Iraq's oil production - limiting Iraq's oil pumping to the tight
quota set by Saudi Arabia and the OPEC cartel.
There you have it. Yes, Bush went in for the oil - not to get MORE of
Iraq's oil, but to prevent Iraq producing TOO MUCH of it."
True? Maybe - but who in the media is even looking into this? Iraq's
leading resource is barely covered.
3. The Morale Of Iraqis
We rarely hear from Iraqis in the media so the anniversary was not an
exception. Why is it, as Harpers reports nearly 47% of the Iraqis cheer
when their American "liberators" are shot? (Only 7% approve of attacks
on Iraqi security forces.) Voices such as that of the blogger Riverbend,
who oppose occupation, are largely invisible in our media. She writes in
her Baghdad Burning Blog:
"In many ways, this year is like 2003 prior to the war when we were
stocking up on fuel, water, food and first aid supplies and medications.
We're doing it again this year but now we don't discuss what we're
stocking up for. Bombs and B-52's are so much easier to face than other
Three years and the electricity is worse than ever. The security
situation has gone from bad to worse. The country feels like it's on the
brink of chaos once more- but a pre-planned, pre-fabricated chaos being
led by religious militias and zealots."
True? Quite possibly, but who is looking into the forces behind this
4. The Media Coverage
MediaChannel.org, with the support of media reform groups and United For
Peace And Justice (UFPJ), held a march on the media last week. Press
releases went to all media outlets. Efforts to meet with media
executives most major media outlets failed as newsrooms largely ignored
it. The Spanish language newspaper covered a protest at CBS in LA, not
the LA Times. People in Toronto read more about it the Globe and Mail
than people in New York. Their reporter Simon Houpt was the only one in
the media capital of the world to show up. He wrote:
"The thinking was that the networks and major newspapers have helped to
create a repressive climate in which dissonant and dissident voices
aren't welcome. Some people on the fringes feel news executives are as
responsible for the war as the White House."
"The plan for the Manhattan protest was to trace a path through the
corridors of power - or, rather, along the perimeter of that power,
since the group's request to meet with media executives had been
Forget the phrase "people on the fringes" - a predictable put-down,
probably inserted by his editor - and reflect on the totally unreported
fact that 157,000 emails were sent by supporters to network news
programs demanding better coverage as part of this call for truth. As
for other protests around the world, they were covered but their size
was given more prominence than their message.
The issue may have failed to grasp the media's attention - probably
because it is too close to home - but the context has not. All media
analysts know that the mighty mainstream media (MSM) machine is losing
readers and viewers in part because of the group-think manner in which
it sanitized the war and remains largely unwilling to challenge it, even
on this third anniversary. No doubt, the public is ahead of the press.
News Dissector Danny Schechter is the "blogger-in chief" of
Mediachannel.org and author of "When News Lies: Media Complicity and the
Iraq War" which includes the DVD of his film on the media coverage "WMD
(Weapons of Mass Deception)."