As New War Rages, Study Finds, Mainstream Media Silences Debate

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As New War Rages, Study Finds, Mainstream Media Silences Debate

New analysis finds little opposition in mainstream media to latest US military attacks on Middle East nations

When it comes to asking hard questions about war, don't count on the corporate and mainstream press, new study finds. (Image: MSNBC/screengrab)

When it comes to asking hard questions about war, don't count on the corporate and mainstream press, new study finds. (Image: MSNBC/screengrab)

While Congress may soon debate the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Syria, a new FAIR study shows that at the critical moments leading up to the escalation of US military action, mainstream media presented almost no debate at all.

The study of key TV news discussion programs from September 7 through 21 reveals that guests who opposed war were scarce.

The study evaluated discussion and debate segments on the Sunday talk shows (CNN's State of the Union, CBS's Face the Nation, ABC's This Week, Fox News Sunday and NBC's Meet the Press), the PBS NewsHour and a sample of cable news programs that feature roundtables and interview segments (CNN's Situation Room, Fox News Channel's Special Report and MSNBC's Hardball).

The key findings:

  • In total, 205 sources appeared on the programs discussing military options in Syria and Iraq. Just six of these guests, or 3 percent, voiced opposition to US military intervention. There were 125 guests (61 percent) who spoke in favor of US war.
  • On the high-profile Sunday talk shows, 89 guests were invited to talk about the war. But just one, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, could be coded as an anti-war guest.
  • Guestlists leaned heavily on politicians and military insiders. Current and former US government officials—politicians and White House officials—made up 37 percent of the guestlists. Current and former military officials accounted for 7 percent of sources. Journalists made up 46 percent of the sources.
  • Democrats outnumbered Republicans, 53-36, mostly due to the heavy presence of Obama administration officials advocating for White House military policy.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

The study period covered what should have been a moment of serious debate: From the release of ISIS video beheadings of two American journalists through Obama’s September 10 televised address and right up to the first US airstrikes on Syria.

 But the question of whether to launch attacks was hardly worth debating. As MSNBC host Chris Matthews put it (9/9/14), “When it comes to down to how we fight this, everybody seems to be for air attacks, airstrikes. Everybody is for drone attacks.”

 One would definitely get that impression from the narrow debate in elite media.

The study appears in the November issue of FAIR's magazine Extra!

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