Iraq War Coverage: Week 1

Since this is what most people are watching these days anyway, let's catch up on how the television news networks are faring in week one of Gulf War II.

CNN:
CNN has probably done the best job of exposing the more tragic aspects of this war -- namely the fact that its reporting crew got kicked out of Baghdad over the weekend. The resulting 72 hours of nonstop coverage of the crew's tearful group hugs at the Jordanian border and ceaseless "how did you feel?" line of questioning from Atlanta made me think I had stumbled on an episode of Oprah. The fact that this had suddenly become "the story" in CNN's eyes, even as U.S. and Iraqi soldiers were getting immolated across the border, illustrates the inward focus that has played a primary role in the network's downfall. If "sexy" Paula Zahn doesn't up the ante and start adopting a more aggressive interview style soon (think Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct"), CNN is pretty much toast.

This Baghdad eviction has left the network in such a state that all it can do when the ratings-boosting pyrotechnics light up the Baghdad skyline is have sexy Wolf Blitzer narrate it from his suite at the Kuwait City Hilton, where the thundering in the background is just room service bringing up some fresh shrimp cocktail. Don't blame Fox News for your misfortunes, CNN -- blame AOL Time Warner. Things fall apart.

MSNBC:
What could be freakier than Lester Holt's botox permagrin as he recites the growing body count from the commander in chief's latest wacky misadventure? Maybe it wasn't botox -- maybe he was born with his mouth frozen like that. Regardless, it's trademark of MSNBC's robotic news delivery, which drones on for long sing-songy stretches only to be eventually shattered by Chris Matthews's hyperactive barking as he gnashes and hurls himself like a crazed Lhasa Apso at the heels of some unsuspecting liberal peacenik lured into the studio with the promise of some free government cheese.

One interesting feature of MSNBC's coverage is the huge map of Iraq laid down on the studio floor like a supermarket advertisement for Empire Flakes. All that's missing is the little toy tanks and planes being pushed around by generals on their hands and knees making zoom-zoom noises. MSNBC does claim frequent contact with an actual Baghdad correspondent, CNN refugee Peter Arnett, but Pete is suspiciously quick to note that he's actually a National Geographic correspondent, ostensibly left behind on a Mesopotamian excursion gone horribly awry.

FOX NEWS:
Like an Iraqi soldier dressed in civilian clothes, Fox News has crept in under the false cover of objectivity to unleash a blitzkrieg of bias so right wing that channel-surfers often mistake it for a eugenics infomercial. The only nod at an actual exchange of ideas is Hannity bitch-slapping the hapless Colmes while slobbering permaguest Bill Bennett slowly undoes his belt buckle in anticipation of giving that liberal fucker his final comeuppance. It's enough the scare the teeth right out of Ann Coulter's vagina.

On Fox News, it's not "Attack on Iraq," it's not "Gulf War II," no, it's "Operation Iraqi Freedom, ANY QUESTIONS, BITCHES?" I'm surprised Dick Cheney doesn't call to tell them to tone it down a bit. Fox News also takes the prize for being "most indignant" that the Iraqis have decided they have nothing to lose by not fighting fair. All I know is that it must drive the audio technicians nuts to keep having to pod down all that goose-stepping in the background. If you work at Fox News, this isn't Gulf War II -- it's Christmas.

AL-JAZEERA:
It's so obviously the Jews. While the Bush administration swims in hypocrisy with virtually every statement it makes, are there any Arabs who recognize that if they just had a news service that countered this with anything approaching objectivity, somebody might take them seriously? After all, this is a television station that still insists all the Jews got out of the World Trade Center before the planes hit despite the fact that this rumor was proven to be your basic email hoax. If email is Al-Jazeera's source du jour, why haven't they reported on the ease with which any man can lengthen his penis two inches? They would surely rule the world within days! Here's the truth: Until the Arab world gets a mouthpiece that generates information that doesn't read like headlines out of the Weekly World News Paranoid Edition, nobody will take their concerns seriously.

ABC, CBS, NBC:
Who gets home in time to watch the news at 5pm every day? The elderly and the unemployed, that's who. The traditional network news operations are so irrelevant it's a wonder the U.S. military still bothers to send them press releases.

THAT SAID, a lot of the failings of the war coverage are shared ones. Whether you're a war supporter or a war protester, there's a lot of information that's been withheld from you like you're a five-year-old, because American news coverage has self-censored itself to the point of irrelevance. We see when the pyrotechnics light up Baghdad, but we haven't seen the POWs, the civilian casualties, or the details of Halliburton's brazen and immediate lunge at the profit piñata. We haven't explored the curious absence of any evidence of weapons of mass destruction despite the fact that coalition troops now control large swaths of the country. We haven't explored the increasingly disturbing evidence that George W. Bush has turned over the day to day decision making to a little voice in his head he calls "God." No one asks the hard questions, which is why Donald Rumsfeld can wave the Geneva Conventions in the air with one hand while the other pushes the button to send electricity into the genitals of some innocent Afghani taxi driver rotting away at Guantanamo Bay, and not worry about being challenged by assembled reporters shaking in front of him like raw meat in front of a hungry lion.

This failure of American news coverage has its roots in the 1980s, when the corporatization of America's news media really got underway and professional worriers worried that if the process was allowed to continue, one day we wouldn't have a credible fourth estate when we really needed one. Like now.


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