More Concerned About Selves Than Soldiers
MEDIA MAKE WAR ON PENTAGON
Modern satellite technology created a new
challenge for the Pentagon: how to wage war when the TV networks can
transmit information around the world, and to the enemy, in an instant.
Sadly, in the Persian Gulf War, not all television executives, producers
and reporters put the interests of the U.S. armed forces ahead of their
self-interest in knowing everything.
Many reporters incessantly whined about
press restrictions, arrogantly portraying themselves as the
"conveyors of truth" who were better qualified than the
Pentagon to decide what should and should not be reported.
ABC reporter Judd Rose took ten minutes
of the January 24 Prime Time Live to criticize the press pool
system. Rose pompously declared, "what's at issue here is the
public interest." Rose complained that the Pentagon didn't let his
pool go where it wanted and concluded: "While many people think
that we as reporters are whining and that this is a time of war, we are
really the conveyors of truth in a very critical time and people need to
know that truth."
On CNN the next day, Walter Cronkite
assumed the Pentagon would sugarcoat the war: "It is a political
lesson they've learned, that if you show the public too much of the gore
and the horror of war, they're going to turn against that war.
Sanitizing the war for the purpose of keeping American morale, interest
in the war, support for the war high is almost criminal." In a
January 27 special, The Realities of War, Dhahran-based NBC
reporter Arthur Kent pounced on Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams,
demanding: "Why are you trying to put your hands so far into our
business? We're not trying to tell you how to run the war. We're just
trying to cover it. Why do you want to control us so completely?"
Not all reporters were so arrogant.
"The security review is just common sense review. It started off
very restrictive and they boiled it down. Now it's just basically not
talking about any-thing that would endanger Allied troops, which is
basically the same restrictions we had in Vietnam. I don't find that's
an obstacle to working here at all," Los Angeles Times
reporter David Lamb explained on NBC's January 19 Saturday Today
Despite reporters' insistence they
represented the public's "need to know," the public disagreed.
"A 57 percent majority believes that the military should increase
its control over reporting of the war," a late January Times-Mirror
poll found. Another 78 percent said "they believe the military is
not hiding bad news." A February 1 Good Morning America
call-in poll asked: "Is the news media doing a responsible and fair
job of covering the Gulf War?" No, said 83 percent.
The Persian Gulf War created some new television and radio employment
opportunities for a few old political hands. The Cable News Network made
Bill Moyers, a Press Secretary for President Johnson, a
frequent commentator during its war coverage. Starting on January 19,
Moyers hosted a weekly CNN panel discussion series, The Press Goes
The Mutual Broadcasting System has
replaced its Sunday night "Best of Larry King" repeats with a
live radio show hosted by Bob Beckel, Walter Mondale's
1984 presidential campaign manager. Beckel remains moderator of Off
the Record, Fox's answer to the McLaughlin Group.
Cordesman, a defense and foreign affairs Legislative Assistant
for conservative Senator John McCain (R-AZ) until the war began,
provided political analysis for ABC News. Cordesman, who spent three
years on McCain's staff, wrote a book on the Iran-Iraq War and teaches
at Georgetown University.
Cissy's Best. Cissy
Baker, Managing Editor of the Cable News Network since 1984,
left at the end of 1990. She's now the Supervising Producer of Sunday
Best, NBC's latest attempt to counter 60 Minutes. The
program features a collection of entertainment show highlights,
comedians reviewing the week's news and a look at old television shows
narrated by Linda Ellerbee. Back in 1982 Baker was an unsuccessful
Republican candidate for Congress from Tennessee.
Republican at the Post?
Yes, at least on the business side. For two months in the spring of 1987
Patrick Butler held the title of Executive Editor of
Communications at the White House under newly installed Chief of Staff
Howard Baker. Now he's joined the Washington Post Company as Vice
President of Newsweek and Vice President of Legi-Slate, an
electronic congressional data tracking service. Butler worked in
President Gerald Ford's speechwriting office before becoming a Special
Assistant to Republican Senator Howard Baker in 1978. Except for his
brief White House stint, since 1985 he has been Vice President of
Times-Mirror's Washington office where he's overseen publicity for the
newspaper chain's Center for the People and the Press.
Critics of Gulf War press restrictions
have complained that the Pentagon is "sanitizing" the war
effort. But here at home, the media are sanitizing the anti-war effort.
Reporters have insisted that the entire protest movement is a mainstream
coalition which supports the troops and opposes Saddam Hussein. For
leading the way in lionizing the protest movement, ABC reporter Jackie
Judd earned the February Janet Cooke Award.
On Nightline January 18, the
evening before the first Washington protest against the war, Judd gave
an overview: "The message of this movement is a simpler one than
that of twenty-five years ago, when American soldiers were vilified and
Ho Chi Minh was sometimes cheered. Today, no one is blaming the war on
the warriors. Saddam Hussein is recognized as a menace. And the hope of
today's opponents is that their message will have broader and broader
But in The Washington Post the
morning of the protest, reporter Paul Valentine quoted Sahu Barron, a
"founding organizer" of the rally's sponsor, the Coalition to
Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East. Barron, a prominent local
member of the Trotskyite Workers World Party, "said the idea of
Saddam Hussein as a 'bad guy' or a 'mad man' is 'comic book
politics.'" Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan quoted
coalition member Star Curliss on January 20: "I see Saddam Hussein
as a man doing what he needs to do."
In the January 29 Village Voice,
Sarah Ferguson reported on the January 19 protest: "The speakers'
podium was dominated for the most part by Third World internationalists,
Palestinians, and old-line leftists who soundly trashed American
imperialism abroad. Most of the speakers did not denounce Saddam
Hussein's invasion of Kuwait." Ferguson also mentioned a banner
reading "Defend Iraq: Defeat U.S. Imperialism."
Even the January 26 protest in
Washington, described as more mainstream, was populated with many of the
same people. A Washington Post survey taken at that protest
found that 65 percent of the protesters had marched in a previous
Persian Gulf protest, and that 91 percent had marched in other protests
before. In Washington's alternative City Paper of February 1,
Alex Heard wrote: "'We need to remember this is not a war about
oil,' one woman said. 'It's a war about the U.S. trying to re-establish
the might of U.S. imperialism against the Third World peoples of Iraq.
We need to proclaim victory for the people of Iraq!' A large part of the
crowd cheered that heartily."
Of course, the protest movement is a
diverse lot: a large number (56 percent, according to the Post
poll) were pacifists who claimed to oppose all war; some objected to the
war's diversion of funds from domestic spending; some questioned
fighting for feudal kingdoms. But the large January 19 protest was not
simply attended by members of the Workers World Party, it was organized
by them. On December 27, Reuters reported that the Coalition to Stop
U.S. Intervention in the Middle East was "affiliated with the
Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party." Interestingly, Judd only
aired organizers from the "more moderate" Committee for Peace
in the Mideast, even though their protest was eight days off.
This was not the first time Judd promoted
the protest movement. On Nightline last October 19, Judd
proclaimed: "It would be easy to dismiss opponents of the buildup
as oddball fringe elements. It's happened before. One bitter lesson of
the Vietnam War is nobody paid attention to the critics until many
thousands of lives had been lost. Today's dissenters say they don't hope
history repeats itself."
Among the "oddball fringe
elements" that have been a regular fixture of anti-war protests are
Trotskyite groups such as the Spartacist League, the Socialist Workers
Party, and the Workers World Party, not to mention the Revolutionary
Communist Party, those fun-loving Maoists who went to the Supreme Court
for the right to burn the flag.
Judd repeatedly aimed to separate these
protesters from the Vietnam protesters: "Unlike the '60s, this
fledgling movement is not confined to the young and the alienated.
Though a definite minority, it is more a cross-section of America."
But the Post poll found that 40 percent of the marchers
identified themselves as "liberal" and 41 percent called
themselves "very liberal." Just two percent described
themselves as "conservative." That's hardly a cross-section of
Judd also suggested that "Almost
every major Christian denomination is on record as opposing the
war." The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest protestant
denomination in the country, has not opposed the war. The Lutheran
Church-Missouri Synod issued a statement in support of the President:
"We are witnessing an act of aggression that must be
Officials at the U.S. Catholic Conference
told MediaWatch the concept of the Catholic
Church being "on record" against the war is "too blanket
a statement." Some major church officials have spoken out in
support of American action. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston said peace
"is not fulfilled at the price of granting tyrants and aggressors
an open field to achieve unjust ends."
Judd's story included no critics of the
protesters. After Judd, Ted Koppel interviewed George Weigel of the
Ethics and Public Policy Center, but the interview was cut short for a
war update and never resumed. Judd told MediaWatch the
interview balanced the show as a whole. "I don't feel like I have
to defend myself against this piece. I stand by it."
About the Workers World Party and other
radical parties, Judd said her story focused on "the makeup of the
movement: who is involved, their motivations, their intentions,"
but "There are probably also some members of this movement who are
members of the Republican Party, and I didn't mention that either....I
think most reporters would tend to talk about who is part of the
mainstream of the movement. I think the judgments of people in the
movement and the judgments of outsiders looking in are probably that the
majority are not Trotskyites." Right, but they were the organizers
of one of the big protests. Judd later added: "You go to the people
who are most important to the movement, who are sort of the largest
building blocks of it...I included the people who I thought were
important to this and representative of it."
It is certainly not the media's job to
denigrate the protesters or make them appear unattractive, but it is the
media's job to report on all the important factions of the protest
movement, not just the attractive or "mainstream" ones.
Excluding the views of a large number of organizers and speakers at the
protests was nothing less than dishonest. If a conservative
demonstration included David Duke supporters, racist skinheads or any
other unattractive extremists, would ABC's story ignore them because
they were not "representative"?
KUDOS FOR QUAYLE.
Dan Quayle played an important role in pushing the Patriot missile
through to completion. If you rely solely on the networks or the major
wire services, that should be news to you. Gannett News Service reporter
Richard Whitmire wrote on January 22: "It was Quayle who fought the
funding battle inside the conference committees, say Senate staffers who
were involved. And it was Quayle who worked to make sure the Pentagon
followed through with the projects." USA Today ran a
reduced version of the Whitmire story on the same day. The Los
Angeles Times mentioned Quayle's role twice, but the story never
made The New York Times, The Washington Post, AP, UPI, or the
MORE WAR GORE. Add
Walter Cronkite to the list of media manipulators who want graphic
pictures of grotesque death so that Americans will be sickened out of
supporting the Gulf War.
On January 24, Cronkite told the Chicago
Tribune about Vietnam: "During that war, we were getting
complaints from viewers that 'We don't want to see all that bloodshed at
dinner time...Well, my attitude about that is if we've voted to send our
young men into battle, we've got a duty to watch what they do. It ought
to be almost compulsory to sit in front of the television set and have
to view the horror that they're enduring. The military and the
politicians don't like that kind of domestic exposure. If we start
seeing, live, on the air, people dying in combat, it's going to have one
That's funny. We don't recall any media
figures demanding pictures of aborted fetuses so people can better
understand that issue. Nor any reporters demanding pictures appear of
the randier artistry of Robert Mapplethorpe and his band of urinators,
which could add something to the NEA debate.
Cronkite also told the Chicago Tribune he understood the
military's interest in keeping the networks away from providing troop
movement information to the enemy. "I don't understand how the
military can be expected to permit that kind of coverage," he said,
but "I think the networks will attempt it. I think the networks
ought to attempt it as a matter of making arrangements with the military
to cover as much as they can."
So: American soldiers might be killed by
the hundreds thanks to the networks, but hey, it might get the Pentagon
to loosen those restrictions. And while the soldiers die, Cronkite no
doubt hopes we all see it live.
JORDANIAN TWIST. When
Allied pilots bombed a number of Jordanian trucks on the road from Iraq
to Jordan, CBS portrayed the drivers killed as innocent victims.
"Jordan buried its first war dead today: three truck drivers whose
vehicles were attacked by Allied warplanes on a highway in Iraq,"
began CBS reporter Doug Tunnell in a February 5 Evening News
segment. "They were all civilians from a nation that is officially
neutral in the Gulf War."
Between January 30 and February 4, CBS
aired eight Evening News and This Morning reports that failed
to mention that the Jordanians were driving oil trucks, or question why
a "neutral" country was blatantly violating the U.N.
Paula Zahn finally asked the million
dollar question February 5: "Weren't the Jordanians violating the
U.N. sanctions in the first place by bringing in oil from Iraq?"
Reporter Betsy Aaron dutifully replied: "Some people think that
that's the case, but the Jordanians don't think that they're violating
any of the sanctions. They think that they were given an exemption.
They're not paying the Iraqis for any of this oil. The Iraqis owed them
a lot of money and this is just a payoff of the debt, so no money is
really changing hands."
February's Commentary magazine cover story is must reading for
devotees of Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes. Jerusalem Post
editorial editor David Bar-Illan's article painfully exposes Wallace's
manipulative December 2 report on the Temple Mount incident point by
point. Most importantly, Bar-Illan contends that 60 Minutes
ignored evidence that Israeli police did not fire on the assembled
Palestinian crowd until a riot began.
Bar-Illan also demonstrates the story was
simply the latest evidence of Wallace's anti-Israel bias. The Commentary
article includes transcripts of Wallace's fawning interviews with PLO
chief Yasser Arafat and Syrian President Hafez Assad. In a letter
responding to Bar-Illan's criticism of a 1989 Arafat interview, Wallace
avoided the subject, defending himself with a transcript of a tough
interview he did with Arafat in 1979. Equally entertaining is a letter
from 60 Minutes producer Barry Lando, who admitted that his
crew traveled to Israel just before the Temple Mount incident not to
report the news, but to present "the Palestinian side" of the
WAR MONEY WASTED. As the
war continues, some reporters are finding new reasons to oppose it. In
the words of CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews, the war "will wipe out any
chance of a peace dividend, and reduce the chance of any new
fully-funded domestic programs."
The night of President Bush's State of
the Union address, ABC's World News Tonight aired four stories
urging Bush to adopt liberal domestic policies. Carole Simpson began the
third piece: "National family welfare experts agree on what should
be the number one family issue on President Bush's domestic agenda:
parental leave." Since it would not propose new spending programs,
Simpson lamented, "The Bush Administration is expected to have
little to say to the nearly 32 million poor Americans."
Over on NBC Nightly News,
reporter Lisa Myers dedicated a story to how supposed federal budget
cuts have devastated cities. She concluded: "Some argue that when
the Gulf War is over, the United States should embark on the equivalent
of a Marshall Plan. Not to re-build Iraq or Kuwait, but to re-build this
DEMOCRACY DOUBLESPEAK. Christian
Science Monitor writer John Battersby has a rather fluid idea of
what democracy means. In a December 28 article on transforming Angola
from a Marxist thugocracy into a democracy, Battersby quoted Methodist
Bishop Emilio Miguel de Carvalho: "A multiparty system is not the
African method of conducting politics." Battersby noted: "The
outspoken bishop, a committed advocate of peace, reflects a broad
skepticism here about the desirability of multiparty rule."
However, in a January 14 piece headlined
"Cleric May Be Angola's Bridge to Democracy," Battersby
proclaimed that "As Angola reaches out toward democracy, the
enduring values that de Carvalho represents could provide a vital bridge
between the old order and the new...and [he] could emerge as an honest
broker as this tragic land begins to heal itself." But Battersby
also called de Carvalho "an independent voice in a Marxist-Leninist
state" while de Carvalho praised the Cubans ("The Cubans have
made a tremendous contribution to Angola since 1975 -- both in education
and military assistance -- in a way no other country has done") and
denounced the UNITA freedom fighters ("Nobody trusts UNITA because
they kill"). Orwell would be proud.
NOBEL NOT NOBLE. On
January 13, Yelena Bonner, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize recipient
Andrei Sakharov, wrote the Nobel Committee requesting that her husband's
name be stricken from the list of laureates. Why? According to UPI,
Bonner declared: "I deem it impossible that [Sakharov's name] be
ranked alongside the name of the Soviet Communist Party General
Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, who as head of state is responsible for the
bloodshed [in Lithuania]."
A search of the Nexis news data retrieval
system determined Bonner's letter was reported by AP, UPI, Reuters, The
Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington
Times and U.S. News & World Report. Bonner's brave
stand went unnoticed by the networks' evening news. Time,
continuing to stand by their Man of the Decade, passed over Bonner
without a word.
SPIKING THE RIGHT. In
response to the left-wing slant of Sonoma State University's
"Project Censored," an annual list of
"underreported" news stories, Joseph Farah, Editor of the Sacramento
Union, asked several conservative media observers help him create
On his list of underreported stories:
"Why SDI Is More Necessary Than Ever -- In the midst of war with
Iraq and the danger to American lives, few reports raised the issue of
how Saddam Hussein's potential nuclear capability was a perfect argument
for completing and deploying the Strategic Defense Initiative."
Also included in the list were the absence of free-market
environmentalists from Earth Day coverage; the fact that reported
federal budget "cuts" were not really cuts; and that
supply-side economics successfully increased government revenues.
Dr. Carl Jensen, director of Project
Censored, responded to Farah's effort in the January 26 issue of Editor
& Publisher: "I regret that Farah falls into the trap of
accusing Project Censored of being a left-wing organization. We are
apolitical." But among Jensen's top 25 this year were stories such
as "Guatemalan Blood on U.S. Hands"; "The U.S. Is
Poisoning the Rest of the World With Banned Pesticides"; and
"The U.S. Presence Is Destroying the Environment in Central
America." And who could forget an "apolitical" gem from
1987: "Oliver North's Secret Plan to Declare Martial Law."
APOCALYPSE NOW. Carl
Sagan is back with a new book on nuclear winter. Although astronomer
Sagan's theory has long been repudiated by climatologists, including
global-warming guru Stephen Schneider, that didn't stop Good Morning
America from giving him a chance to hawk his book.
Sagan told Joan Lunden on January 7:
"It's the most serious threat to the human species that we face.
It's more serious than AIDS, it's more serious than global
warming." Asked how much of the world's nuclear stockpile should be
cut, Sagan declared, "We're talking about something like a 99
percent cut. These obscene arsenals..." Lunden interrupted:
"Is that realistic?" Sagan said: "Well, is it realistic
to pose a threat to the human species and to global
civilization?...Nuclear weapons are not snowballs."
Lunden limply queried: "There are
critics who disagree with that. What do you say to them?" Sagan
mocked them: "All the competent calculations worldwide have
converged on the same answer, so I don't think this is a matter of
dispute." Lunden ended with a plug for Sagan's book: "It's a
bleak book that all the world leaders should have as required
ACID RAIN ATE MY BRAIN.
When asked why he didn't report on the landmark National Acid
Precipitation Assessment Project (NAPAP), Washington Post
environmental reporter (and hype specialist) Michael Weisskopf had a
quick answer. According to a January 14 story by Post media
reporter Howard Kurtz, Weisskopf "said he was on vacation when the
report was released. But he said many people involved in the acid rain
debate told him it had little news value." A ten-year government
study that finds acid rain is causing no discernible damage to crops and
forests has little news value?
Weisskopf doubly confirmed his loafer's
approach to reporting in the next paragraph: "This is such a
dynamic city, with so many pressure groups pushing their point of view,
you don't have to do investigative reporting to find these reports. If
they are truly important, they are promoted and put forward."
(Read: I don't do stories that aren't flacked to me by environmental
activists.) No doubt Weisskopf is still waiting for the Sierra Club
CONDOM NATION. In an
effort to deal with the issue of teenage sex, Time magazine has
once again decided to throw more condoms on the problem. Referring New
York City's plan to distribute condoms without parental consent in high
schools, Time Associate Editor Susan Tifft wrote in a January
21 piece, "many teenagers do not use them properly or consistently.
That makes it necessary for schools to step in to safeguard the public's
health and that of their charges. Parental consent is desirable, but
Tifft scoffed at the idea of chastity,
saying, "There is little evidence...that sexual abstinence is an
attractive option for students." Going one step further, Tifft
testified that the condom distribution in schools would be
"attractive" for parents too: "In fact, many parents seem
relieved to have the issue taken out of their hands."
Condom distribution in high schools was
not enough for Tifft, who ended the article: "According to many
experts, there is a growing need to make condoms available in junior
high schools, where student sexual activity is on the rise."
Assessing post-Sandinista Nicaragua, ABC reporter John Quinones turned
tough on the new government, but offered only propaganda in his
criticism. On the December 24 Nightline he proclaimed,
"Ten months after free elections swept Violeta Chamorro to the
presidency, the shiny gloss of capitalism is growing dull in Nicaragua.
Today almost half of all Nicaraguans are jobless, the annual inflation
rate has hit 11,000 percent...[In] Managua for the first time in years,
there are beggars, drug addicts, and prostitution."
Quinones concluded: "The bottom
line? Nicaragua's economy is now at least as bad off as it was during
the worst years of Sandinista rule...today the war is over, the embargo
is lifted, this new government has no one to blame but itself."
Quinones cited no statistics from the Sandinista regime, which makes
sense as they were even worse. For example, inflation at one point was
36,000 percent. And while playing taps for capitalism, Quinones
neglected to mention that the Sandinistas still run the army and labor
unions, and have done everything to undermine free-market reforms.
OH WOW, MAN. PBS found
the perfect way to compliment its trendy-left supporters: a six-part
January 19-21 navel-gazing series titled Making Sense of the Sixties.
Produced by Washington PBS affiliate WETA, viewers were treated to
revelations like this: "You mean the spiritual impulses I have,
these inklings -- I smoked the marijuana and I lay on the grass, and
suddenly I realized: the grass is alive, the grass has a spirit. You
mean this is political? This is political? What a mind-blower! What a
Viewers also learned of the moonlighting
Margot Adler, labeled "Correspondent, National Public Radio"
in one soundbite, and described as a "Lecturer on Ecofeminism"
in another. Author Annie Gottlieb theorized that "the Reagan era
was paying us back for doing it in the streets, and next time, we'll try
to make our revolution a little more serious and substantial and deal
with social issues."
Many spent the '60s as
"idealists," like a student leader who described Vietnam
protests: "We're using the incredible might of the American
military machine to destroy these people, and there was a sense of
almost a lament about 'what are we doing?' It was like a pain, it was
more motivated from pain and shame, and drawing back on Hitler times,
and the Nazis. We don't want to be connected with something that's so
evil." Try making sense of that.
Jennings Just As Wrong
PANNING PAST THE PODIUM SPEAKERS
Peter Jennings added to ABC's
misinformation on the February 7 World News Tonight by again
claiming: "There is no support for Saddam Hussein here." In
the report, ABC aired 16 shots of anti- war activists, most from
12-day-old footage, without identifying one of them, including in-studio
interviewees. Jennings was busy emphasizing that "at every
anti-war demonstration they carry the flag high." But ABC
Washington affiliate WJLA aired protesters burning the flag in Lafayette
Park on the 19th. Jennings also asserted that "American troops in
the Gulf have their support," ignoring the protest speakers who
called the troops "fodder for U.S. imperialism." Like Judd,
ABC producer Juliet Cassone admitted to MediaWatch
there was an anti-American faction, but dismissed the idea of covering
them: "We were looking for mainstream demonstrators."
One way the networks stuck with
"mainstream" demonstrators: in all the evening news stories
about the major anti-war protests on January 19 and 26, not one story
included a soundbite from an actual podium speaker. The first shots of
podium speakers from the 26th came in ABC's February 7 report.
The network's focus on large anti-war
marches in Washington, New York, and San Francisco did not match the
larger reality. Only three percent of Americans polled by Times Mirror
had attended an anti-war protest, but nine percent said they had marched
in support of the war effort. One exception to the network trend: CBS.
It ignored the January 19 anti-war protest. Instead, the Evening
News covered pro-Bush rallies.
ARNETT'S AIR WAR
In his reports from Baghdad, CNN's Peter
Arnett has gone beyond what's required of a reporter under censorship,
from merely transmitting enemy propaganda to commenting on how
reasonable it seemed. When he reported that Iraq claimed Allied pilots
had bombed a baby-milk factory, he added that the site "looked
innocent enough, from what I could see." Arnett told Newsweek:
"I think the U.S. just miscalled it...there was no doubt in my mind
that it was unlikely to be a supersecret facility" producing
In a January 31 live report, Arnett
described damaged civilian areas he saw in a government tour. Although
he admitted to anchor Reid Collins that he had not seen the missiles
land, he stated: "There was no doubt in my mind that the cruise
missiles that came in, the two had obviously landed in these residential
In early February, Arnett did a long
story on how Iraqi infants would die from the lack of power to run
incubators. He didn't mention that invading Iraqi troops took Kuwaiti
babies out of incubators and left them to die on hospital floors.
On Larry King Live January 30,
CNN Vice President Ed Turner preached: "You must avoid the
appearance of cheerleading. We are, after all, at CNN, a global network.
We have many nations to serve and it is part of our responsibility and
our obligation to do so, if not as objectively as possible, as fairly as
Another guest, Los Angeles Times
critic Howard Rosenberg, wondered "does he ever confront a
situation where he can no longer just be a dispassionate observer and
become an American?" (For instance, if he sees U.S. POW's being
abused.) No, responded Turner: "I would like to hope that Arnett
would keep his own feelings to himself" and report as usual.
The world witnessed a dazzling display of
American technological mastery when our Strategic Defense Initiative
(SDI) related Patriot missiles intercepted Iraq's Scud missiles. This
success should cause great embarrassment to those in the media who spent
years trying to discredit the centerpiece of Ronald Reagan's military
modernization program. According to the conventional wisdom in the
media, SDI was a waste of money that would never work.
ABC Pentagon correspondent Bob Zelnick
was typical. In March 1989 the Center for Peace and Freedom asked
Zelnick to report on former SDI chief Lt. General James Abrahamson's
memo urging development of the system. Zelnick responded: "The day
you or anyone else believes that you can influence my coverage by what
you decide to parcel out is the day that you have lost touch with
reality in more ways than in the strategic system you endorse... we have
more important things to cover than Abe's seat-of-the- pants judgement
about a virtually untested technology, which no one is about to deploy
in the foreseeable future."
Zelnick was notably silent after the
Patriot's initial successes, as was colleague Ted Koppel, who gave his
analysis of SDI on the October 30, 1987 edition of Donahue:
"I think that what is being proposed for expenditures on Star Wars,
for example, is absolute nonsense."
Time advocated the dismantling
of SDI in order to fund more worthwhile causes, like a trip to Mars. On
July 24, 1989, Time declared that "if the President comes
out strongly for the mission [to Mars] Congress should be able to find a
way to fund it. One option: to siphon the money from Star Wars and other
questionable defense programs." When the Bush budget, which
included defense cuts, was released in January 1990, Time
concluded: "Yes, Bush is finally cutting defense. But with a
clearer vision of America's responsibilities in the changing world, he
could save even more. Research for the Strategic Defense Initiative
could be cut from 4.5 billion dollars to 3 billion dollars a year."
In the January 1, 1990 issue of U.S.
News & World Report, Senior Editor Harrison Rainie charged that
"the [Reagan] Administration spun the nation out of its torpor with
such fantasies as supply side economics, the nuclear weapons `window of
vulnerability,' and the Strategic Defense Initiative."
Last summer, the media were prepared to
bury SDI once and for all. When the Senate cut a billion dollars from
the program, NBC's Henry Champ gleefully reported that "Senators
today finally turned their backs on a dream of the Reagan era" and
let SDI critic John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists
conclude: "I think the epitaph of Star Wars is going to be that we
spent 20 billion dollars chasing an impossible dream, and we're finally
waking up to the reality of the waste of this effort." In an August
13, 1990 article, Time reporter Bruce Van Voorst dismissed any
progress in the SDI program: "After seven years of research, it is
clear that no anti-missile system can provide the impenetrable shield
against incoming missiles that Ronald Reagan envisioned in 1983."
Reporters regularly dismissed SDI by
associating the program solely with an "Astrodome" space-based
defense (and degrading it with the nickname "Star Wars").
Because the program's highest aims were not immediately attainable, the
steps on the way to the ultimate goal, including ground-based missile
defenses, were treated as equally far-fetched.
In a June 11 article titled,
"Remember Star Wars? Now It's a Program in Search of A
Rationale," U.S News reporter Bruce Auster eulogized that
"with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) succumbing to tighter
budgets, reduced military tensions, and a dose of technological reality,
both the U.S. and the Soviets have an interest in letting Reagan's dream
die a quiet death." He asked: "Can Iraqi missiles save
SDI?" He answered no, because "shooting down low-tech missiles
in the Middle East may prove as difficult as destroying modern Soviet
inter-continental missiles in space." Why? "Ground-based
tactical ballistic missile defenses like the U.S. Patriot...would use
radar to track an incoming missile. That poses a dilemma. Larger radars
increase effectiveness, but also make an easier target for radar-seeking
missiles and impede mobility...Given the technical challenge of shooting
down tactical ballistic missiles in combat, are missile defenses
worth-while?" Auster again said no: "If missile defenses are
not practical, or affordable, some countries may conclude that the only
way to avoid being hit is to hit first."
The media's revisionists may now be
arguing that only a small percentage of SDI funding went to land-based
theater missile defenses, but reporters spent the 1980s assaulting the
entire concept of strategic defense as damaging to the cause of arms
control. In retrospect, arms control might have been more dangerous than
the "arms race." Time Editor-at-Large Strobe Talbott
denigrated the entire modernization effort last February 12: "So
far the Administration's position in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks
(START) is, in one respect, still mired in the past. It is designed to
preserve, in its redundant entirety, Ronald Reagan's so-called strategic
modernization program...the kind of military overinsurance the public
was willing to pay for a decade ago looks like wretched excess
After the invasion of Kuwait, thousands
of stories were produced on the impending Gulf war, but none of the
three major networks aired a story on the potential of SDI or
SDI-related systems to save American or Allied lives in the face of
Iraqi missile launches. Only CNN broached the subject with a September
22 report by Alexander Kippen. The story even discussed Iraq's Scud
missiles, and concluded: "This may be the first defense budget of
the post-Cold War era, but as it becomes easier for Third World
countries like Iraq to buy longer-range ballistic missiles, SDI and
other controversial holdovers designed for the Cold War are likely to
remain on the front line of the defense debate."
Even now that the evidence is in, as some
reporters stationed in Saudi Arabia were being protected by the Patriot
missile system, journalists continued to denounce SDI. On the January 20
edition of ABC's This Week with David Brinkley, Sam Donaldson
complained: "Well, we spent billions of dollars for these Star Wars
systems, and I haven't seen a Star Wars system in Iraq, George. I
haven't seen a B-2 Bomber in Iraq." Countered George Will:
"I'm sorry, Sam. When you see a Patriot shooting down an incoming
missile, you are seeing strategic defense, and you are seeing Star Wars
technology protecting little old you....And there's more to SDI than the
Patriot, as you will learn to your pleasure sooner or later."
Donaldson still concluded: "So far there's been about seven billion
dollars to SDI and fortunately the Congress is about to cut that
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