Time Writers Rant As C-SPAN Cameras Roll
STANLEY VS. THE "SUPERPATRIOTS"
Time magazine editors and
reporters sit in meetings trashing conservative politicians and their
concerns. Sound like the paranoid dream of overworked MediaWatch
editors? No, that's just what C-SPAN documented when the cable channel
aired a week-long look "Inside Time."
During the February 8 meeting of Time's
Washington staff, Bureau Chief Stanley Cloud dismissed complaints about
reporting by CNN's Peter Arnett from Baghdad. "I don't want to
focus on...whether he is or is not an honest reporter. I don't think
that's the issue." To Cloud, the issue was not Arnett's reporting,
which has out-raged millions of Americans (not just conservatives):
"It's a story about superpatriots and how they act in time of
war." In Time's subsequent February 18 issue, Cloud wrote
"In recent weeks, the halls of Congress have been fouled by
superpatriotic blasts from a small band of conservative
Arnett's reports have been "valid
and interesting and have shed some light," Cloud asserted during
the meeting. He explained away Arnett's censored reporting by
summarizing a dinner conversation he had with two U.S. Senators:
"They said he's just a conduit for Iraqi information. I said that's
all we are too, pal. Nobody out there is getting anything but what the
Pentagon wants us to have." Cloud complained that the
"demagogues" attacked Arnett using "inflamed
rhetoric." In the February 11 Washington Post, Cloud used
inflamed rhetoric himself, comparing the Pentagon's press restrictions
to a "smoothly functioning dictatorship."
As to the charges that Arnett was
sympathetic to the Viet Cong when he reported the Vietnam War for
Associated Press, Cloud insisted: "By the way, this is not a war
with the Viet Cong. As far as I know, the Viet Cong is supported by the
Soviet Union, which supports the U.S. in this war. So it's absurd."
That's like arguing that because Germany is currently our ally, the
Nazis weren't our enemy.
Speaking of Nazis, Cloud's Washington
bureau underlings competed to outdo the boss by comparing Vietnam POW
and war hero Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to Hitler's thugs. Congressional
correspondent Hays Gorey remarked: "Well, McCain has got this ad
hoc group of superpatriots he's organizing." NASA reporter Jerome
Cramer retorted: "They wear brown shirts and march around. Small
Cloud later admitted to a C-SPAN
interviewer: "We may have been a little less outspoken....I think
perhaps there were a few others who pulled their punches a little bit,
were a little less outspoken than they might have been." One can
only imagine what goes on when the cameras are not rolling.
Surrender in the Desert.
One member of MediaWatch's Revolving Door list
got a closer look at the collapsing Iraqi army than she ever could have
expected. As Elizabeth Colton, Editor of the weekly Loudoun
Times-Mirror of Leesburg, Virginia, trailed Allied troops heading
to Kuwait City, eleven Iraqi soldiers surrendered to her. The
white-flag-waving Iraqis approached Colton, the Press Secretary to Jesse
Jackson during his 1988 presidential campaign, by shouting in Arabic:
"No water, no eat. We want peace. George Bush good. Saddam Hussein
bad." Colton, who speaks Arabic, pointed them toward a POW
collection camp. During the 1980s, Colton covered the Middle East for
ABC News, Newsweek and National Public Radio.
Knight on the Right. In
late January the conservative Heritage Foundation issued an analysis
criticizing the National Endowment for the Arts for an institutional
bias against religion and "traditional forms of arts and
traditional values in general." The report's author: Robert
Knight, a former "View" and "Calendar"
features sections editor for the Orange County edition of the Los
Angeles Times. First hired as a copy editor in 1982, Knight was
responsible for design and layout when he left in 1989. After a year
with California's conservative Hoover Institution, last fall Heritage
named him its Senior Fellow for cultural policy studies.
Richard Klein, a reporter with U.S. News & World Report
during 1988 and 1989, has joined the staff of Senator Frank Lautenberg.
He now holds the title of Special Assistant to the liberal New Jersey
Democrat....On the House side, Robert Maitlin has
become Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Public Works and
Transportation Committee, Congressman Robert Roe. Maitlin held the same
position at the Science, Space and Technology Committee which Roe had
chaired the past four years. Until becoming Press Secretary to the
Democratic Congressman in 1979, Maitlinserved as Washington Bureau Chief
for the Newark Star-Ledger.
NBC's Cable Connector.
NBC Cable, operator of the Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC),
bought the bankrupt Financial News Network (FNN) from Infotechnology in
early March. NBC plans to merge the two services into one headed by NBC
Cable President Thomas Rogers, Senior Counsel from
1981-1986 to the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance
chaired by then Congressman Tim Wirth, a liberal Democrat.
Bush Workers. Two media
veterans have joined the White House team. Dorrance Smith,
Executive Producer of ABC's Nightline since late 1989 and of This
Week with David Brinkley for most of the 1980s, has come aboard as
Assistant to the President for Public Affairs. Smith will coordinate
relations with reporters outside Washington. During the Ford
Administration, Smith worked in the White House advance office....Washington
Times Editorial Page Editor Tony Snow was named
chief speechwriter in late February. Before jumping to the Times
in 1987, Snow served as Deputy Editorial Page Editor of The Detroit
Most Palestinians supported Saddam
Hussein in the Gulf War, and as The Boston Globe reported,
"They cheered from their rooftops when Iraqi missiles fell on
Israel." That violent hatred was only one factor ignored by NBC's
Dennis Murphy when he retraced the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict
in a February 20 Today report.
Instead of providing a full history of
the region, Murphy presented the Palestinians' historical view as the
only view. He could have at least noted the decades of Palestinian
terrorism and its many innocent victims, but he never mentioned the PLO
or uncomfortable facts like Palestinians killing Palestinians. For this
unbalanced reporting, Murphy earned the March Janet Cooke Award.
Today host Bryant Gumbel set the
tone, announcing: "Foreign editor Dennis Murphy is in Amman, Jordan
this morning with the sad story of a much-abused people....Too few
Americans even understand the plight of the Palestinians, who lost their
home-land after refusing to accept its forced division by the United
Nations." Murphy continued with the 'divided homeland' theme,
declaring, "After the horror of Europe in the Second World War, the
idea of a Jewish state sounded like simple justice. The slogan was 'a
land without people for a people without a land.' But sadly it wasn't a
land without a people, people had lived there for a thousand years, and
they called themselves Palestinians."
It's ironic to speak of 1,000 years of
Palestinian history and ignore 3,700 years of Jewish culture and
civilization based in Israel. The UN's "forced division" of
Palestine came in 1947, when the UN Special Commission on Palestine
suggested the division of the area into two homelands, one for the
Palestinians, one for the Jews. But the Palestinians have never accepted
a homeland for the Jews, apparently preferring "homeless"
status to a peaceful solution for both peoples.
For Murphy, Israel's creation in 1948
equaled the oppression of the Palestinians: "One people moved in,
and another moved out -- 725,000 Palestinians fled to crude refugee
camps. Jewish terrorists had massacred entire families in the civil war.
A mostly peasant culture was overwhelmed."
Once again, the real history wasn't so
simple. First of all, there had been efforts since the 19th century to
reestablish a Jewish state and many Jews had moved into Palestine long
before the establishment of Israel. According to the Near East
Report, 375,000 Jews moved to Palestine between World War I and
World War II. Second, Murphy's emphasis on Jewish terrorists was
bizarrely one-sided: he never mentioned that six Arab nations launched
what Arab League Secretary General Azzam Pasha called "a war of
extermination" in 1948. To call this a "civil war" and
dwell on the death of Palestinians and not Israelis isn't dealing in
history, it's dealing in advocacy.
Murphy told the story of one Palestinian
who "has tried to get home to Jerusalem and his family seven times.
During the war, the Israelis are letting in only a handful of
Palestinians every day, even though the occupied territories of Israel
is where they live." Again, Murphy told one side of the story
without any context: the Israelis are slow to admit Palestinians at
least in part because of their terrorist activities.
Murphy cast the Palestinians as ignored:
"The Palestinians have been asking the world to listen to their
story for four decades now." With a PLO seat at the UN and
international media attention focused on the intifada, the
Palestinians have gotten more publicity than any other group protesting
occupation. Unfortunately, the Palestinians' perverse way of drawing
attention through violence worked. Nations oppressed under the gun for
decades without a voice, like the Baltic nations, may never catch up.
To complete his portrait, Murphy visited
the home of a Palestinian family, the Sroujis, noting their children
"watch the Gulf War along with the cartoons on Israeli TV."
Their mother said in broken English: "From now they are starting
thinking about the West and about the Americans and how bad they are and
how they are killing Arabs and how they are killing children. This thing
is in them from now." Murphy didn't mention what their parents
might not be putting "in them": a respect for democracy, for
innocent civilians attacked by the PLO on buses or planes, or for the
right to disagree with other Palestinians without being killed.
asked Today for the name of someone to discuss the piece and
for a phone number for Murphy in Amman. Our requests went unanswered.
Today spokesperson Lynn Applebaum would not discuss the specifics
of the story, saying only that "NBC News covers all aspects of the
issue, and has a reputation for covering everything fairly."
In the middle of a war, few reporters are
ever given the time to put breaking events into a historical context.
Murphy had the chance, but he blew it.
Time devoted a three-page story to the public's disgust with
media coverage of the Persian Gulf War. But Senior Writer Richard
Zoglin's February 25 piece arrogantly blamed the public for not
understanding the media's role. "It is not surprising that
resentment toward the press has surfaced during a war that enjoys
widespread popular support. The public wants to believe things are going
well. Any report that tends to contradict optimistic U.S.
pronouncements, or support Iraqi claims, casts the press in the role of
Since both liberals and conservatives
have complained, Zoglin declared his profession vindicated: "The
attacks from both sides probably mean that the press is situated just
about where it usually is: in the even-handed middle ground."
Maybe Zoglin should consider one reason
almost everyone is upset with the media: Even when polls show 80 percent
plus believe reporters are doing a bad job, Time refuses to
concede any fault lies with reporting.
SCHIEFFER SCUDS. The
success of the Patriot missiles against Iraqi Scuds spurred calls for
further investment in the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). That
prompted Bob Schieffer to launch a Scud of his own, with about as much
accuracy as the Iraqis. "The problem with all this is that the
Patriot system has very little in common with the Star Wars
concept," he said during the February 2 CBS Evening News.
Actually, the Patriots and SDI share the same mission, which is to use
weaponry to strike down incoming missiles.
Schieffer retreated to the realm of the
ridiculous, arguing: "To be effective against nuclear weapons, a
Star Wars defense would have to be perfect." In fact, SDI was never
intended to be perfect, but rather to save millions who might die in the
absence of strategic defense. Schieffer's main experts were two members
of the (not identified as liberal) Union of Concerned Scientists.
"Critics of Star Wars say that as good as the Patriots have proven
to be, what they have really shown is that no such system guarantees
total security," Schieffer concluded.
GUMBEL GRUMBLES OVER REAGAN.
Today co-host Bryant Gumbel refuses to give Ronald Reagan
credit for anything. "Americans have been dazzled by TV reports of
a wide range of computer and laser guided weaponry being used
successfully against Saddam Hussein," Gumbel announced on January
28. But, he cautioned, "a lot of folks have been simplistically
crediting Ronald Reagan, whose expensive procurements dominated
government spending in the '80s."
After reporter Henry Champ explained how
Jimmy Carter deserved more credit than Reagan for the air war's success,
Gumbel interviewed former Reagan defense official Frank Gaffney and Rep.
Pat Schroeder. Gaffney pointed out Reagan's greatest accomplishment:
sticking by high-tech weapons despite constant congressional naysaying
and funding cuts. "If you look at the Carter staples," Gumbel
countered, "the Carter staples were the cruise missiles and the
Stealth, two weapons that have played a large part in this conflict. The
Reagan legacy is the B1 and Star Wars, which have not."
Despite their obvious effectiveness,
Gumbel asked Schroeder whether the war "has exposed the need for
basic armaments as opposed to high-tech, very expensive toys?"
PACIFIST PUFF PIECES.
Reporters looking for pacifists against the Gulf War wrongly identified
far-left Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Berkeley) as one of them. The March 11
New Republic documented Dellums' support for gun-toting dictators
Fidel Castro and the late Maurice Bishop. Papers captured in Grenada
included a letter that Dellums' top aide, Carlottia Scott, had written
to Bishop: "[Dellums] really admires you as a person and even more
so as a leader....Believe me, he doesn't make that statement often about
anyone. The only other person that I know of that he expresses such
admiration for is Fidel."
Undeterred, USA Today reporter
Richard Wolf, who has lionized Dellums before, wrote on January 18:
"For two decades in the House, Dellums, now 55, has practiced what
his constituents sent him to Congress to preach: pacifist
The Washington Post concurred on
February 20 in a long "Style" section profile headlined
"Ron Dellums, Waging Peace." Post reporter Lois
Romano pointed out that "now he is also so mainstream that his wife
feels the need to explain how difficult it was for her husband to file a
lawsuit seeking to enjoin the President from declaring war." Romano
should know better than to use this dodge: Dellums' personal feelings
have never stopped him from supporting America's enemies.
INCORRECT FREE EXPRESSION.
First Amendment rights are always a favorite issue with the media, but
the Gulf War allowed some reporters to take free expression whining to
new heights. NBC News correspondent Stan Bernard reported the war
inspired "unbridled patriotism," but his February 13 story
focused on how "Americans are also showing little tolerance for the
minority who oppose the war."
Bernard's examples of intolerance? First,
"The Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans last weekend...Woody
Harrelson, the naive bartender on one of America's favorite TV sitcoms,
was to be the Grand Marshal. His invitation was withdrawn after he
participated in this anti-war demonstration in California." Second,
"At Madison Square Garden in New York City, Seton Hall player Marco
Lokar refused to wear an American flag on his uniform. The other players
did. Lokar was booed."
These incidents led Bernard to a
ridiculous conclusion: "With Americans risking their lives in the
Gulf, the right of free expression, a right Americans take for granted,
is taking a beating here at home." Not inviting goofball actors to
the Mardi Gras parade is now an offense against the First Amendment? It
looks like freedom of expression should be reserved only for war
critics, not for those who oppose them.
OUT OF ENERGY. Bush's
energy policy has a fatal flaw in the eyes of NBC News reporters: it
does not force conservation through tax hikes or by mandating smaller
cars. On NBC's Today reporter Henry Champ began: "The
President wants to rebuild America's roads, bridges and airports, but he
doesn't want to raise your taxes. His plan forces the states to do
it." His model: Europe, "where drivers pay a $1.87 gas tax for
clean and safe roads and good mass transit." Champ cited repair
needs, such as in New York City where "the city's East River
bridges are crumbling." Champ's February 13 story failed to explain
how, if taxes are the solution, the region already with one of the
nation's highest tax burdens on motorists could have so many bad
On the February 21 Today,
substitute co-host Katherine Couric snootily remarked: "With a
former oil man in the White House, it should come as no surprise that
the Bush Administration's new energy policy is long on production and
short on conservation." Deputy Energy Secretary Henson Moore
explained how Bush's plan would reduce energy consumption more than it
would increase production.
Couric ignored the point, concluding:
"Well, it remains to be seen if we will ever have a national energy
policy." So, no new massive government regulation means no plan.
PACT FACTS. On February
12, ABC left the war for a moment to announce the end of an era. Peter
Jennings declared: "Another vestige of the Cold War is about to be
buried. The Kremlin announced today that the Warsaw Pact military
alliance will be formally disbanded on the first of April. There's
really not much to disband. When communism folded up in Eastern Europe
the alliance just sort of faded away."
Tell that to the Poles and the Germans.
On the same day, Soviet charge d'affaires Lev Klepatski told the Polish
government that it would not finish removing its 50,000 troops from
Poland before mid-1994. The situation is even worse for Germany, where
the removal of 380,000 Soviet troops will not be finished until 1994.
HOGGING HEADLINES. NASA
global-warming guru James Hansen's annual study of land temperatures
designated 1990 as the hottest year on record. Roy Spencer of NASA's
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, calculated
temperatures by satellite and classified 1990 as only the fourth highest
year in the last ten. Who got more news copy? Guess.
The New York Times, the
newspaper of record, mentioned the Spencer study in a January 10 story
erroneously headlined "Separate Studies Rank '90 as World's Warmest
Year." Reporter William K. Stevens gave four sentences to Spencer,
but more than nine paragraphs to Hansen, dwelling on his quotes and
The February 3 New York Times
Magazine also ran a long Hansen profile that featured the
subheadline: "In 1988 Jim Hansen testified that the world was
getting hotter. But how hot? And how fast?" Spencer, who's
skeptical of detecting global warming from just ten years of data,
doesn't have the alarmist skills necessary to score with reporters.
GUILT BY ASSOCIATION PRESS.
On the night of February 16 Enrique Bermudez, a long-time commander of
the Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters, was shot in the head and killed.
Associated Press correspondent Filadelfo Aleman didn't have much nice to
say about the man who left the security of Miami last year for the
dangers of Managua.
Aleman charged that Bermudez "had
close ties to the late dictator Anastasio Somoza," noting he was
Nicaragua's military attache in Washington when Somoza fell. But as
Council for Inter-American Security fellow Michael Waller pointed out in
The Washington Times, "the post is less of a perk and more
of an exile to keep potentially troublesome officers out of domestic
politics." Even the Carter Administration considered Bermudez an
acceptable post- Somoza military leader.
The AP story also devoted three
paragraphs to detailing allegations Bermudez ordered the 1987 death of
Benjamin Linder, a U.S. activist the Contras reported was wearing a
Sandinista uniform when killed in a firefight. Aleman acknowledged
"a federal judge in Miami threw out the suit in September
1987." So why impugn his memory with the allegation?
"The ACLU takes pride in its consistency, defending virtually every
line in its 582-page policy manual from attacks from both the right and
the left," Senior Editor Ted Gest asserted in his February 18 U.S.
News & World Report profile of the American Civil Liberties
Union. "In that respect, 'we're the most conservative organization
in America,' maintains its Florida director, Robyn Blumner," added
Gest, before he lauded the ACLU's broad client list: "For all the
flak the ACLU takes over unpopular stands like backing war protestors
and gay soldiers, it is applauded by those it helps, regardless of
ideology." Gest cited the ACLU's defense of Reagan aide Lyn
Nofziger, concluding, "With everyone from Nofziger to Nazis
endorsing its cause, the ACLU's prominence as the self-appointed
protector of Americans' basic rights in only likely to grow."
Tell that to pro-lifers. In a November 5
article in the same magazine, columnist John Leo explained how the ACLU
refused to intervene on behalf of demonstrators charged under anti-
racketeering laws: "It seems clear that the influx of single- issue
pro-choice money and members is bending the ACLU out of shape, making it
more a part of the pro-choice movement and less committed to a
GARTNER'S GREAT GUNS.
NBC News President Michael Gartner believes in an expansive reading of
the First Amendment, but not of the Second. In a January 10 Wall
Street Journal column, "Tell Me a Good Reason for
Handguns," Gartner called for Congress to pass "a strong gun
control law." Gartner simplistically argued: "I'm especially
against handguns. I'm against them because they are used to threaten, to
maim, to kill. I'm against them because today, if it is typical, 10
children will be killed by handguns ....I can't think of any reason to
be for handguns."
The January/February issue of The
Quill reprinted Gartner's address to the Society of Professional
Journalists in which he called for broadened First Amendment protections
as championed by liberal Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. Gartner
recalled sitting next to him at a dinner: "It was a pretty big
dinner, and people kept coming up to him and saying, 'How are you
feeling, Mr. Justice?' and he'd reply, 'I can make it two more years.'
Finally, he leaned over to me, and he said: 'You know, that's what they
really want to know. They don't care how I'm feeling. They just want to
know if I can outlive the Reagan Administration.' Well, he did, and
we're all the happier -- and freer -- because of that." Gartner
later referred to the retired Justice as "my hero."
BUDGET DEFICIT ABC'S.
Last November, a MediaWatch study found that
the networks never reported that federal budget "cuts" were
actually just reductions in projected increases. Now one reporter, ABC's
John Stossel, has corrected his colleagues. In a February 15 report on 20/20,
Stossel explained the deal between Bush and Congress: "They
announced a $500 billion plan of tax increases and spending cuts. But
the numbers tell a different story. The numbers show the budget was
reduced from one trillion, 197 billion dollars to one trillion, 477
billion. That's how they count in Washington: 280 billion dollars more
is actually less... These are people who just can't say no."
Stossel cited U.S. Rep. John Murtha
(D-PA) as an example of congressional pork-barreling. Murtha got $10
million to build a drug intelligence center his district, though one
exists in Texas. When Murtha defended himself by suggesting his state
was losing clout in Congress, Stossel replied: "I as a taxpayer say
so what? I don't care if you lose political power in Pennsylvania
....Isn't it kind of like stealing from the public to pay your
friends?" Stossel decided: "When you think that there are 535
in Congress, you can see why we're in debt."
GIANT BIAS. Proving that
the inability to separate opinion from reporting extends throughout the
Time-Warner empire, an item in Sports Illustrated targeted a
pro-life video put out by a football team." Champions for Life,
a 10-minute-long piece of antiabortion propaganda that first appeared 14
months ago, became the subject of controversy last week when the New
York Giants made it to the Super Bowl," began the February 4 item.
"No matter how one feels about abortion, it's hard not to be
repulsed by the video's inflammatory language." What did SI
find particularly repulsive? "Jimmy Burt Jr., the nine-year-old son
of Jim Burt, a former Giant now with the 49ers, looks into the camera
from atop his father's shoulders and says, 'It's great to be
SI ended its critique:
"Apart from questions of taste, there's one further objection. As
columnist Anna Quindlen noted in The New York Times, no women
are heard from in the video." Possibly Time-Warner feels that women
are better served by Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.
Long, Bloody War
SADDAM'S "CAPABLE MILITARY
Thanks to the combination of superior
weapons and brilliant strategy, the predicted bloody, drawn-out ground
war became a hundred hour rout. While just about every
"expert" was proven wrong about it and the air campaign in
which allied planes went nearly unscathed, the media deserve special
focus. As ABC's Judd Rose explained on the January 24 Prime Time
Live, reporters "are really the conveyors of truth in a very
critical time and people need to know that truth."
On the January 4 CBS Evening News
reporter Richard Threlkeld discussed war prospects: "Certainly a
lot of Americans would die, an estimated 2,500 of them in just the first
ten days of battle. American troops would do most of the fighting and
thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of them would be casualties along
with countless thousands of Iraqis, soldiers and civilians."
A week before the war began, on the
January 11 NBC Nightly News, economics correspondent Mike
Jensen warned: "Sometimes war is good for the economy. But war in
the Persian Gulf would send oil prices shooting up and set off a wave of
inflation worldwide and that would be terrible for the economy."
Two days later Washington Post
reporters Molly Moore and Barton Gellman offered this erroneous
analysis: "Navy war planes returning from bombing raids may face
withering fire from allied war ships that mistake the planes for enemy
craft; retreating and advancing allied ground forces may end up confused
and firing on each other."
After describing the U.S. war plan, Newsweek
reporter Charles Lane cautioned: "Some A-10 pilots worry that the
fast-flying F-15E and the Army's gadget-laden Apache helicopter will be
of little use against Iraqi tank columns -- and the Iraqis may be able
to mount an effective low-tech air defense using concentrated machine
gun fire and thick smoke from burning Kuwaiti crude."
During a January 27 NBC special, reporter
Arthur Kent asserted: "Saddam Hussein is a cunning man and no where
does he show that more clearly than on a battlefield when he's under
attack." Anchor Faith Daniels responded: "And that, Arthur,
really seems to be this Administration's greatest miscalculation."
Kent agreed: "That's right, Faith. He is ruthless, but more than
ruthless. In the past 11 days, he's surprised us. He's shown us a
capable military mind and he still seems to know exactly what he's
As the ground war approached, Newsweek
Senior Editor Russell Watson ominously predicted in the February 11
edition: "Saddam Hussein's soldiers are not known for their skill
on attack, but on defense they are among the world's best, and they have
had six months to prepare for this battle. They can be expected to fight
stubbornly, protected by a daunting array of minefields, antitank
ditches and hardened fortifications -- daring their enemies to engage in
the kind of brutal trench warfare that went out of military fashion
after the ghastly slaughter of World War I."
The same week, Time's Bruce
Nelan asserted: "[Hussein] can only hope that the allied troops
will come to him in a frontal assault on his fixed positions. If that
occurs, his troops would almost certainly let fly with shells loaded
with chemical weapons -- mustard gas that sears and blisters, nerve
agents that cause death in minutes, or even biological killers like
anthrax and botulism."
"Remember all that chatter about a
short war? Well, forget it," began a February 4 Time story
by George J. Church headlined "A Long Siege Ahead."
THE BIG THREE IN
"There are lots of things that
you can't report. If you do, you are asked to leave the country and I
don't think we want to do that. I think you do a very valuable service
reporting no matter what you are allowed to report." --
Baghdad-based reporter Betsy Aaron on CBS This Morning,
Aaron's damn-the-content attitude best
represented network reporters' reaction to criticism of Baghdad
coverage: What they said from Baghdad didn't matter, so long as they
were there to say it. CNN's Peter Arnett drew most of the criticism, but
to determine the quality of journalism viewers received from the three
broadcast networks, MediaWatch analysts viewed
every ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC
Nightly News news story originating from Baghdad from February 1 to
February 27, the day the Allies ceased offensive action.
After analyzing all 45 stories, MediaWatch
determined: 1) The correspondents reported on Iraqi opinion without once
suggesting the possibility of opposition to Saddam Hussein. 2) In
one-third of the stories, reporters described, without challenge, Iraqi
battle claims. 3) The reporters spent more time dismissing concerns
about Iraqi censorship than explaining how it might impair the flow of
Iraqi Opinion. Reporting
on public opinion in a country where disagreement is a crime is tricky
business, to say the least. But much like the networks' inaccurate
reporting from Eastern Europe and Nicaragua, no reporter ever suggested
that Iraqis didn't support Saddam. Out of 34 talking heads, 31 of them
(totaling 4 minutes and 16 seconds) struck a defiant pose in support of
Saddam and against the Allies. Only three talking heads on ABC, which
totaled 17 seconds, were somewhat ambiguous. Instead, they usually
offered phrases beginning with "Everyone here told us..."
Witness the BBC's Jeremy Bowen, reporting for NBC on February 16:
"The people we met blamed the Americans for continuing the
war." The people we met? A more honest description would be
"the people they allowed us to interview." Bowen went on to
claim: "The air war itself, as it goes on, has shown no sign of
diminishing Saddam Hussein's support here."
Anti-Saddam sentiment was not a secret.
In the February 11 New Republic, journalist Michael Kelly
recalled how ABC cameraman Fabrice Moussus was told by a minder from the
Ministry of Information: "We do not like this government. I am
afraid Iraqis will be killed, but we hope [the allied forces] will hit
the government areas and help us get rid of the government."
Only twice did reporters add that Iraqis
were receiving limited information, when ABC and CBS reported that
Iraqis didn't know the details of the Soviet peace plan. Strangely, that
didn't stop repeated reports on CBS and NBC about how Iraqis couldn't
understand why Bush continued the bombing when Saddam had accepted the
Soviet plan. On February 27, Betsy Aaron described the Iraqis' faith in
their leader: "With their city in ruins, what is left on the street
is pride...The average citizen is confused by the politics swirling
around him. He thinks the Iraqi government has made every concession
that it can make for a peace with honor. He believes Iraq is due at
least that, and tonight, this [bombing] is what the allies have to say
to the Iraqis."
Iraqi Claims. Network
reporters forwarded Iraqi claims about civilian or military targets
without challenge in 15 reports, or a third of the time. By contrast,
reporters challenged Iraqi claims only twice. True to their censors,
reporters only aired claims of civilian damage. Only ABC's Bill
Blakemore, on February 19, explained the Iraqis wouldn't allow him to
see or discuss military targets.
NBC reporters were responsible for ten of
the 15 unchallenged reports, or in more than half of their 19 stories.
In his first dispatch from Iraq since January, NBC's Tom Aspell reported
from a village where the Iraqi government had taken him: "The
people [here]...say as many s 80 civilians may have died when the town's
main bridge was attacked by Allied war planes last week....The people
say there are no military sites in the area....There are some here who
think that civilian targets are being bombed simply because the Allied
air forces have run out of military targets." On February 18,
Aspell presented Iraq's claims as true, and the American claims as
dubious: "This morning they showed what's left of the milk factory
bombed here weeks ago. The U.S. is still insisting it's a biological
Aspell took over from the BBC's Jeremy
Bowen, whose reports were even worse. In reporting the Allied bombing of
an "air raid shelter," Bowen repeatedly changed the subject
from whether the "shelter" had a military function to the most
graphic images of the tragedy. When Tom Brokaw asked about possible
military use, Bowen replied: "No, Tom, the only statement I am
picking up about that came from Washington. I was down at the bunker
again today. I saw more bodies being taken out and more bodies of women
and children, lots of small corpses."
downplayed official censorship (six times) more than they mentioned its
effect on their reporting (twice). At the site of the
"shelter" bombing, NBC's Jeremy Bowen claimed: "We were
allowed complete freedom of movement in the dormitory. There were no
restrictions," and "None of this was set up for our
cameras." At the end of one report, Bowen even claimed "They
let us film what we wanted. I've a lot more access there than I might
have expected at a similar human tragedy in the West." On February
11, Bill Blakemore reported: "The script process is very normal for
war time....there's not been any kind of heavy censorship in my
experience so far. It's a fairly easy working understanding we
No one offered a better refutation of the
networks' Baghdad reporters than the reporters themselves after they
were forced to leave on March 6. "The one thing people have to know
is that this man, privately, Saddam Hussin, is a hated man," Betsy
Aaron told Dan Rather on March 7. On NBC News at Sunrise the
next morning, Jeremy Bowen conceded: "The message that came from
them very strongly in Baghdad was that they're pretty sick of Saddam
Hussein. They don't like the man, they don't like what he's done to
their country, and they'd like to be rid of him."
Now that it's over, the networks should
wonder: what value did their Baghdad reports have? In retrospect, the
information that came out was often one-sided, incorrect, and only
furthered misunderstanding. Those who championed the people's right to
know mostly provided the people with the opportunity to be misled.
Some of the networks were also sloppy
about warning viewers what was censored. While CBS never lacked some
kind of warning, ABC and NBC put on seven reports without censorship
warnings. An additional 14 stories came without anchor warnings,
notifying the viewers only on the screen.
Peter Arnett's defenders insist he's a
veteran war reporter, able to distinguish between truth and propaganda.
How would they explain these incidents?
Live on CNN the morning of February 1,
Arnett reported on his trip to see alleged civilian damage caused by the
Allies: "While we were there, a distraught woman shouted insults at
the press and vented anger at the West." The woman shouted in
English: "Mea culpa! Mea culpa! All of you are responsible, all of
you! Bombing the people for the sake of oil! Hunted as if we are
Iranian! We are human beings! Who made this area like this? The flames
in the area, it's the West! Mea culpa, the blood, she is on your
CNN aired the video of the
"distraught" woman 12 more times over the next two days. Eight
days later, on February 8, CNN conceded it had been duped, but the
correction only aired four times. As anchor Bobbie Batista announced:
"The woman is said to be the assistant to Iraq's Undersecretary for
Foreign Affairs." One footnote: Newsweek reported the
woman "also showed up on French TV wailing in French."
In a February 6 CNN report Arnett
detailed his visit to a hospital full of wounded, including "a
Bedouin youth who said he was tending his sheep when a low-flying
aircraft chased him across the field and wounded him in the arms and
legs with gunfire."
"Preposterous," former Reagan
defense official Sven Kramer told MediaWatch.
"If it was a soldier with a Sidewinder missile, perhaps a pilot
would have cause to take after an individual. But if it's a shepherd
standing in a field among his animals, I can't imagine that the pilot
would waste the ordnance."
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe