Thursday, March 23


I'm amused at the brouhaha surrounding the Bushies' attempt to blame the media for declining support for the war in Iraq. The media, say Bush, Cheney and their mouthpieces, only broadcast the bad news from Iraq and neglect to cover hospital openings, soldiers giving chocolate to children, etc.

It's the issue of the moment, getting extraordinary coverage because the media themselves are the story. Journalists are seething at the criticism (perhaps in part because they feel betrayed, considering that they took a big hit to their credibility by their cheerleading for the administration for so long). Talking heads bemoan the graphic scenes of violence we see beaming from Iraq to our TV screens, pretty much agreeing that with images like that every day, it's inevitable that public sentiment would turn against

Has everyone forgotten '66 - '72?

In my adolescence it was a family routine to have supper every evening after the 5:00 network news. My dad, a retired Air Force officer who had a second career in the Social Security Administration, was vitally interested in politics, and we'd spend about half the meal talking about family and local stuff and the other half discussing the news and current events.

Night after night after night a portion of the TV news was given over to the Vietnam War. Correspondents reported from the heart of the jungle as American soldiers crept about on missions, engaged in firefights with the Cong and were carried off, wounded or dead, on stretchers. Cameras came in close enough to identify the soldiers' faces, so families with boys in country glued themselves to the set every night to try and get a glimpse of their loved one, praying that he wouldn't be one of the ones wrapped in bloody bandages. We watched the self-immolation of monks in the streets of Saigon and followed Vietnamese villagers down endless narrow roads that seemed like mere paths worn through a jungle of high grass and bamboo. We saw countless mothers carrying bleeding children, the effects of napalm on children, we saw a South Vietnamese general put a bullet through the head of a bound, kneeling Vietcong. I can run memories of those images through my mind like a newsreel, they are still so vivid. Sometimes they come in full color. Sometimes, as in the film Sin City, they're in black and white ... except for the blood, which in my memory is always bright red.

That was the face of war, it was death and pain and suffering and it was thrust in ours every single day and night. And yes, it was finally enough to diminish public support for the war.

What violent images do we see of the Iraq war on TV? We see clouds of smoke, which we're told are the result of bombs. We see on the streets of Baghdad mangled metal that we're told are the effects of a suicide bomb. We see soldiers on patrol in crumbling cities. We see grainy footage of hostages but if it wasn't for the Internets we'd never see the really grisly stuff like Nick Berg's beheading and the Abu Ghraib abuse photos and videos. But what's obviously omitted from television news are the images of bleeding wounded troops and the coffins of the dead. We don't see piled-up bodies and corpses laid out on the ground in nice neat lines.

The media has bent over backwards to provide "balanced" coverage of this war, and while they could hardly be expected not to report on the security situation they have routinely followed those reports by repeating the Pentagon's official statement of the day. It's undeniable that the principal media aggressively promoted the Bush line in the runup to the war and offered scant exposure to opposition views.

Nearly all broadcast (radio as well as television) news-related shows have devoted endless hours to the issue of bias in the media throughout the entire tenure of the Bush administration. This is not a new issue, it's a time-honored basic Republican tactic to accuse the media of liberal bias, and I'm not sure why it's taken such dramatic hold this week. But I suspect that journalists, having guilty consciences for carrying water for the Bush agenda for so long, feel betrayed that BushCo seems to have made a tactical decision to divert attention from their utter failure in foreign policy with a blame-the-media campaign. Their indignation is useful because it's resulting in the airing of reviews of some of the more unpleasant moments of the Bush Era -- America needs reminding! -- and an increased tendency to fact check the administration. But it also seems misplaced. It makes me think of a criminal who, guilty of murder but not charged with the crime, is incensed at being accused of a robbery he didn't commit.

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