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Parties to the Conflict

From The Daily Star (Lebanon)


April 8, 2003

GVNews.Net Daily World

By Rami G. Khouri

The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Between the biases, distortion and cheerleading of American and Arab television coverage of the Iraq war, a viewer of both U.S. and Arab broadcasts can piece together a picture of what's really happening on the ground and in the minds of viewers. It's not a pretty picture.

BEIRUT, Mar 27, 2003 -- To fully understand this war and its consequences, it's necessary to watch both Arab and American television.

For different reasons, Arab and American broadcasters provide a distorted, incomplete picture of the war in Iraq -- while accurately reflecting emotional and political sentiments on both sides.

Every day I scan through 20 different Arab and American TV services. This is a painful exercise, because the business of reporting and interpreting the serious news of war has been transformed into a mishmash of emotional cheerleading, expressions of primordial tribal and national identities, overt ideological manipulation by governments and crass commercial pandering to the masses in pursuit of audience share and advertising dollars.

American television tends to go heavy on the symbols of patriotism. American flags flutter as part of on-screen logos or backdrops, while emotional collages of war photos are used liberally at transitions between live reporting and advertising breaks. American TV tends to reflect the pro-war sentiments of the government and many in society. You see and hear it in the tone of most anchors and hosts; the endless showcasing of America's weapons technology; the preponderance of ex-military men and women guests; the choice to rarely show Iraqi civilian casualties, but highlight U.S. troops' humanitarian assistance to Iraqis; and reporters' and hosts' use of value-laden and simplistic expressions like "the good guys" to refer to American troops.

The most unfortunate and professionally disgraceful aspect of U.S. television coverage, in my view, has been the widespread double assumption that Iraqis would offer no resistance and would welcome the American army with open arms. Some Iraqis will surely do so, but most people in this region now see the Americans as an invading force that will become an occupying force. The American media reflects widespread American ignorance about what it means to have your country invaded, occupied, administered and retooled in someone else's image.

Americans know that their impressive military strength will eventually prevail on the battlefield, yet they appear totally and bafflingly oblivious to the visceral workings of nationalism and national identity. I have seen no appreciation whatsoever in America for the fact that while Iraqis generally may dislike their vicious and violent Iraqi regime, the average Iraqi and Arab has a much older, stronger and more recurring fear of armies that come into their lands from the West carrying political promises and bags of rice.

Arab television channels display virtually identical biases and omissions, including: heavy relaying of film of the worst Iraqi civilian casualties; interviews with guests who tend to be critical of the United States; hosts and anchors who jump to debate rather than interview American guests; taking Iraqi and other Arab government statements at face value with little probing into their accuracy; and highlighting the setbacks to the attacking Anglo American forces, by means that include showing film of captured or dead troops.

We in the Arab World are slightly better off than most Americans, because we can see and hear both sides, given the easy availability of American satellite channels throughout this region; most Americans do not have easy access to Arab television reports, and even if they did they would need to know Arabic to grasp the full picture.

Two days ago, I better understood the need to see images from both sides. Arab television stations showed pictures of dead and captured American troops, many of which were eventually shown on American television. But Arab channels the same day also showed a horrifying picture that did not get into American TV: a small Iraqi child who had died during an American attack, with the back of the child's skull and head missing. The picture was as gut-wrenching and disgusting to Arabs as the pictures of the dead Americans were to Americans.

You had to see both images simultaneously that day to fully grasp the three most important dimensions of this conflict, in my view: one, the terrible tragedy of human loss and suffering on both sides; two, that this was a deliberately chosen American war that could and should have been avoided; and, finally, that we have only started to witness the human, economic, and political costs that will be paid by many people and countries before this adventure plays itself out.

If you're getting your news and views from either Arab or American television, you're getting only half the story.

-- Rami G. Khouri is a political scientist and executive editor of the Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon.

From Gulf News


April 7, 2003

Crisis Capsule
Media Wages a War of Its Own

By Tanya Goudsouzian and Shadiah Abdullah

Gulf News

DUBAI, Mar 25, 2003 -- As the U.S.-led forces continue to pound on Iraq, TV networks battle to win international public opinion amid allegations of censorship, bias, incitement and sensationalism.

Arab media have been accused of breaking international conventions by showing American war prisoners and inciting anti-West sentiments, while Western media have been charged with censoring images of civilian casualties and toeing the line of the American administration.

In the Arab world, CNN has lost much of the viewership it had amassed through its coverage of the Gulf War in 1991. Arab viewers now prefer to switch on Arab news networks for what they feel are uncensored images of atrocities committed by U.S. forces during the past few days.

While CNN and BBC broadcast sedate images of Kurds finding shelter in dank caves and refugees huddled in tents, Dubai-based Al Arabiya and Qatar-based Al Jazeera, among others, feature grotesque shots of splattered blood and charred flesh.

The shocking image of a baby with half her face burnt off, and another child with his brains blown out was played up by the Arab media, but the Western press, particularly CNN and BBC, continued to project a sanitised Hollywood-like version of war - spectacular explosions, billowing smoke, and shaky cameras.

The images shown on Arab TV have an explosive impact on Arab public opinion, much to the dismay of U.S. and British officials.

Western channels, notably CNN, have come under fire for not only following, but also promoting American policy, serving as "apologists" for a unilateral war on Iraq waged without a UN mandate, and censoring graphic images of the civilian carnage.

And then there is the matter of journalists stealing the show.

No sooner did the U.S. wage their offensive on Baghdad on March 19, "daredevil" journalists, mainly from the West, had copped a greedy share of the limelight.

First person accounts of journalists' own experiences in warzones have long been the bane of sober political analysts, who regret that sensationalised tales of adventure should eclipse the reality on the ground.

As such, critics would argue foreign correspondents reporting on the war in Iraq have broken a cardinal rule of journalism by becoming a part of the story they are sent to cover.

Their confrontations with the "big bad" Iraqis, and their subsequent expulsion from the country, has generated more news coverage than the suffering of innocent civilians, including women and very young children.

The tragic death of one Australian journalist in Halabja has received more attention in the Western press than the carnage left behind by U.S. forces when they attacked Basra in southern Iraq.

In a telephone interview with Gulf News, Tony Maddox, Senior Vice President of CNN International Europe, Middle East and Africa, vehemently rejected these allegations and insisted that they "do not seek to spare any images which we think are essential".

"We broadcast what we get. When we get access to these images, we show them. It is in everyone's interest to see the nature of the situation," he said.

However, he conceded that "certain judgements on taste and decency" are made in the editing room, so as not to show "gratuitous images of pain and suffering". "The fact is, we do not seek to sanitise," he said.

But their efforts have not been helped "by the Iraqi authorities ordering our team out of Baghdad", he continued.

Maddox maintained that it is "every bit our intention" to show as full a picture possible, and that their team is made up of "the most respected journalists in the world" who are "risking their lives to tell the story accurately with editors measuring the accuracy of their language..."

Maddox also dismissed the so-called "independent correspondents": "Those people who say it isn't true don't know any better if it is true or not."

Al Jazeera, for its part, has been accused of being "hostile" and inciting the Arab masses against the West by showing an abundance of footage of dead Iraqis.

Jihad Ali Ballout, Head of Communications and Media Relations at Al Jazeera, told Gulf News: "We are in the business of reporting facts reflecting whatever is happening on the ground. We are not in the business of dressing up information to please anybody."

He underlined Al Jazeera's commitment to showing both sides of the story, and allowing viewers to "form their own opinions. If you recall just after we showed the footage of American troops, we went even further and featured an interview with the mother of one of the war prisoners," he said.

Ballout dismissed charges that Al Jazeera often sensationalises the news, and misleads the public. "If we were to dress and doctor information and hide the facts, it is only then that they can credibly say that we mislead the public. We did not create the pictures. We did not start the war. We are just reporting what happens..." he explained.

"People should realise that war is ugly by nature. It creates carnage, death and destitution. Al Jazeera will not be a tool in anybody's propaganda war. In other words, we report what we see, and do not report what we are told to report!"

Ballout denied that the channel has a pro-Iraq leaning, rather than a neutral position. "We have proved that we strive to achieve balance as much as possible. When we started in 1998, we were accused of being an Israeli front, then of being CIA-backed, and then supported by Osama bin Laden. We are a station that chases news. We deal in news and not politics."

Salah Najm, Director of News at Al Arabiya, rebutted claims that the channel has surrendered its war coverage to American interests. "We are trying to be as objective as possible without forgetting that we are Arabs. But it is up to the public to judge us," he told Gulf News.

"Because we are Arabs we will look at things with Arab eyes from an Arab viewpoint. Those who accuse us should present the evidence. We have shown all the footage that is being shown by the other channels without censor."

During the war in Afghanistan, he said some Arab channels made it appear as though the Taliban would emerge victorious.

"This was later proved to be wrong. We should give an objective view without misleading the public. Sometimes the truth may be painful to swallow, but we consider ourselves the best friend of the viewer. There is an old Arabic adage: Your friend is the one who tells you the truth," he said.

Gulf News, 2003. Distributed in partnership with Globalvision News Network (www.gvnews.net). All rights reserved.

From Time Magazine



The Arab networks are not without bias, but they often fill in missing pictures from the war


TIME, APRIL 7, 2003

IN THIS WAR, THE MIGHTY BUT MERCIFUL allies target bombs carefully and tend to the enemy's wounded. In that war, the allies blow up women and babies. In this war, Iraq is postponing certain defeat by cheating, killing civilians and using human shields. In that war, a weak nation is steadfastly defending itself using the only effective means available. This war, on American television, is alternately "the war in Iraq" or "Operation Iraqi Freedom." That war, broadcast by the media of the Arab and Muslim worlds, is "the invasion."

It is hardly unusual for two camps to see the same war differently. But in 1991, Western, Arab and Muslim audiences used their rooting interests to filter the same source: American TV. This time, Arab audiences and Muslims outside the Middle East have homegrown TV networks to reflect their perspectives and, sometimes, bias-Qatar's widely known al-Jazeera, available on some U.S. satellite and cable systems; Al Arabia; Abu Dhabi TV, and more. (You probably watch them too-American TV uses rebroadcast deals to pick up selected footage.) Arabs and Muslims distrustful of Western media-like Turkish students and professors who burned a TV last week to protest CNN's "one-sided" coverage-are happy to have their own alternatives. "We saw [Gulf War I] through the eyes of Peter Arnett" says Nabil El-Sharif, editor in chief of Jordan's AdDustour newspaper, referring to a war correspondent for CNN in 1991. "Now we're seeing the war through Arab eyes.'

Arab eyes were a crucial consideration in planning Gulf War II. Its targets and tactics were chosen to avoid stirring up antiAmerican sentiment. But that strategy has not led to friendly coverage on Arab and Muslim TV or a warm reception from its audiences. Like U.S. TV, the Arab networks show briefings, sound bites from George W Bush 3 and Tony Blair, allied advances and even interviews with coalition troops (al-Jazeera has a reporter embedded with U.S. forces). But they also show charred bodies lying beside gutted cars. Cameras linger over dead allied soldiers and bandaged Iraqi children. Mourning families wail, and hospitals choke with bleeding and burned civilians. If the war on American TV has been a splendid fireworks display and tank parade punctuated by press conferences, on al-Jazeera et al., war is hell.

For its grisly pictures and aggressive coverage of the coalition, al-Jazeera in particular has been treated as a fifth column in the West. U.S. and British officials condemned it for airing footage of allied rows' corpses, and the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ have ejected al-Jazeera reporters. Hackers attacked its English language website, replacing it with a red-white-and-blue U.S. map and the slogan LET FREEDOM RING. What better motto for people who shut down a news outlet? Arab media observers see some slant in the Arab networks' language and image choices, but they also see bias in Western TV, with its reliance on Administration and military talking heads and flag-waving features like MSNBC's pandering "Americas Bravest" wall of G.I. photos. Arab networks play to their audience too, which in their case means skepticism of allied claims, lots of tear jerking, and talking heads who doubt American motives and prowess. "Arab commentators don't dare say Iraq will lose the war," says Musa Keilani, editor in chief of Jordan's Al-Urdon newspaper. But, says Abdullah Schleifer, a professor of TV journalism at the American University in Cairo, al-Jazeera has become "more detached and balanced" since the days after 9/11, when it portrayed Osama bin Laden as a noble Arab champion.

Indeed, straight news on the Arab networks in many ways offers viewers a more complete and inside look at the war than US. TV does. They are given greater access by Baghdad, which sees them-as it saw CNN in 1991-as a conduit to the outside world. With more reporters and cameras in Iraqi cities, Arab networks often have better camera positions on aerial attacks and show much more of what those pretty explosions wreak bloodily on the street. U.S. TV tends to treat civilian victims in the context of showing allied medics helping them, and some of its coverage of the war's effects on civilians is insultingly picturesque. ABC's Peter Jennings narrated a travelogue-like "portrait gallery" that included a still image of healthy Iraqi kids walling in the rubble. "Don't you always wonder," he intoned unctuously, "what the children are thinking?" On the Arab networks, there's little need to wonder. "Arab channels know [graphic] images address the core consciousness of their viewers,' says Issan Mousa, professor of media studies at Yarmouk University in Jordan. "For the Arab audience, Arab and Muslim networks cover many of the same stories as Western TV, but with notable differences." Political and cultural considerations aside, Arab viewers have other reasons to trust these networks. They have often had more accurate information. U.S. networks and the BBC reported a revolt against Iraqi troops by Shiite Muslims in Basra last week, airing video of allied forces firing supportive artillery into the city. On Fox News, anchor Neil Cavuto crowed, "Don't look now, but the Shiites have hit the fan!" But al-Jazeera had a correspondent inside Basra, which appeared relatively orderly-quiet streets and groups chanting pro-Saddam slogans. Later the Western networks backpedaled. And for four days after U. S. TV said the allies had taken the port city of Umm Qasr, al-Jazeera correctly reported resistance there.

Though satellite dishes are common in Arab cities, many people watch TV at restaurants and cafes, where the communal mood takes shape. At the Ajyad restaurant in Amman one recent lunch hour, that mood was dark. On two 36-cm TVs, al-Jazeera carried video from a Baghdad market hit by missiles. As Iraqis pulled the mutilated dead from the rubble and the camera lingered on a boy with blood streaming from his head, waiters paused, holding their steaming plates of lamb stew. "This blood must be avenged;' taxi driver Ata Ali said angrily. "We will see pictures of American children bleeding like that, God willing." "God willing," responded his friends. The diners sniggered at American "softies" chafing at the desert conditions and disparaged White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer, who is Jewish. "This just proves the Jews are behind this war," said Nabil Abu Maazin, an electrician. Another man said he sometimes watches CNN. "It's very boring;' he said. "They never seem to talk to real people, only experts. The Arab channels show you real people and how the war is affecting them."

In fact, Western and Arab media are driven by the same imperative-to feed the hunger for human interest. Their interests are simply in different humans. On U.S. TV it means press conferences with soldiers who have hand and foot injuries and interviews with rows' families, but little blood. On Arab and Muslim TV it means dead bodies and mourning. History will have to sort out many points on which Western and Middle Eastern TV differ: how effective the allied war effort is, how warmly Iraqis will receive its results and which media are most accurate and neutral. What we do know is that war is a horrible thing in which people die horribly. So far, there is no question which networks own that story. -Reported by Aparisim Ghosh/Amman, Amany Radwan/Cairo and Pelin Turgut/Istanbul.

From The International Herald Tribune


WAR IN IRAQ Telling the story

Reporters get new tools to cover conflicts, but old problems remain

By Julie Salamon

Monday, April 7,2003

Listening to old Murrow broadcasts is a reminder that war has always been a chaotic, confusing and dangerous story, seen by the reporter through a narrow lens. Murrow brought clarity to his listeners through intelligent assessment of what he saw.

"A row of automobiles, with stretchers racked on the roof like skis, standing outside of bombed buildings," he said in 1940, describing the bombing of London. "A man pinned under wreckage where a broken gas main sears his arms and face."

Today's television broadcasts unfold not like narratives, edited for sense, context and continuity, but like animated Cubist paintings with sound and multiple images appearing simultaneously.

"Back in the Middle Ages when I covered wars you had reflection time - you weren't winging it," said Morley Safer of the "60 Minutes" program on CBS, who covered the Israeli-Egyptian conflict in Suez in 1956 and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. "Now, suddenly you're on, and you have to say something. You can only describe what you can see in the very, very narrow field of vision that you have. They have a hell of a lot more people covering these live wars than we had. But we had time to check things out."

In all wars the field correspondents by necessity offer a keyhole view, its range determined by access and censorship. Pyle, like other correspondents in World War II, was required to submit dispatches to military censors, while today's reporters are not. (Although the reporters traveling with troops are subject to restrictions).

But the context of World War II - a global war with a moral imperative against a clear enemy, where the reporter and the soldier were both unlikely to question the rationale - fell apart quickly in Vietnam. That conflict produced widespread dissent at home and changed the perspective and even the role of the war reporter. Skepticism replaced solidarity, and reporters made their reputations by digging out the contradictions of the war.

In the Iraq war, the U.S. policy of assigning journalists to live with the troops, or "embedding" them, could be seen as carrying on the tradition of Ernie Pyle - or as a method to manage the news and restore the sympathy between reporter and soldier.

The policy, some critics argue, is an effort to make the press a cheerleader again for U.S. soldiers and to demoralize an enemy with live pictures of American might.

Traveling with U.S. troops in World War II, the war correspondent Ernie Pyle brought home the horror in unadorned prose. "There is nothing left behind but the remains - the lifeless debris, the sunshine and the flowers, and utter silence," he wrote from Normandy in 1944. "An amateur who wanders in this vacuum at the rear of a battle has a terrible sense of loneliness. Everything is dead - the men, the machines, the animals - and you alone are left alive."

Pyle himself was killed in action and mourned as a hero. Combat journalism has changed since then, but so has warfare. Technology has significantly altered how wars are waged and for how long, the tools reporters use and how audiences receive the news. Edward R. Murrow, standing on rooftops in London watching German bombs fall, sent word pictures by radio; today's television correspondents transmit live images. Now there are multitudes of channels, as well as the Internet, barraging the home front with information and supposition, some of it reliable, some not. But has this made war more comprehensible or less? Is the war correspondence any better?

Being a war correspondent has been difficult and dangerous but also romantic, and romanticized. Michael Herr, in "Dispatches," a book drawn from his Vietnam reporting, wrote of the press corps reporting on the war: "It included young marrieds, all kinds of girl reporters, a lot of Europeans, the Ivy-League-in-Asia crowd, the Danang bunch, the Straights and the Heads, formals and funkies, old hands (many of whom were very young) and even some tourists, people who wanted to go somewhere to screw around for a while and happened to choose the war."

A similar variety has gathered now: the veterans of other wars, the gonzo adventurers and the gee-whiz commentators who seem surprised to be seeing bombs explode. It is too early to tell what kind of job they are doing. But as in other wars, death is an occupational hazard. Four journalists have died - two Britons, an Australian and an American, Michael Kelly, an editor-at-large for The Atlantic Monthly and a columnist for The Washington Post.

So far in this war, context has often become submerged in a swamp of unfiltered detail. In today's information free-for-all it is possible to watch not only television outlets in the United States, many of them round the clock, but also foreign outlets like the BBC or France's TV 5.

AI Jazeera, the Arabic satellite channel, is available on the Internet, as are reports from newspapers around the world. Some correspondents write one thing for their employers and then file additional unedited personal reports on the Internet in Weblogs, diary-like accounts that tend to be more opinionated. "So many stories start out as rumors, gain some credence because they have been reported, and then turn out to be rumors after all," said Phillip Knightley, author of "The First Casualty" a sometimes caustic assessment of war correspondents published in 1975 and updated in 2000. "Then these rumors simply disappear without being properly resolved."

Since the secretary of war began handing out press releases to correspondents during the US. Civil War, the American government has tried to manipulate the news. In World War I, which was unpopular in the United States, Congress passed the Espionage Act, making it a crime to interfere with the recruitment of troops or the national defense. The law was used to silence anti-war protesters and to keep the press on a tight leash. In World War II, generally considered a just war, reporters were eager to join the cause.

Then came Vietnam, the first televised war. The government allowed journalists relatively free range and then blamed them for both insufficient patriotism and a failed policy. But for a long time, most of the coverage of Vietnam, while not uncritical, generally supported government objectives. The Tet Offensive in 1968 shattered public confidence in official credibility, when heavy U.S. losses sharply contradicted the optimistic prognosis for the war that had been issued from Washington.

Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchor, said the war was at a stalemate. "If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost America," said President Lyndon ohnson. Kevin Buckley, who arrived in Newsweek's Saigon bureau in February 1968, said, "There were two big questions: How are we doing and what are we doing?"

The "what" often has to do with carnage, human losses the government may not want reported. "Generally the American media is less receptive to hearing the answer to what are we doing, because the answer is often troubling," Buckley said. "In Vietnam terms, a government official would say, 'Ninety-two percent of that province is pacified.' A reporter might take the official to task about the 92 percent without asking the real question, 'What was pacification?' Denuding the countryside of its population. Putting heavy lethal firepower into heavily populated areas."

A stream of conflicts followed: Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada; then the Gulf War, followed by Chechnya and Kosovo. There was the genocide in Rwanda, the struggle in Northern Ireland and the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But none of these approached a major war of national commitment; most did not involve U.S. troops, and even in Kosovo, U.S. ground troops were sent in only after the conflict was over.

Legions of reporters moved through these places, writing and photographing, increasingly armed with the satellite telephones and cell phones that gave coverage an immediacy previously unimaginable. Suddenly it was possible to provide instant testimony from the ground that sometimes contradicted the briefings given from headquarters.

Journalists in such conflicts were more often between sides than with one or the other. They could be the targets of anyone. "You're an antidote to the propaganda," said Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post, who was in Belgrade during the NATO air strikes in 1999. "It puts you in a position where you really have to be objective and detached.

You're reporting to the country that's waging the war, but reporting among the people who are living in it.

"I saw the suffering of Serbian civilians and yet I knew very well the political arguments in favor of the war. I personally couldn't decide between those two things. There are two sides of war, both of which are accurate."

From The Observer


The human face of TV war

Untransmitted footage reveals the fluctuating emotions of troops on the Iraqi front line, writes ITN's Richard Wild.

Sunday April 6, 2003

The Observer

In times of war, television journalism comes into its own. It allows us an immediate sense that we are seeing an accurate depiction of the frontline. A 30-minute TV news programme can take us from pictures of soldiers engaged in severe firefights with Iraqis to troops in berets distributing much-needed water to old men and children. Simultaneously, soldiers bear lethal weapons and hand out sweets to children.

This describes accurately the range of duties expected of the Army in this war, which has had to justify itself as humane in the face of intense public scrutiny. But these are anonymous soldiers. We see warriors fighting silently for causes outside the boundaries of political debate, namely loyalty and duty. It is the reporters or senior officers who tell their story.

My job during the war has led me to a very different image of the troops in Iraq. As one of the ITN team who watches every second of footage taken by a British camera, including all the hours of footage that are never broadcast, I have seen a great deal more of the war than is shown in news programmes.

A TV camera's microphone is never turned off. On these endless audio tracks, moments and feelings are captured that remind us that soldiers are very human, very ordinary people. This has allowed me to listen to the voices of soldiers who may be unaware that they will be heard in an ITN newsroom.

One package, for example, showed a group of soldiers relaxing around a fire at night. They came across as a quiet, reflective group, sharing only a couple of brief words. Off camera, a reporter was asking them to pose to get the shots that would suit his piece.

While the camera continues to run between shots, however, the group lost its awareness of being 'on film', relaxing into a friendship, bantering in nicknames - 'Allie' and 'Macka' - and laughing at the fact they would be 'on the telly'. One jokingly dared another to 'pull a moonie'. He didn't, but, even if he had, it would never have been shown: this is not an image that accords with television troops.

The next day, a striking piece of footage came through of soldiers searching buildings in the outskirts of Basra as the coalition forces established their presence in the area. The camera followed - with its microphone on. The door had to be kicked down to gain entry to one deserted building. Inside, a picture of Saddam Hussein lay on the floor. 'More fucking pictures of Saddam,' muttered a soldier.

The house was searched without finding anything but another closed door. This one would not open on an initial kick and so another soldier tried and tried again as his colleagues whooped and shouted encouragement: 'Come on sunshine', 'Come on, Bondy, have him'. The second kick was almost theatrical in intensity, double-footed with a running leap. It did not budge and they moved out of the house and on. For a moment, these soldiers were teenagers breaking into a scrap-yard or children with a rotten tree trunk.

This scene lasted for a couple of minutes. It did not make any packages, which understandably concentrated on the narration of the fierce battle going on for the rest of the city. But it tells a story of its own. It reminds us that these are not politically correct robots. For a moment, these soldiers digressed from television's description of the meticulous, professional soldier. Whilst undertaking a serious operation they showed themselves as a group of young men in high jinks. Their postures were textbook, rifles held to the shoulder ready for an emergency; it was their voices that gave them away.

In some situations, the soldiers' silence reveals their humanity. As the first Iraqis surrendered on the road to Umm Qasar on the second day of war, a camera was present with the small group of troops who received them. One went out to deal with the prisoner of war. Hesitantly, the soldier made his way forward. In an ITV package that evening, a ten-second clip of the search was used. A sense of time is important. It conveyed the story of surrender succinctly. But it lacked the protracted and awkward scene of the full footage that showed a young man feeling his way into his new position as captor.

Yesterday as ITN fed in footage of troops manning a checkpoint on the road into Basra Bridge, a few shots were fired. The source was not clear at first. Huddled behind a tank, three soldiers discussed where they might be coming from as they watched non-uniformed Iraqis in the far distance: 'What about on top of that dark thing?' one asked. 'He's all right that one,' another reassured him. The shots stopped and the group relaxed again. But after a pause: 'Si... Si... Where are you, mate?'

These were voices of caution, highlighting the teamwork and camaraderie that forms the backbone of small units.

The British Army provides a service whereby soldiers can send brief video messages to their friends and families, which are transmitted on television stations' satellite dishes. These are personal messages and not for broadcast. But as with all footage from these dishes, they come through on our monitors at ITN.

In the obvious sense, these troops immediately become individuals. They stand alone and without helmets in front of the camera. Even seeing their faces intimately is startling.

For many this will have been the first chance in over two weeks to communicate with those close to them. Their messages were to people from their own worlds, to Nan, Mum and Dad, girlfriends, husbands, friends: a wealth of relationships behind the anonymous troops we see on our screens.

War was not the topic, instead reassurances of well being, and hopes of meeting up quickly. Many used the same phrases: 'As you can see I'm safe and well', 'I'll be back soon', 'Miss you loads'. One responded simply: 'Yes, I will marry you when I get back'.

There were a whole range of different accents, a lisp, some lively and fluent, others awkward and laconic. Suddenly the Army could be seen in its raw, constituent parts.

Cameras only follow stories and even this additional footage of the war is limited. It would be far more interesting to be able to sit around a camp at night with a group of soldiers and hear about their real thoughts and feelings. This type of information is inaccessible. The rare moments when soldiers have talked on camera about the campaign have addressed feelings of fear and sentiments that Saddam Hussein needs to be toppled. These are easy, acceptable soundbites both for those making TV packages and for the interviewees stuck in front of a camera.

This gap in our knowledge, however, raises questions about the how far the military atmosphere allows them to think freely about their task and has repercussions for the way that the war is reported.

Last Monday, two soldiers were allegedly sent back to Britain for questioning the legality of the war and whether they should be called upon to shoot innocent civilians. Their lawyer Gilbert Blades claimed that 'as soon as they expressed these views to other soldiers they were then removed'.

The combat zone is not, of course, the place for political debate. Yet without including a day-to-day image of the soldiers, we lack a complete sense of the war experience. Until then it is difficult to see the soldiers as anything beyond executors of government business.

These are not poets, nor warriors but ordinary men and women who, by choice of profession, have left home comforts and freedoms to face great danger. On the whole they remain a mystery and will be remembered after this war by medals, not words.

But it is important when watching fleeting, silent television coverage to remember that beneath the uniforms are people coming to terms with a life of overwhelming intensity. If only we could hear, they manage to preserve their human voice.

Richard Wild is a researcher at ITN.

From The Observer


Sky wins battle for rolling news audience

The satellite network's lead has been fuelled by a new appetite for 24-hour news among British viewers, reports Jamie Doward.

Sunday April 6, 2003

The Observer

Even if, according to the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the 1991 Gulf war didn't exist, there can be no such doubts about its successor. Baudrillard's much quoted thesis, famously espoused in the pages of Liberation, suggested the first conflict - as seen through the prism of the media - came to be depicted as an unreal, imaginary place, a giant video game to the eyes of desensitised television viewers.

But with a multitude of rolling news channels beaming constant images, many of them extremely harrowing, into the UK's homes, this war is terrifyingly, soberingly real. 'The flow of pictures has been exceptional. I've done every war since the Falklands - which didn't have pictures - to Afghanistan, which had pictures but from the wrong places, and this is remarkable, even overwhelming sometimes,' said Rachel Attwell, deputy head of television news at the BBC.

Indeed some critics have gone so far as to suggest the 24-hour news channels are little more than purveyors of 'war porn' for the way they broadcast relentless images shown without context or explanation. Others, such as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, worry that they create information overload - too much reality which could have serious effects on morale.

'Had the public been able to see live coverage from the First World War trenches I wonder for how long the governments of Asquith and Lloyd George could have maintained the war effort. Imagine the carnage of the Somme on Sky and BBC News 24,' Straw said in a recent speech.

One thing, however, is indubitably clear: UK viewers want rolling news and they increasingly want it from domestic broadcasters. All three of the UK's rolling news channels - Sky, BBC News 24 and the ITV News Channel - are experiencing significant increases in audience numbers, while the once mighty CNN seems to have failed to live up to its gilt-edged reputation honed during the first Gulf War.

'People are watching in bigger numbers than they have ever watched before. It's pretty amazing that we reached more than 9 million people last month,' said Steve Anderson, controller of ITV news and current affairs.

'The big difference this time around is technology has got better, lighter, easier to handle and it's cheaper. It's much more effective and so it's not unusual to go straight to live pictures out of, say, Basra. Often the pictures are mundane, but you can cut to it at the flick of a switch, and this war has come much more into people's homes,' Anderson said.

Strangely, though, in contrast to the success of the UK's rolling news channels, CNN is perceived to be having a poor war, at least among British viewers. 'They made a big play of owning it by spending money and devoting huge numbers of people to it, but it looks dated and they haven't got the mix right,' said one executive with a rival broadcaster.

Of the UK rolling news channels, only Sky was around during the first conflict, which may go some way to explaining why it is doing so well in the ratings this time. The BBC's rival channel has just celebrated its fourth birthday while ITV's equivalent is only six months old.

Despite pundits suggesting this conflict would be the making of BBC News 24, Sky has surprised some by remaining firmly ahead in the ratings war.

On the first day of the Iraq war, Sky News - which has an 85-strong team dedicated to reporting the situation in the Gulf - was the most-watched of the three news channels, recording a reach (the number of people watching for at least three minutes) - of just under 6 million. The BBC, by comparison, managed just under 4 million and ITV just under one million. As the week progressed Sky hit 6.1m viewers, the BBC maintained its position and the ITV News Channel doubled its audience.

More impressive, though, was Sky News' share of the overnight audience. On the night war broke out Sky News took 7.52 per cent of the audience, compared with News 24's 2.92 per cent and ITN's 0.82 per cent.

'Like most of these things it's a matter of getting the balance right,' said Nick Pollard, head of Sky News. 'You've got to get the balance between reporting, presenting, explaining, analysis and the total package - the look on screen. We've got more of this right than the opposition.'

Before the war began, Pollard told his staff they needed to focus on two things. 'One, logistics, getting to the story, covering it. And two, the journalism. And if the latter is subsumed under the former we're not doing it right. We've got to make it user-friendly without being trite and we need to be slick. It's what we normally do but writ large.'

The channel believes its decision to drop advertising slots for the first days of the conflict (still only one an hour now) won it plaudits with viewers, although it is debatable how many companies want to advertise during the war anyway. Pollard says the fact that its coverage is anchored in Kuwait and is introduced by two respected heavyweights - Simon McCoy and Emmy-award winning Jeremy Thompson - gives it an authenticity that appeals to viewers. Certainly, some of its coverage has been compelling. The channel points proudly to two notable broadcasts - David Chater's reports from Baghdad as the bombs started to fall and David Bowden's commentary amid the fierce fighting around Umm Qasr.

Sky has fashioned a reputation for breaking big news stories. It claims it was between 10 to 15 minutes ahead of the BBC when it came to reporting September 11 and the outbreak of war.

BBC insiders suggest Sky's attempts to be first have backfired on several occasions, with the channel running stories that were untrue. In its response to the Lambert report into BBC News 24, the corporation hissed: 'We sometimes have a higher threshold for breaking news or a more detailed checking process than our competitors.'

Attwell argues judging coverage by ratings only gives half the story. 'You don't have to be number one to be a success. I would like to think people felt News 24 was a channel of high quality. We have some fantastic correspondents in the field, with a level of expertise the other channels don't have.' In addition she pointed to the way the channel devoted more air time to debating key issues.

All three channels reject claims they simply serve a relentless diet of uncomprehending coverage. But clearly the ratio between rolling news and what else is sandwiched around it depends on the overarching philosophy of each channel and often hinges on a producer's split-second decision. ITV's Anderson said: 'Last Saturday we showed pictures of Iraqis down by the Tigris looking for downed pilots and firing into the water. It was a live event and we went with it - it was an indelible image, but in the end it didn't amount to anything.'

Latest figures show the 24-hour news channels are experiencing viewer fatigue with audiences tailing off. Last week Sky had an average 4m viewers tuning in, more than 2m below its peak. But as the battle around Baghdad intensifies, the news channels face their greatest challenge - and their greatest opportunity.

From The New York Times


In Arab media, war shown as a 'clash of civilizations'

Susan Sachs NYT

Saturday, April 5, 2003

CAIRO It was a picture of Arab grief and rage. A teenage boy glared from the rubble of a bombed building as a veiled woman shrieked over the prostrate body of a relative.

In fact, it was two pictures: one from the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the second from the Palestinian territories, blended into one image this week on the Web site of the popular Saudi daily newspaper Al Watan.

The meaning would be clear to any Arab reader: What is happening in Iraq is part of one continuous brutal assault by America and its allies on defenseless Arabs, wherever they are.

As the Iraq war moves into its third week, the media in the region have increasingly fused images and enemies from this and other conflicts into a single bloodstained tableau of Arab grievance.

The Israeli flag is superimposed on the American flag. The Crusades and the 13th-century Mongol sack of Baghdad, recalled as barbarian attacks on Arab civilization, are used as synonyms for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Horrific vignettes of the helpless - armless children, crushed babies, stunned mothers - cascade into Arab living rooms from the front pages of newspapers and television screens.

For Arab leaders and Arab moderates, supported by Washington, the war has become a political crisis of street protests, militant calls for a jihad and bitter public criticism of their ties to the United States.

While a short war with a minimum of inflammatory pictures of Iraqi civilian casualties had been hoped for, the daily message to the public from much of the Arab media is that U.S. troops are callous killers, that only resistance to the United States can redeem Arab pride and that the Iraqis are fighting a pan-Arab battle for self-respect.

"The media are playing a very dangerous game in this conflict," said Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "When you see the vocabulary and the images used, it is actually bringing everybody to the worst nightmare - the clash of civilizations."

Sensationalism has not gripped all media outlets. Some mainline government-owned newspapers like the staid Al Ahram in Egypt and two of the privately owned international Arabic papers based in London, Al Hayat and Asharq Al Awsat, have reported the war in neutral language.

The biggest influence on much of the media coverage has come from the satellite news channel Al Jazeera. It made its name with on-the-spot coverage of the Palestinian uprising, which also gave viewers an unblinking look at bloody and broken bodies.

Many governments, aware that Al Jazeera is widely considered by Arab audiences to be more credible, have allowed their own stations to run Al Jazeera footage of the war to demonstrate their own anti-war credentials.

The rage against the United States is fed by this steady diet of close-up color photographs and television footage of dead and wounded Iraqis, invariably described as victims of U.S. bombs. In recent days, more and more Arabic newspapers have run headlines bluntly accusing soldiers of deliberately killing civilians.

Even for those accustomed to seeing such images from Arab coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the daily barrage of war coverage in newspapers and on hourly television reports has left many Arabs beside themselves with anger.

"He is 'Shaytan,' that Bush," shouted Ali Hammouda, a newsstand operator in Cairo, using the Arabic word for Satan and pointing with shaking hands to a photograph in one of his newspapers.

The image, published in many Arabic papers, showed the bloody bodies of a stick-thin woman and a baby, said to be victims of American shelling in central Iraq. They were lying in an open wooden coffin, the baby's green pacifier still in its mouth. "Your Bush says he is coming to make them free, but look at this lady," Hammouda exclaimed. "Is she free? What did she do? What did her baby do?"

Fahmi Howeidy, a prominent Islamist writer in Cairo, said the reactions were not necessarily pro-Saddam. "Of course we think Saddam Hussein will not continue in power, but if he resists for weeks, at least he will defend his image as a hero who could resist U.S. and British power," Howeidy said.

"If this happens, we can expect chaos in the Arab world because we don't know how the people who already criticize Arab regimes will express their anger after that," he added.

Since the war began, much of the Arabic press and the private Arab satellite stations have displayed no squeamishness about what they show. War is carnage, the editors have said, so why mute the screams or hide the entrails of the wounded and dead?

"Arabs, like anybody else, don't like the sight of blood or pictures of corpses, but it's a matter of principle that we have the right to know what's happening," said Gasa Mustafa Abaido, an assistant professor of communications at Ain Shams University in Cairo. "What we see in the media is an indirect way for the governments and the public to reject the war."

From MediaChannel




Danny Schechter, Executive Editor of MediaChannel.org



If we ever needed a clearer demonstration of the power of media, we have it now. The battle for media control has moved into the center of the war. Despite the violation of international law associated with bombing a television station, the US forces continue to try to do it in Iraq. Suddenly we are back in the Romania of l989, or the Russia of '91 as the fight for the TV power becomes a centerpiece the campaign to deligitimize a regime.

US forces have been targeting the TV towers in Baghdad the way they did in Belgrade. And they still haven't taken it off the air despite all the cruise missiles, smart bombs, bunker busters, JDAMs and who knows what else, they have thrown at them. At the Centcom briefing this morning-comfortably televised from the million dollar air conditioned media center in Doha by another type of controlled TV-there was suggestions that the Iraqis had built redundant systems anticipating just such an attack. They have also leased time on satellites.


The Media war has moved center stage with briefers describing their own propaganda initiatives, ie. taking over Channel 3, and launching radio stations that Clear Channel communications are likely to pick up for a song when the war ends. As the American TV commentators buzz about whether of not that was the "real" Saddam we saw in the streets with cheering supporters yesterday.

(As for the briefings, here's a disturbing side bar. Last week we cited NY Magazine columnist Michael Wolff's report lambasting the phoniness of the whole Doha disinformation enterprise. When he returned to New York, he reportedly discovered that Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh had been blasting him on the air and calling on his listeners to bombard him with emails. Rush gave out his e-mail address out and his ditto heads dutifully overloaded his computer. So much for freedom of expression.)

No one commented on the contrast between President Bush flanked by cheering soldiers in North Carolina and the Iraqi leaders being embraced by his people in the streets. The Iraqis are showing tapes of what they call martyrs-most recently women with rifles calling for more resistance. Our media calls them suicide bombers as if they are ending their lives for personal, not political reasons. At Centcom, the Major General of the Moment characterizes the entire Iraqi resistance as suicidal because of the disparity in fire power.

He along with US TV sees the war in military terms. The Iraqis and much of the world view it politically. Oddly enough the US administration views it politically too-but in much more self-interested terms as the NY Times reports today: 'The invasion of Iraq has accelerated with stunning speed in less than a week, taking some of the political heat off President Bush." He knows that "winning" the war is a key to winning reelection.


This contrast of images is also seen on TV when you compare CNN's antiseptic and sanitized coverage to Al Jazeera's depiction of a far bloodier conflict. (Al Jazeera is now back in Baghdad after shutting down when a reporter was ousted.) The Wall Street Journal led with a story bout this media war yesterday. Emily Nelson reports:

"The two networks, with unprecedented access to the battlefields of Iraq, are playing a powerful role in shaping perceptions of the war. The gulf between the two views could even have an impact on U.S. policy in the Middle East. A look at 24 consecutive hours of programming on CNN and al-Jazeera reveals the many differences, both dramatic and subtle.

"CNN offers human-interest features with the families of U.S. POWs. Al-Jazeera keeps updating the war's death toll. CNN refers to "coalition forces," al-Jazeera to "invading Americans." CNN viewers expect the latest technology, such as lipstick cameras and night vision, and they get it. Al-Jazeera has had unusual access in places such as Baghdad and Basra, so it could offer its audience a street-level view of the war's impact on Iraqis. CNN's correspondents were all either pulled out or kicked out of Baghdad.

"Many Arabs and Americans believe the other audience is being fed propaganda. But there is more than ideology at work at the two networks. Both are business operations competing for viewers and advertisers against increasingly aggressive rivals and avidly seeking to please their target audiences."


Peter Arnett is also back on the air for Baghdad. AP reports on its former staffer: "Within days of being fired by the U.S. network NBC, Arnett found an unlikely new audience Thursday: the Dutch-speaking - and hopefully English-comprehending - citizens of northern Belgium.

"Thanks Peter Arnett, we are proud to have you on our team," said VTM news anchor Dany Verstraeten after Arnett finished his first report for the private Belgian TV network.

"VTN said it will have daily reports from one of the world's most famous reporters until the end of the war. Also Thursday, a state-run TV channel in Greece said Arnett would soon be providing nightly dispatches for it, too. "this story also shows how TV networks around the world do not share the values and viewpoints of the US based cable news nets."

"Arnett, who apologized for his "misjudgment," told VTM he was a "casualty of the information war." "There are two wars taking place, You have the war of bullets and bombs, then you have the information war," he said. He complained he was making "just obvious statements" about the war that should not have backfired the way they did. "This caused a firestorm in America. I was called a traitor," he said, adding NBC "let me crash and burn."


On the pro-war side of the media war, we have an assessment to share from the Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune who explains what Fox News is doing right. (I used that word knowingly.) "

"They report. We deride.

"We deride Fox News Channel for saying "us" and "our" in talking about the American war effort, a strategy that conjures images of gung-ho anchor Shepard Smith, like Slim Pickens in "Dr. Strangelove," riding a Tomahawk straight into Baghdad.

"We deride Fox for playing ratings politics with the news, turning Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers' public call Tuesday for media to be "fair and balanced" into a back-door endorsement, pointing out frequently afterward that the general had echoed a Fox News marketing slogan. "

This, the folks in the bunker at Fox would argue, is due to the rest of the media's liberal agenda, an agenda Fox News slyly re-alleges with every repetition of "fair and balanced" (the others aren't) and "we report; you decide" ("they" don't give you that chance).

"A less calculatedly paranoid worldview would recognize that scrutiny is the price of success, of the channel becoming, in a sense, the Scud stud of this Persian Gulf conflict. Ratings during the war have confirmed that Roger Ailes' and Rupert Murdoch's upstart operation has become the clear leader in cable news popularity." (Should that be "cheer leader?)

"Fox News has held the lead it built in peacetime by following its well-established and fairly simple recipe: dollops of news reported by comely anchors and correspondents tossed atop a main dish of attitude and argument led by charismatic and right-leaning hosts." This piece is worth studying because Steve is right, knocking Fox or dismissing it is too easy. We need to study its formula and understand its appeal."


Fox is not the only offender of journalistic practice as FAIR points out in a dissection of one incident in which subsequent accounts in newspapers that I cited in an earier column contradicted the initial TV report and the impression it fostered.

"A recent Washington Post article describing the killing of civilians by U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint outside the Iraqi town of Najaf proved that "embedded" journalists do have the ability to report on war in all its horror. But the rejection by some U.S. outlets of Post correspondent William Branigin's eyewitness account in favor of the Pentagon's sanitized version suggests that some journalists prefer not to report the harsh reality of war.

"The Pentagon version was the one first reported in U.S. media-sometimes in terms that assumed that the official account was factual. "What happened there, the van with a number of individuals in it...approached the checkpoint," reported MSNBC's Carl Rochelle (3/31/03). "They were told to stop by the members of the 3rd Infantry Division. They did not stop, warning shots were fired. Still they came on. They fired into the engine of the van. Still it came on, so they began opening fire on the van itself."

"Fox's John Gibson (3/31/03) presented the story in similar terms: "We warn these cars to stop. If they don't stop, fire warning shots. If they don't stop then, fire into the engine. If they don't stop then, fire into the cab. And today some guys killed some civilians after going through all those steps."

But later on the night of March 31, the Post released its story on the shooting that would appear in the April 1 edition of the paper. Branigin's report described U.S. Army Capt. Ronny Johnson's attempts to avoid the incident as he directed his troops via radio from the checkpoint:

"Fire a warning shot,' he ordered as the vehicle kept coming. Then, with increasing urgency, he told the platoon to shoot a 7.62mm machine-gun round into its radiator. 'Stop [messing] around!' Johnson yelled into the company radio network when he still saw no action being taken. Finally, he shouted at the top of his voice, 'Stop him, Red 1, stop him!',,," In short what happened, according to close observers is not quite what was first reported and rationalized.


Across the globe, veteran Israeli journalist Uri Avneri is sounding the same alarm. He, too has coined a word, but you won't hear it on TV. It is "presstitute." He explains: "In the Middle Ages, armies were accompanied by large numbers of prostitutes. In the Iraq war, the American and British armies are accompanied by large numbers of journalists. I coined the Hebrew equivalent of "presstitution" when I was the editor of an Israeli newsmagazine, to denote the journalists who turn the media into whores. Physicians are bound by the Hippocratic oath to save life as far as possible. Journalists are bound by professional honor to tell the truth, as they see it.


Let's go back to that whole issue of civilian casualties, hardly a subject of much media focus. Yesterday, I noted that reference is made to the use of cluster bombs without any descriptions being offered of their lethal weapon. We have all seen the graphics detailing the various planes and their specs. But what about the bombs and there consequences. As it turns out, Pepe Escobar wrote about this yesterday on Asia Times Online (not the NY Times off-line.)

He writes: "Reports from the Hilla region of Iraq, 80 kilometers south of Baghdad, say that scores of civilians, many of them children, have been killed and hundreds more injured by cluster bombs. Gruesome images of mutilated bodies are being shown on Arab television stations. But for Western viewers, this ugly side to the war has been sanitized.

"Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Iraq, describes what happened in Hilla as "a horror, dozens of severed bodies and scattered limbs." Initially, Murtada Abbas, the director of Hilla hospital, was questioned about the bombing only by Iraqi journalists--and only Arab cameramen working for Reuters and Associated Press were allowed on site. What they filmed is horror itself--the first images shot by Western news agencies of what is also happening on the Iraqi frontlines: babies cut in half, amputated limbs, kids with their faces, a web of deep cuts caused by American shellfire and cluster bombs. Nobody in the West will ever see these images because they were censored by editors in Baghdad: only a "soft" version made it to worldwide TV distribution.


What we do see from time to time out of Baghdad are those TV images of Saddam Hussein with many commentators skeptical of when they were videotaped. An explanation for that mystery was offered up yesterday by Albawaba.com. This report suggests that the Iraqis may be more media savvy than they are being given credit for and that Arab news sources are closer to the story. Check this out: "A number of reliable sources inside Baghdad report that two days before the start of the war Saddam disappeared into a hidden command center, in a location unknown even to his ministers. Since then, sources say that Saddam has not met in person with his top ministers, and has not talked to them directly by telephone. His instruction are delivered to them by messengers in writing or in video and audio cassettes. Saddam does not use the telephone or fax, which he believes can be intercepted or tracked by the Americans.

"According to the sources, Saddam Hussein's second son, Qusai is believed to be the only person to know exactly where the Iraqi leader is staying.

"Saddam's own appearances on television are all recordings that were made before the war started, and he has not made any new television appearances since he went into underground. Workers at Iraqi Television spoke of a vault inside the Information Ministry with hundreds of recordings, each inscribed only with two letters and a number. It is said that Saddam decides which of the tapes to air on television by a short note indicating the code of the appropriate cassette. Three different taped recordings for when the Americans are about to enter Baghdad are already waiting at the television, they added, delivered on Tuesday this week." (See GVnews.net)


Sources like these are being believed more than US TV news reports, according to USA Today: "Channel-surf from Britain's BBC to Germany's ZDF, or flip through newspapers from Spain to Bangkok, and one finds stories that tilt noticeably against the war and in favor of besieged Iraqi civilians. Often, these are emotional first-person accounts of visiting hospitals or bombed-out apartments, accompanied by graphic photos of the dead and dying that would never appear in U.S. outlets. "Most Europeans do not support this war, and so the coverage is simply a reflection of that," says Giuseppe Zaffuto, project director at the European Journalism Centre in Maastricht, the Netherlands. For now, it seems much of the world's media still need to be convinced of Washington's position."

We still don't know why al-Jazeera was booted from Baghdad and according to them, at least officially, they don't either. An official statement says: "The Iraqi Information Ministry told al-Jazeera office in Baghdad its decision to ban Diar al-Omari, al-Jazeera's Baghdad correspondent, from practicing his journalistic duties. The decision also included that Tayseer Allouni should leave Iraq as soon as possible. The ministry did not provide any reasons for that decision. Al-Jazeera network is sorry for this unpredictable and unreasonable decision by the ministry." (NOTE; After writing this, I heard a former Al-Jazeera correspondent explain that one of the journalists the Iraqis objected too was considered too pro-Islamic while another, an Iraqi, was deemed insufficently deferential to President Saddam.)


Guess who is going back to the front. The well politically connected Faux News Network seems to have made a few calls and Geraldo Rivera is going back. Reports the NY Post: "The Pentagon says Geraldo Rivera is welcome to go back into Iraq with U.S. troops now that he's "learned his lesson." Quote: "It was a stunning turn-around for Geraldo, who appeared just 24 hours ago to be on the verge of a career meltdown. Rivera's latest gaffe infuriated U.S. war commanders who--at one point Tuesday--threatened to remove him physically from the battle zone if he did not "voluntarily" agree to leave." There were antiwar, anti-media protests yesterday at Fox News HQ in San Francisco.


How does the public feel about the war coverage? TV Guide's Max Robins cites a poll that says they can't get enough. The Gallup people meanwhile offer an opposite conclusion: their poll shows a sharp decrease in the percentage of Americans who rate media coverage as "excellent" since the wargasm coverage began. Say the pollsters: 'Interestingly, those Americans who support the war with Iraq are most likely to rate the media coverage positively. At the same time, war supporters are also the most likely to have downgraded their views of news coverage since the war began, suggesting that this group is most sensitive to how the war is being portrayed.


Ahmed Bouzid writes: "Please consider writing on this alarming bit of news. First the NYSE boots out al-Jazeera reporters, then al-Jazeera's web site is hacked into and brought down, and now they are trying to kick it out of the Dish Network so that the millions who get al-Jazeera here in the US won't be able to anymore. This is truly appalling--especially that it is happening while US soldiers are supposedly dying to spread democracy and free speech..."

Meanwhile the NY Times reports: "In a move sure to complicate the efforts of al-Jazeera, the Arabic news network, to get its English-language Web site running, Akamai Technologies abruptly canceled a contract on Wednesday to provide Web services for the site.

Employees at al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha, Qatar, said they were frustrated by the decision, though not entirely surprised. "It has nothing to do with technical issues," said Joanne Tucker, the managing editor of the English-language site. "It's nonstop political pressure on these companies not to deal with us."

Akamai, based in Cambridge, Mass., would not comment on the reason for the cancellation. But Jeff Young, a company spokesman, issued a statement confirming that Akamai would no longer do business with al-Jazeera." Readers in Cambridge might visit this firm and discuss this "business" decision.

From the New York Times


Reporters in Baghdad are walking a tightrope

Jim Rutenberg/NYT NYT

Saturday, April 5, 2003

NEW YORK As the battle for Baghdad gets under way, Western reporters in the Iraqi capital are engaged in an increasingly delicate dance, trying to portray events and public sentiment accurately without running afoul of the government.

The reporters in Baghdad are more often than not accompanied by jittery government minders, whose very presence prompts Iraqi interview subjects to launch into pro-Saddam Hussein statements. By weaving the few hints of anti-government sentiment they do pick up into their reports, they risk expulsion - or inadvertently sending their interview subjects to prison.

Their efforts have come in for growing criticism. Peter Arnett, the longtime war correspondent, was dropped by NBC News and "National Geographic Explorer" this week after he gave an interview to Iraqi state television in which he said President George W. Bush's war plan had failed.

Some of Arnett's colleagues attributed his appearance to a desire to stay on the good side of his minders.

And then Wednesday night, Britain's home secretary, David Blunkett, speaking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, complained that Western news organizations were treating Iraqi-supervised reports from Baghdad as the "moral equivalent" of those from coalition sources. "We have broadcast media behind what we would describe as enemy lines, reporting blow by blow what is happening," he said. "Those of a progressive, or liberal bent, in my view, are egged on into believing that this is the right way to get to the true facts."

While the remarks were met with a cool reception by American news executives, their counterparts in Britain were more exercised.

"Reports from the BBC's team in Baghdad are a key part of the complex jigsaw that forms the overarching story of the conflict," said Richard Sambrook, director of BBC News in London.

"We just see it as a core journalistic duty to be there, and to have eyewitnesses reporting," he added. Yet correspondents in Baghdad acknowledge that the unvarnished truth is as hard to come by in Iraq's capital as "I-heart-Bush" bumper stickers.

They have had to develop a sixth sense to distinguish between fear-inspired rhetoric and heartfelt emotions.

"There is a community pressure to follow the government line. No one will give you the truth on the street," said Richard Engel, a free-lance correspondent in Baghdad for ABC News. "You can get a sense that you're wasting your time if you're talking to people and they start singing the government's praises and pretending like they're on a pro-Saddam video."

Nic Robertson, a CNN correspondent in Baghdad who was asked to leave Iraq two weeks ago by the government, said: "When minders are around, you can see people have a hard problem opening up and being honest. A lump will rise in people's throats because they know they have to give the right answer."

The presence of the minders, although mentioned in most broadcast reports and newspaper articles, does tilt the coverage. Anger at the allies, and pro-Saddam rhetoric, is reported far more freely than are accounts of brutality and fear.

Baghdad correspondents and their editors acknowledge that this puts the allies at a distinct public relations disadvantage.

But reporters who remain say they are still able to paint an accurate picture of life in Baghdad even as coalition troops move in on the city.

"I feel confident that people are expressing their genuine feelings when they say 'Well, I'm Iraqi, my country is being attacked,'" said Rageh Omaar, a BBC correspondent in Baghdad.

"They'll ask: 'What kind of government am I going to have? Is it going to be run out of Washington and London? That's been interesting reporting and it's important to get out."

Samia Nakhoul, a correspondent in Baghdad for Reuters, said in a telephone interview that she believed the authorities were overwhelmed by the estimated 150 reporters in the country. "Before, you couldn't leave an Iraqi hotel without a minder," she said. "Now you can go, they are so busy, they have too many journalists to accommodate."

The executive producer of "World News Tonight" on ABC-TV, Paul Slavin, said he would try to avoid reading too much into supposed public opinion in Iraq.

"I am as wary of pro-Saddam sentiment as I am of pro-United States sentiment," Slavin said. "If I had a bunch of fedayeen and Republican Guard around me, I'd say, 'Yeah Saddam!' But if I had a bunch of American soldiers around me, I'd say, 'Yeah America!' We're going to try not to draw any broad conclusions out of any of this."

From Reuters


Signs of fatigue in wall-to-wall Iraq TV war

By Merissa Marr, European media correspondent

Friday April 4, 06:54 PM

LONDON (Reuters) - Fed up with endless television images of bombs ripping through Baghdad, soldiers in heated combat and sandstorms sweeping across the Iraqi desert?

From Shanghai to Seattle, the answer is increasingly "yes".

As the Gulf conflict enters its third week, armchair warriors are showing signs of war fatigue after being bombarded with round-the-clock coverage of the U.S.-led march on Baghdad.

Despite dramatic scenes not seen since the Vietnam war, television audiences in many countries are slipping from their peak when the battle began.

Even viewers in the Arab world, who were glued to Arabic news channels such as al-Jazeera at the start of the war, are showing signs of tiring of repeated pictures of bombed-out buildings, bloodied Iraqis and dead soldiers.

"I got bored," said Egyptian tailor Hassan Abdo in Cairo, gesturing to a TV set in his shop showing Arabic music videos. Previously, he watched nothing but news in the initial days of the war.

"I got sick of the same gory pictures and the same depressing news. The only news I want to hear now is that this war is over."

Dubbed the television war from the outset, an army of reporters have served up a constant flow of gung-ho images from the front lines. But many viewers who tuned in eagerly at the start are now turning to sitcoms, game shows and movies.

Media pundits say it's not all over for television though.

"If it gets a bit more dramatic, television will make a comeback. People will want to know about it. In general though, there's been less interest than some channels had expected," said Tom Deitz, media analyst at Merrill Lynch in London.


Despite the tail-off, huge numbers of viewers around the world are still tuning into news programmes and dedicated 24-hour news channels, keeping ratings well above normal.

In the United States, news junkies have given a boost to 24-hour cable news outlets such as the Fox News Channel and CNN after the network broadcasters reverted to regular programming.

European news channels such as Sky News and BBC World have also jumped ahead, while in the Arab world, al-Jazeera has made a big name for itself with sometimes controversial footage.

But news ratings have fallen sharply from their highs. For example, Fox News, the most watched 24-hour cable TV channel in the United States, has seen its average audience fall from 4.39 million viewers when the U.S.-led assault kicked off, to some three million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"I don't want a play-by-play. I want to know when the war is going to be over," said New York-based graduate student Mary Anne Talotta, who initially joined the rush of viewers.

Television companies are also finding the war expensive to report and advertising revenues are not covering the bill.


"Television is great for watching dynamic action over a short period of time and watching events unfold. But viewers lose interest over a prolonged period of time," Simon Baker, media analyst at SG Securities in London, said.

Indeed, viewers have bailed out as the war looks set to drag on and as they struggle to digest an overwhelming amount of information beamed back from the battlefields.

"I watch the highlights and read the papers, and frankly that's all the news I want. It's tiring and I just want it to finish," Egyptian housewife Maha said.

Some viewers are switching off altogether.

"Eventually, there comes the stage when we go home and don't turn on the television. Because you know, more or less, what is happening already. Same names, same bridges, same offensive," Israeli talk show host Yehoram Gaon said on Israel Radio.

From The Christian Science Monitor


War coverage a tough balancing act for Egypt TV

By Danna Harman | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

April 04, 2003 edition

CAIRO - Minutes before the afternoon program at Nile News, dozens of mobile phones ring all at once, unanswered. Women in head scarves surf Google's Arabic news site. A technician tinkers with the link to Baghdad. And a panting messenger races in with a tape from an antiwar demonstration in nearby Alexandria.

The afternoon news editor, Hani Fathi, checks the lineup: The demonstration, some 25,000 people strong, will be folded into a broader piece on protests worldwide, going in toward the end of the program, right after the briefing by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

While intense antiwar and anti-American sentiment continue to grow in Egypt, the state-run TV station here - from which the vast majority of Egyptians get their news - is working overtime to retain a semblance of neutrality about the war.

But this approach to war coverage goes beyond the professional call of duty and gets at the heart of the complicated, somewhat conflicted attitude of Egypt's leadership. Analysts say, President Hosni Mubarak needs to convince Egyptians that his sympathies are clearly against the war and with Iraq's people while at the same time taking care not to alienate Washington, a close ally which gives Egypt $2 billion annually in aid.

In order to reflect a sober, united Egypt, Mr. Mubarak oversees all channels of public expression. His reach extends from the tenor of the demonstrations, to the statement of the religious clerics, to the way the whole war is presented in the state media. His minister of information sits on the ninth floor of the TV building.

"The images we see upset us here, of course, and our personal emotions are strong and yes, we are angry," says Fathi. "But we must, as professionals, disconnect and steer toward balance."

"What takes priority depends on what's happening, and on what's important to our viewers," he says, signing off on the line up, " ... and to the leadership."

Independent satellite cable stations, such as the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, may call coalition forces "invaders," turn suicide attacks into "martyrdom operations," and fill their screens with gore and long reports on antiwar demonstrations. But not here.

"Our point of view is that we are against the war. We did not want it. But we also want to be responsible in what we present," says Hassan Hamed, CEO of the Egyptian Radio and TV Union, whose offices sprawl out on the eighth floor, right below those of the minister.

"Of course, there is a cultural linkage between Egyptians and the Iraqi people. We do not conceal our emphasis or interest. Our hearts are with those people, and we need to reflect that in our coverage - but we try not to be sensationalist. We do not want to inflame Egyptians any more."

"Egyptian TV is owned and run by the Egyptian government, so you can not expect it to reflect anything other than the official Egyptian perspective," adds Hussein Amin, chairman of the department of journalism and mass communication at the American University in Cairo. "It is a balancing act all around."

Speaking in Suez on Monday, Mubarak showed himself a master at such an act - warning that US actions would only serve to "create 100 [Osama] bin Ladens" and charging that war would have catastrophic effects - even as he insisted that international commitments obliged Egypt to keep the Suez Canal open to all vessels, including coalition warships. Mubarak has also granted US warplanes overflight rights. Tuesday, he announced that a senior Iraqi diplomat in Cairo, thought to be working for Iraqi intelligence, would be expelled.

The expulsion was mentioned on TV only in passing; the overfly rights forgotten completely that day. Meanwhile, when a poster of Mubarak was burned at an antiwar demonstration downtown last week, no one watching Nile News or any other program created in the TV building would have heard about it at all.

"We can take some liberties, but only to a certain extent," says Fathi. "We use our judgment. We have to inform on what's happening ... but we don't want outbursts in this country."

Before charging Egyptian media with self-censorship, it would be better to see what is going on these days in American media, quip those who work here.

"US coverage does not impress me at all. They don't care about being neutral and go about bragging about US military prowess," says Hamed. "When my wife sees me watching US network coverage on cable she asks: Why do you torture yourself?"

Hala Hashish, President of Nile TV International, the foreign-language arm of Egyptian TV, is busy reviewing an interview with the US ambassador to Cairo, which will air in its entirety on her evening program. "Look, proof we show all sides!" she says. "The American public is much more brainwashed. The media there is acting in a way we used to be accused of years ago - that is picking and choosing the news that suits their agenda. In Egypt this sort of news does not fly anymore."

"Sometimes I feel we have too much neutrality and freedom in Egypt," adds Attiya Shakran, director of the Government Press Office. "The Arab voice in [Washington] does not get as much airtime as we give American voices in Cairo."

In a country where ordinary Egyptians are reportedly using their mobile phones to dial any number in Iraq, picked at random, and declare their solidarity with the Iraqi people - it's no surprise that Nile News gets a lot of viewer complaints. Some call in to ask for more images of "the Iraqi heroic stand," others ring up to say they don't want to hear another word about the Kurdish opposition, and others still write long, furious letters denouncing the segments on US troops bringing in humanitarian aid.

"Many people accuse us of being unpatriotic, even un-Arab," Hamed admits. "But we are just trying to tell it like it is ... which is not easy."

From Slate


Al Jazeera
It's just as fair as CNN

By Chris Suellentrop

Posted Wednesday, April 2, 2003, at 4:37 PM PT

If you doubt that Al Jazeera is the clear winner of the Iraq war so far (other than U.S. forces), check out the most recent Lycos 50, a tally of the most-searched-for words and phrases on the Lycos search engine. The 24-hour Arabic-language TV news network rocketed to the top of the list for last week, outpacing Web standbys such as KaZaA and Pamela Anderson, not to mention hot topics of the moment such as POWs and the Dixie Chicks. Perhaps the wave of Web surfers was to be expected, given the network's attempted launch of an English-language Web site and the recent controversies it has provoked by airing grisly footage of Iraqi civilian casualties and American POWs. More surprising, however, has been the sympathetic coverage Al Jazeera has been receiving in the American press, from the New York Times editorial page to regional sources including the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Buffalo News. The network once deemed the inflammatory fuel of Islamic radicalism has now been pronounced by the paper of record as "the kind of television station we should encourage."

What changed? Certainly not Al Jazeera. The network still presents a pro-Arab slant on the news of the day, including the war in Iraq. A visit to the Al Jazeera Web site Wednesday morning turned up images that portray Iraqi civilians as invaded rather than liberated: rotating photos of wounded children with patches over their eyes and blood on their faces next to a separate image of a mournful woman standing in front of rubble. This emphasis on Iraqi civilian casualties is consistent with the approach the TV network has taken to covering the war, according to those who have watched Al Jazeera's TV coverage in Arabic. "They focus on the casualties. They show very gruesome images of civilian casualties that we don't see on America media," says Mohammed El-Nawawy, co-author of the admiring book Al Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East.

So, it's not as if Al Jazeera has morphed into the news as told by Lee Greenwood. Or even that Al Jazeera has morphed into CNN. Rather, it's fairer to say that since the war began, CNN-and American TV news in general-has become more like Al Jazeera. To those who have tarred him as pro-war and pro-administration, CNN's Aaron Brown replied: "I think there is some truth in it." Fox's Neil Cavuto was blunter: "You say I wear my biases on my sleeve? Better that than pretend you have none, but show them clearly in your work." Cavuto's comments echo a statement made by Al Jazeera's Ramallah correspondent to 60 Minutes in May 2001 about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "To be objective in this area is not easy because we live here. We are part of the people here. And this situation belongs to us also, and we have our opinions."

American TV news has always presented an American perspective, just as Al Jazeera presents an Arab perspective. But in wartime, the American slant has become more obvious, and as a result Al Jazeera's Arab slant has become less objectionable. Less than 18 months ago, Fouad Ajami declared in a long New York Times Magazine article that Al Jazeera was "a dangerous force." But in the wake of this war's coverage by the American media, his fears and criticisms sound quaint. Ajami blasted the channel's "shameless" promos, including a montage of scenes that portrayed a clear sympathy for the Palestinians. But how different are MSNBC's or CNN's montages of heroic American soldiers set to patriotic, martial music? Or the recurring shots of Americans saving babies and handing out candy to children? Ajami also criticized Al Jazeera for focusing too much on the tragedy of a single individual, 12-year-old Muhamed al-Durra, a Palestinian shot and killed in Gaza. But American networks pull similar heartstring-tugging tricks, the latest being the mediathon over the rescue of Jessica Lynch, a single American POW. (American television ignores, for the most part, the lives and the deaths of Brits and Iraqis.)

This is not to say that Al Jazeera and American TV news are equivalents. For one thing, Al Jazeera still receives funding from the monarchical government of Qatar, and even fans like El-Nawawy rap Al Jazeera for refraining from tough coverage-or any coverage-of Qatari politics. But Al Jazeera, with its Fox-like slogan "The opinion and the other opinion," is the closest thing the Arab world has to an independent press.

Particularly in wartime, the best a network can hope for is what El-Nawawy and his co-author, Adel Iskandar, call "contextual objectivity"-an attempt "to reflect all sides of any story while retaining the values, beliefs and sentiments of the target audience." Based on the recent wave of positive coverage in the American media, Al Jazeera is at least approaching that standard. It's telling the American side of the story, even as its sympathies clearly lie with the plight of the Iraqi people, whom the network, fairly or unfairly, sees as suffering under both Saddam Hussein and the American-led invasion to remove him.

From the opposite perspective, the U.S. networks are doing the same: giving lip service to the Arab view of the war, while endorsing the American view that the conflict is just and necessary. The war has given lie to the idea that American journalists don't have opinions. One question: Why must we return to the lie when it's time for peace?

From the Guardian


Straw warns against snap judgments

Full text of Straw's speech

Owen Gibson

Tuesday April 1, 2003

Foreign secretary Jack Straw today warned of the dangers of making snap judgments on the basis of television coverage of the war in Iraq, claiming that both world wars would have been harder to win in an age of 24-hour rolling news.

And he conceded that the fact there have been relatively few TV pictures of the humanitarian disaster caused by the Iraqi regime over the past 12 years had weakened the moral arguments for war.

Speaking to an audience of regional newspaper executives, Mr Straw said the competing pressures on the government and the media in times of war were "immense".

"Ministers must weigh the release of information about the military campaign against the possibility that it might benefit our opponents and endanger our troops.

"Meanwhile, the media is rightly driven by other imperatives, the need to penetrate the fog of war, to make definitive judgments on the basis of fragments, and to deliver breaking news to an eager public," he said.

During the past week ministers from prime minister Tony Blair downwards have become increasingly alarmed at the relentless pressure created by 24-hour TV news channels, and the localised, snapshot view of the war provided by reporters embedded with the invading armies.

Mr Straw pointed the finger at the news media, claiming the reaction to last week's disputed bombing of a market in Baghdad was a prime example of the dangers of the need for immediate reaction to events.

"It's increasingly probable that this was the result of Iraqi - not coalition - action. Yet when the story broke and we promised an inquiry, some chose to characterise our response as an admission of guilt. It usually takes time for the truth to catch up with the image," he said.

Mr Straw today also argued that both world wars could have ended in defeat in the era of 24-hour news, speculating that the "Dunkirk spirit" would have been irreparably damaged had the British public been subjected to pictures of German battle victories.

"Had the public been able to see live coverage from the [first world war] trenches, I wonder for how long the governments of Asquith and Lloyd George could have maintained the war effort. Imagine the carnage of the Somme on Sky and BBC News 24," he said.

"But it is also worth speculating how much harder it might have been to maintain the country's morale after Dunkirk had live reports confronted the public with the brutal reality of German technical and military superiority," added Mr Straw.

His remarks echo comments made in the Observer on Sunday in which Mr Straw wondered whether it would have been possible to evacuate 300,000 troops from Dunkirk under the scrutiny of 24-hour news.

"The media is changing the reality of warfare, it is not just reporting on it. It compresses the timescales," he told the paper.

In his speech today, the foreign secretary acknowledged the vital role the media play in a modern democracy.

He said, the benefits of continuous reporting from the front line continued to outweigh the disadvantages, paying tribute to "the bravery of the correspondents on the front line, including those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of truth".

He also pointed to the power of television, arguing that the lack of on-screen evidence of Saddam Hussein's worst excesses had weakened the moral case against him.

"In Kosovo, Milosevic underestimated the power of television. As the humanitarian catastrophe [of the Racak massacre] was relayed live on our screens, the British prime minister's moral case for a military response became unanswerable," he told an audience at the Newspaper Society Annual Conference.

"This brings me to the paradox of coverage about Iraq. For over two decades, Saddam Hussein has caused a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and one which at least equals Milosevic's worst excesses. But unlike Milosevic, Saddam Hussein has caused a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and one which at least equals Milosevic's worst excesses. But unlike Milosevic, Saddam Hussein has conducted his reign of terror off camera.So unlike Kosovo, Iraq has not pricked the world's conscience through our television screens," he said.

"There are no TV cameras in Saddam's torture chambers or in the darkest corners of Baghdad. But the suffering and oppression are real. he added.

Mr Straw also used the speech to play down expectations about the length of the war.

"There may be more setbacks for coalition troops. As the regime enters its final stages, we will encounter fierce resistance from those elements of the regime's apparatus of terror who fate is tied to their tyrannical ruler," he said.

From NBC News


New Arab TV channels show clout
They focus less on bombs, more on bombs' victims


By Charlene Gubash


CAIRO, Egypt, March 31 - In the first U.S.-led Gulf War in 1991, all eyes in the Middle East were turned to CNN for live coverage. But now, in a media revolution, several competing privately owned Arab satellite channels are offering war coverage. And their pro-Arab viewpoint is hardening public opinion against the United States throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

FOR THE FIRST time in history, we have a good front line of 24-hour news networks operating in the field and they ... have a great impact," says media analyst Hussein Amin.

And their perspective is definitely not American. "They are all giving news coverage from an Arabic perspective," says Amin, "talking about Iraqi casualties, Iraqi resistance, inviting Arab analysts to comment on U.S. press briefings and pick out what is wrong with them, just as the British use English experts. In Arab eyes it is fair; in American eyes, it is biased."

Not only do Arab networks have correspondents "embedded" with U.S. troops, they also have roaming correspondents on the ground in Baghdad and other key Iraqi cities. Six-year-old Al Jazeera, the oldest and most popular network, has five correspondents in Iraq and two embedded with U.S. troops. Newcomer Arabiya TV already has 25 correspondents in the region of conflict and two embedded with U.S. and British troops.

Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi and Arabiya TV all have cameras trained on the Baghdad skyline to broadcast live bombing of the city. In a measure of their success, U.S. and other international networks rely upon them for access to exclusive video from Iraq of the bombing and of breaking news.

Because they have reporters on the ground, they are in a position to investigate U.S. and British assertions about the war, or simply outpace information received by Washington. For example, when U.S. officials initially claimed to have gained control of Umm Qasr, an Al Jazeera reporter inside the city denied those reports. On Sunday, Al Jazeera showed a tank near a warehouse, where people were delivering food. Later they reported that a British tank fired on the warehouse and showed exclusive video of the burning building. Then a few hours later, they interviewed a British military spokesman who denied the incident occurred.

And in the most controversial report yet, Al Jazeera aired graphic Iraqi TV pictures of five dead U.S. soldiers and interviews with U.S. prisoners of war before the U.S. military acknowledged the casualties.


While Al Jazeera and its peers air U.S. and U.K. press briefings and speeches, they also broadcast in full all Iraqi briefings. But sometimes the context in which U.S. briefings are broadcast delivers a mixed message to viewers.

On Friday night, for example, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's briefing was broadcast on half the screen, while the other half of the screen showed video of bloodied bodies of civilian victims being evacuated from the latest bombing raid on a market. A few days earlier, Secretary of State Colin Powell's exclusive interview with Al Jazeera was later dissected by two pro-Iraqi analysts, the editor of an extremist newspaper and an Iraqi analyst from Baghdad.

Mass communications student Lubna Al Elaimy, who watches Al Jazeera, thinks analysts should be more neutral. "I feel Al Jazeera is slightly biased, but subtly," she said. "They try to show both sides, but most of the time they show you the Arab side or people who are opposed to the war, which illustrates bias."


The most obvious difference in the way Arab networks cover the war is in the emphasis placed on civilian and military casualties. Rare are the sanitized images of war so common on U.S. networks - the black-and-white cockpit video of successful coalition bombing raids and state-of-the art military machines in action.

Arab networks, concerned less with the weight of bombs than with the damage caused by them, frequently broadcast graphic - critics say lurid - images of the aftermath of war: a wounded man being carried in bloody blankets to a hospital, two toddlers sharing one metal shelf in a morgue, a little boy with a blood-soaked T-shirt swathed in bandages and a charred corpse next to a burned car.

These are images that resonate among the Arab public, strongly opposed to a war they deem unjust and deeply sympathetic to the Iraqi people many consider Arab brothers. "It angers and saddens me," says student Al Elaimy. "It makes me extremely depressed. That's the same for a lot of people."

Demonstrations continue to wrack Arab capitals, where people are enraged over the war itself and the growing civilian death toll. "Of course these pictures escalate the anger," says media analyst Amin. "Pictures are the most powerful and influential medium that bypass any barrier."


Arab networks, notably Al Jazeera, have been accused of sensationalizing the war and showing pro-Iraqi bias. Al Jazeera's Omar Bec, head of news-gathering, disagrees. "We are just giving the big picture," he said. "It is up to individuals whether they grasp it. War kills, and that's a fact. The message is clear. Nothing is sacred."

After Al Jazeera broadcast pictures of U.S. war dead and POWs, Rumsfeld told CBS News that Al Jazeera is "obviously part of Iraqi propaganda and responding to Iraqi propaganda." Al Jazeera's Bec counters that his network is not pro-anybody, noting that Al Jazeera has been accused by the Americans of being pro-Osama bin Laden because it has aired statements by the al-Qaida leader, while some Arab countries have charged it with being pro-Zionist because it has aired interviews with Israelis.

As to Al Jazeera's decision to immediately air pictures of U.S. war dead and captured, Bec has no apologies: "War kills, and we are covering this. We have also covered detained Iraqis on the ground. We are covering all sides of it: the good, the bad and the ugly." However, such pictures sometimes upset not only Americans but also Arabs. "I was thinking, how would the families feel if they saw their son?" said one young medical student of the pictures of killed and captured U.S. soldiers. A professor called the interviews with U.S. POWs some of the most upsetting war video she has seen.


Arab networks have also challenged the notion of U.S. troops' being welcomed as liberators. On Friday, Al Jazeera beamed pictures of men cheering the downing of a U.S. drone plane over Basra. In a far more chilling broadcast last week, the network showed live pictures of hundreds of Iraqis gathered on the banks of a river in Baghdad, setting fire to cane fields and shooting into the river to flush out U.S. pilots who witnesses said had parachuted from the sky.

And the Arab networks have shown a surprisingly defiant and organized Iraqi resistance impeding the progress of U.S. and British troops.

Arab broadcasters insist that their coverage is in fact less biased than American coverage. "There is no Arab point of view. There is one point of view, which is balanced," contends Arabiya's Salah Nigm. "American coverage has to be one-sided because they are party to the conflict and don't have access to the Iraqis."

Although Western critics dispute the balance of networks such as Al Jazeera, one thing is for certain: Arab networks have a viewership any 24-hour news network would be proud of. In the shops, homes, cafes and offices of Cairo, people are glued to the TV as they watch the war unfold live. "I feel like I am in the war," says a young architecture student in a Cairo cafe.

Competition is intense for viewers. Al Jazeera, the hands-down favorite, claims 35 million viewers. Arabiya, less than a month old, is broadcast on Jordan and Saudi state-owned TV and therefore reaches a potential audience of 13 million in addition to its satellite audience. Abu Dhabi TV, already well established, is widely considered second to Al Jazeera in popularity.

Most significant, pioneer Al Jazeera and the other private Arab news networks have broken the monopoly of stodgy, state-controlled Arab TV stations. Arab state-run TV stations used to, and in many cases still do, broadcast only what Arab governments wanted their citizens to see. Now, viewers can switch channels and get the real story, in Arabic.

"Gone are the days when the state-run media or press will run what they want and not go live with what people want. Numbers speak for themselves," said Al Jazeera's Bec. "People want to watch hard news, what is happening on the ground."

Some of Al Jazeera's heaviest criticism has come from Britain and the United States, where its reporters were banned from the New York Stock Exchange. That censorship in a country known for free speech is ironic, Bec said, noting that Al Jazeera also recently won an award from a British magazine for freedom of expression.

Charlene Gubash reports for NBC News from Cairo, Egypt.

From The New York Times/International Herald Tribune


Why Al Jazeera matters

Monday, March 31, 2003

New York Times Editorial

In August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, precipitating the first Gulf war, state-run media in the Arab world suppressed the news for three days. Today, word of such an attack would be out within minutes because of a television station called Al Jazeera. Financed by the iconoclastic emir of Qatar, the Gulf state where U.S. war operations are based, Al Jazeera is the only independent broadcasting voice in the Arab world, watched by 35 million people. That is why the decision by the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to bar the station's reporters is so repugnant.

The exchanges' complaint against Al Jazeera is that it is not ''responsible.'' This is a cryptic allegation but it seems linked to the television station's decision a week ago to show images of dead American and British soldiers as well as POWs in Iraq. But Al Jazeera says that after the Pentagon asked it to remove the pictures until families had been notified, it did so for eight hours, while the television stations of numerous countries continued to show them.

In truth, it seems that New York's exchanges have a broader complaint, heard in various forms elsewhere - that Al Jazeera is insufficiently supportive of America and its war in Iraq. As the only uncensored Arabic television in the world, Al Jazeera does indeed slant its debates and discussions in a way that can be hostile to the West. It is not Fox News. But if the U.S. hope for the Arab world is, as the Bush administration never ceases to remind Americans, for it to enjoy a free, democratic life, Al Jazeera is the kind of television station Americans should encourage.

It is the only Arabic television station that regularly interviews Israeli officials. It is also an important forum for American officials. Last week alone, it interviewed three senior members of the American government, including General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Al Jazeera has also been a vital source of information about Al Qaeda. Its reporters have had access to Qaeda leaders, and tapes of Osama bin Laden have found their way to the station's offices. This has been a useful window on a world that for too long has been utterly alien to us.

The ban on Al Jazeera by the princes of the free market puts them in impressive company. Libya and Tunisia have both complained that Al-Jazeera gives too much air time to opposition leaders. Jordan has thrown it out. Kuwait refused visas to its correspondents who were to be placed with American forces based there.

If a free, uncensored press ever arrives in the Arab world, many Americans will be shocked by what it says. Then, the energetic if somewhat tendentious broadcasts of Al Jazeera will seem, in comparison, like the nuanced objectivity of the BBC. For right now, Al Jazeera deserves all the help and support it can get.

In August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, precipitating the first Gulf war, state-run media in the Arab world suppressed the news for three days. Today, word of such an attack would be out within minutes because of a television station called Al Jazeera. Financed by the iconoclastic emir of Qatar, the Gulf state where U.S. war operations are based, Al Jazeera is the only independent broadcasting voice in the Arab world, watched by 35 million people. That is why the decision by the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to bar the station's reporters is so repugnant.

From Time Magazine


The PG-Rated War

War is a force of primal disorder, but we prefer not to see it that way

Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

I am looking at a photo of a dead American, courtesy of al-Jazeera television network. The boy lies diagonally across the frame, his head in the lower-right-hand corner. His eyes are closed, and there is a bullet hole the size of a half-dollar in his right temple; blood puddles beneath his head and soaks his T shirt. You will not see this photograph on American television or in the pages of this magazine. When word came that al-Jazeera had broadcast this image and others like it, the official U.S. reaction was outrage. When similar photos of dead British soldiers were published, Tony Blair said, "To the families of the soldiers involved, it is an act of cruelty beyond comprehension."

It is that, to be sure. The right to privacy after death in combat should trump all other concerns. There are other good reasons not to show the true face of war, especially when the photos in question are acts of aggression perpetrated by an enemy intent on damaging American morale. But the desire not to sicken or offend the noncombatant public should not be among them. There is real danger when journalists edit the truth, especially when we sanitize the cataclysmic impact of high-powered munitions upon human flesh. There are those who say such images might induce America to become a nation of pacifists, but the exact opposite might be the case.

The photo on this page - one of the first images of dead Americans published during World War II, which appeared in the Sept. 20, 1943, issue of LIFE magazine - was intended to incite anger and awareness. It came after Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that the home front had become too complacent, too distanced from the realities of combat, and so he lifted the censorship of American casualties. But the editors of LIFE still felt a need to explain their decision: "Why print this picture? ... The reason is that words are never enough ... the words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens ... [I]f Bill" - one of the soldiers in question - "had the guts to take it, then we ought to have the guts to look at it." The photo, by George Strock, is mesmerizing. There is an unadorned bleakness to it that is unsettling even now, after a half-century of casual, blood-ripped Hollywood action fantasies. And it is far more potent than anything we've seen from Iraq during the first 10 days of the war. This is puzzling. We are closer to war than ever before - hardly half an hour goes by without some embedded ace breathlessly reporting, in real time, from the front. But the war we are seeing is bowdlerized, PG-rated. There are fancy explosions galore, shown from a great distance; there are retired generals wandering through giant maps with pointers and Telestrators; there are gagging doses of Oprah-like human-interest drama, the (slightly) wounded saying "Hi, Mom" and tearful families waiting for word. There are photographs of rubble and of bloodstains that could easily be mistaken for spilled wine. But there is none of the horror, none of the unimaginable sights - bodies torn apart, limbs flying - that cause combat veterans to go mute when asked about their experiences. The coverage of this war is as close to the truth of this war as reality TV is to real life. At a moment like this, the media should be an irritant - shocking us, shaking us, making sure that we're as alert and uncomfortable as possible in the comfort of our living rooms.

War is a force of primal disorder; we are a society afflicted by the illusion of orderliness. We have been so buffered by the carefully demarcated rules of television that we lack the intellectual equipment to deal with chaos (even the events of 9/11 - talk about shock and awe! - were carefully groomed. The most shocking images, the bodies falling from the sky, were generally kept out of view).

Afghanistan, Kosovo, the first Gulf War - each a video game played from 15,000 ft. - only added to our delusion of control. We are not so lucky this time. This is an actual war; there are unplanned events: an unruly enemy, uncooperative allies, magisterial dust storms. That doesn't necessarily mean the war is going badly. For all we know, it may be going splendidly; as I write this, Saddam Hussein may be throwing in the towel.

But we aren't very good at uncertainty; to paraphrase a frustrated American commander last week, we haven't "war-gamed" it. The President himself seemed miffed, sputtering sentence fragments when asked by reporters how long the war would last. Bush has taken to warning us about an extended struggle, but one senses he doesn't believe it. He is, after all, an exemplar of a generation for whom the purest expression of "long" is the television mini-series. He'll have to learn to tolerate the ragged rhythms of armed conflict in the weeks to come, and so will we.

From The Washington Post


Perceptions: Where Al-Jazeera & Co. Are Coming From

By Mamoun Fandy

Sunday, March 30, 2003; Page B01

The recent airing of gruesome pictures of American casualties and POWs has again set the American media talking about the unbridled nature of Arab television, particularly the Qatar-owned al-Jazeera network. Indeed, the Arabs are watching a different war than we are here.

Their war is presented for television consumption using the templates of recent history: the Palestinian intifada, the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the 1956 Suez War. The imagery of the past infuses the interpretation of the current war with familiar meaning -- and makes coverage easy.

The formats used by the growing number of 24-hour, satellite-based Arab news channels would be familiar to American viewers. There is a mix of news talk shows, press briefings, anchors reading headlines and then turning to video footage of the war. But the messages are uniformly anti-American: Americans are barbaric, and here are the pictures to prove it. We Arabs are heroic, and here are images of us downing their planes. Shots of Iraqi civilian casualties are a highlight of the coverage, as are those that show the "invading" forces suffering routs and setbacks.

Some American commentators have dismissively attributed the violence of Arab television coverage to the nature of the culture. The truth, of course, is more complicated. To understand the coverage, one must take into account the narratives that have shaped the Arab worldview. As an Egyptian who has lived in this country for 18 years, and as a media critic with an eye on both worlds, I recognize the references that shape the Arab coverage of this war. They span historical events from the Crusades to the Mongol invasions of Baghdad to the colonial experience and the recent Arab-Israeli wars.

These elements are also found in the speeches of Saddam Hussein and interviews with his foreign minister, Tariq Aziz. Quite simply, this is the frame of reference for the Iraqi wartime message, and no Arab network questions that.

Here in the United States, we tend to think of images only in terms of cameras and television: Photography is separate from narrative. In the Arab world, language is full of images, which cannot be separated from narrative. Arabic is a metaphorical language, rich in shades of meaning.

The image-based style of the Arabic language acts as an excellent interface with pictures. Thus television is terribly important. Consider the effect achieved, for example, when Majid Abdul Hadi, an al-Jazeera reporter in Baghdad, shows a picture of a coalition bombing while referring to Baghdad as the pulsing heart of the Muslim caliphate, a pulsing heart engulfed in flame.

What appears in this country as rantings and ravings by Hussein can seem coherent to people who are not bothered by his manner of stitching together disparate or historical images with current events. Recall that in Hussein's latest videotaped speech, he called for descendants of the Iraqi tribes who had defeated the Mongols at the walls of Baghdad to defeat the Americans in the same way. The overall impression is like being at a slide show. What Americans have seen in the POW pictures is thus just one moment in an ongoing spectacle. More is yet to come.

Among the templates being used -- not just on al-Jazeera, but on almost all Arab TV stations -- is the Palestinian struggle against Israel, an analogy that Hussein has also used to advantage. Consider his use, only since the start of the war, of the term "fedayeen Saddam" to describe his protective force. "Fedayeen" has been used for years to refer to the PLO fighters of the 1960s and '70s. By appropriating it, Hussein is attempting to blur the lines between the Palestinian cause and his own.

Unfortunately, the Pentagon and some of the media initially took his bait. "Fedayeen" has been translated here as "martyrs," giving it a religious connotation. But the word in fact means "someone who is willing to sacrifice himself" -- in this case, for Saddam. If the Pentagon had wanted to use "fedayeen" to advantage, it would have translated it as "killers for Saddam."

The Palestinian template has been useful in other ways, particularly in emphasizing the asymmetry of the opposing forces. Like its coverage of the intifada, al-Jazeera's reporting on the war in Iraq depicts a relatively unarmed populace facing down a trained army. Palestinians fielded the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade against the Israeli army, for instance. And now the Iraqi leader, too, has an al-Aqsa brigade, which, like his fedayeen, is fighting a battle that eerily echoes the Palestinian one. His deliberate borrowing of terms is clearly manipulative. The same parallel pervades television coverage. For instance, on al-Jazeera and some other networks, the Americans are described as an "occupying" force. The Iraqi military is the "resistance." Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV have shown dead Iraqis being paraded through the streets by crowds shouting "Allahu Akbar" -- intifada-style. Broadcasters and viewers alike speak of Hussein using the language developed for speaking of Arafat: Both are corrupt dictators, but the issue now is that the United States and Israel are occupying Arab land.

Thus, although Israel is not participating in this war, it looms large in the meta-story. It provides an important model of a dominating and unjust force. But this is not the only model that is driving news coverage in the Arab world.

Other dominant models evoke Arab pride. One recurring television image is that of an Iraqi farmer standing with his gun next to a downed Apache helicopter. This iconic picture -- the simple peasant defeating Western invaders -- is taken directly from the popular imagery of the Suez War, when Israel, Britain and France attacked Egypt. Although in reality the United States saved the day and ordered the invading forces out, in the Egyptian popular imagination it was the local resistance that drove out the occupying forces. Pictures of men shooting at planes and of farmers and workers resisting the mighty powers is what Nasser fed Egyptians and exported all over the Arab world.

Why do the Arab TV networks accept the Iraqi narrative lock, stock and barrel? State-owned satellite news channels such as al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV are very recent creations. Al-Jazeera, the oldest such channel in the Gulf, did not exist during the first Persian Gulf War. Based in Qatar, it was established in 1996. Al-Arabiya, based in Dubai, is only three months old. The people who work at these stations were by and large recruited from state-owned television networks throughout the Arab world. Thus, they are reacting to their own past. While they were working in state TV they no doubt felt oppressed; now they have somewhat more freedom. But they are pushing the envelope, as are their colleagues at entertainment channels such as Lebanon's al-Mustaqbal and LBC TV, which have added some war coverage to their schedule. Before the war, Future and LBC competed over whose belly-dancers showed more skin. Now it's about who will show the most Iraqi civilian blood and American casualties. Now, as Egyptian TV producer Jamal Enyat told me, "it is political nudity," or what some call "political porno," that is dominating their screens.

Beneath the Arab modes of visual representation, the Western style is also present. Indeed, Arab coverage often copies the CNN and Fox News formats. Today, just like CNN, every one of the 10 Arab channels I watch, or appear on as a commentator, has a "war room" staffed with retired generals discussing the progress of the war and freely advising the Iraqis how to conduct it. In this way, these veterans of Arab wars are compensating for past defeat with on-air political speeches.

The tone of many reporters in Baghdad is much the same. For example, an al-Jazeera reporter in the Iraqi capital falsely told his viewers on the first day of the air campaign, "Here in Baghdad, a city accused of hiding weapons of mass destruction is being hit by weapons of mass destruction." This kind of repetition is the stuff that has made Arabic poetry so justly admired. Here, the rhythm and sonority of the language act to encourage audience disregard for the true definitions of the words being used.

With few exceptions, ethical constraints are rarely discussed in the Arab media, where the notion of editorial judgment sounds to many like censorship. Several have said it reminds them of what they had to do while they were working for state-owned broadcasters. Reporters and producers know what their viewers want to see: images of empowerment and resistance because of past defeats. They also want to see what Hussein's information minister, Muhammed Said al-Sahaf, calls teaching the Americans a lesson. "We are no less than the Vietnamese. Just make it costly in body bags and the Americans will run," said a general who comments regularly on al-Jazeera. Some Arab journalists say they have little choice but to go along. "The cost of speaking out now -- even to simply say that Saddam is partially responsible for what is taking place -- is very high. It could cost you your job and could even cause you physical harm," said one.

The Arab world has experienced that before. In 1967, Egyptian reporter Ahmed Said announced that Arab guns were bringing Israeli planes down like flies. A week later Arabs woke up to the fact that their armies had been roundly defeated. With that, Arab media lost credibility and audiences turned to foreign stations. It would take almost 25 years for the Arab media to regain some credibility. Their coverage of this war could well cause them to lose it once more.

Mamoun Fandy, a columnist for the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, teaches a media and politics course at Georgetown University.

From The New York Times/International Herald Tribune


Penetrating the fog of the TV war Frank Rich NYT

Saturday, March 29, 2003

And so it turned out that "Shock and Awe" - or "shockinaw," in cable parlance - didn't have legs. Less than a week after it pumped up the stock market and gave the United States a presentiment of a quick and tidy war, it was all but forgotten. Even before Time and Newsweek could hit the stands with their cover displays of the fireworks, we were fixated on images we could not readily see: Al Jazeera video of American troops who had been butchered or taken prisoner by Iraqi forces.

These pictures, declared contraband by the Pentagon after their initial showing on CBS's "Face the Nation" last Sunday, contained one element that the antiseptic, depopulated Baghdad pyro-technics could not deliver - the human face of people visibly mauled by war. For the first time we could smell American blood, and while that was shocking, it was far from awesome.

For those trying to juggle these polar mood swings while watching the war on television, there are two conflicts raging - the fight between the antagonists themselves and the pitched battle between journalism and the imperatives of show business. The conflicts are intertwined, and the second determines how we view the first. If we are to penetrate the fog of the real war, journalism must be the clear victor over the inherent need of television to impose its surefire entertainment formulas, its proven arsenal of slick storytelling and rousing characterization, on a reality that may not be nearly so neat.

In this war, American television news has an unusually tough job. It must not only compete with other TV storytellers with fierce agendas, starting with Iraqi television, but it must maneuver around the manipulations of an administration so television-savvy it doesn't leave a single backdrop to chance. Not for nothing was a designer who has worked for Disney, MGM and the illusionist David Blaine hired to build General Tommy Franks a $250,000 set for the briefings in Qatar. The master of the Pentagon media operation, including the program "embedding" more than 500 journalists among our troops, is Victoria Clarke, whose resume features a stint directing public affairs for the National Cable Television Association. In that job, says The Wall Street Journal, she helped persuade the public that cable's "terrible reputation for customer service" was unjustified. In other words, she's a p.r. genius.

We now know that the short-lived rush of "Shock and Awe" was contrived, a victory of TV's show-business instincts over news. It was the irresistible cliched climax to the first 72 hours of TV war coverage, with its triumphal story line bereft of gore and starring enthusiastic embedees in mufti cruising through the desert like the youthful participants in a second-tier Olympic sport. "If you hired actors, you could not have gotten better coverage," observed Kenneth Bacon, a former Pentagon spokesman, before the mood of the war and its coverage began to turn.

One correspondent on the scene who didn't buy the initial story line was Peter Arnett. He recognized a mindless rerun when he saw it. "It's deja vu all over again, the idea that this would be a walkover, the idea that the people of Basra would throw flowers at the Marines," he said from Baghdad when I spoke with him by phone last week. He had been there to see the early burst of optimism in Gulf War I, which he covered for CNN. "This is going to be tough," he said just before it became tough. "When I interviewed Tariq Aziz two weeks ago - it was not put on the network - he said: 'You'll have a hard time tearing us down. We're ready to be martyrs.' Whatever you think about Saddam Hussein, there is a sense of nationalism here. The Iraqis like American culture - American movies and pop songs. But are they really going to like American tanks?"

Television news can never be utterly innocent of showbiz, Arnett included. His exploits in the last war were fictionalized in last year's HBO movie "Live From Baghdad," in which the attack-simulating special effects were, in his view, "absolutely ridiculous." Commercial networks are not C-Span. There is branding at stake, not to mention careers and ratings. Yes, it's important that we find out if Saddam actually has weapons of mass destruction, but we also want to know if Arnett will make a comeback moonlighting for NBC and MSNBC, after having been let go by CNN only to hitch his star to, of all unlikely outfits, "National Geographic Explorer."

NBC must also attend to the continuing cliffhanger of anchor succession: Will Brian Williams, dressing down for the desert, at last prove himself a worthy heir to Tom Brokaw? In the overnight stardom sweepstakes, will MSNBC's Rob Morrison, until recently a local weekend anchor, or ABC's Richard Engel, a free-lance radio reporter, emerge as the new scud stud? When even weathermen are predicting rain in Kirkuk, it's clear everyone must get into the act.

So far the biggest inside-TV drama has starred Peter Jennings. On the night the war began, he was AWOL by anchor standards, arriving at the studio a half-hour later than his peers. For a while, while Baghdad burned on CBS and NBC, "The Bachelor: Where Are They Now?" continued purring on ABC. "The war has already claimed its first victim: ABC News," concluded The Washington Post's TV columnist, Lisa de Moraes, soon after. But it's exactly here that showbiz's standards of success and failure part from those of journalism. By the measure of its industry, ABC had flopped, losing ratings and irritating its affiliates with its opening-night fiasco.

But as a news operation, ABC has succeeded since, by bucking the initial consensus story line. After Donald Rumsfeld spoke in a post-"Shock and Awe" press conference of "the humanity" of American weaponry pinpointing noncivilian targets, Jennings said, "No offense to the secretary, but at this moment we simply do not know whether that is the case." Later the network would feature a John Donvan report from the liberated town of Safwan in which we learned that the citizens who had famously cheered the tearing down of a massive portrait of Saddam the day before were now angry at Americans because of the lack of humanitarian aid.

Inevitably The New York Post spanked ABC News, and Jennings in particular, for "America-bashing, pessimism and antiwar agitation." Hardly. His real sin was to violate the unspoken rule that in the early stages of a war journalists should junk the tools of skepticism and irony on camera. But as Michael Arlen, then television critic for The New Yorker, wrote in the mid-1960s while observing cheerleading coverage of the first television war, Vietnam, "Trying to report a war without irony is a bit like trying to keep sex out of a discussion of the relations between men and women."

For those who want their war without irony or ambiguity or anything other than good news, there is the New York Post's TV sibling, Fox News. On Fox an anchor can say that "objectively speaking" it is "hard to believe things could go much more successfully." Last weekend another of its anchors announced, "This is extraordinary news, the city of Basra under control!" Which was extraordinary indeed, given that Basra was unsecured and teetering into guerrilla warfare. On Fox, an anchor can (without irony) call Newt Gingrich "an estimable scholar" of military affairs and bring on Donald Trump to declare, "I think the market's going to go up like a rocket!"

We will always be winning on Fox, and Fox continues to win its ratings battle with CNN. We must pray that its happy talk becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. But as I write on the run-up to the siege of Baghdad, P.O.W. families are telling a story so compelling that even the Oscars took a huge ratings hit as viewers surfed for the latest. While media critics debate how much or little we should see of corpses, the images are bleeding into the media mix by satellite and Internet anyway. The TV story line has turned as dark as only yesterday it was light - provoking Fox's Fred Barnes to call his competitors "weenies" for dwelling on casualties. That's ludicrous, but as the pendulum swings, it's fair to ask: Could the new quagmire narrative be just as transitory and misleading as the discarded celebratory cakewalk of "Shock and Awe"?

From The New York Times


Lucian K. Truscott IV: When the news media become weapons of war

Published March 27, 2003 TRUS27

LOS ANGELES -- Neither Clausewitz nor Sun Tzu had any advice for military commanders on how to manage the news media during time of war. But both agreed that strategic information -- about battle plans, troop strength, disposition of forces and so forth -- should be denied the enemy so as to enhance an army's ability to use deception and the element of surprise.

Pentagon war planners have turned this ancient military maxim inside out. From the first moments of the war, television screens and newspaper pages around the world have shown and described with images of exploding palaces and an armored phalanx rolling rapidly toward Baghdad. Reports from the 3rd Infantry Division do everything but cite highway mile-markers of their progress. Reporters are "embedded" so deep into the war that they are subsisting on the same dreadful rations eaten by the troops.

The Pentagon may have been dragged kicking and screaming into its current embrace of the news media. But it is making the most of it. Planners must have contemplated advances in media technology and decided that if they can't control the press, they may as well use it.

And make no mistake: The news media are being used -- in more ways than they realize. When Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld first announced that reporters would be welcome in the trenches, members of the media were suspicious. After all, this was the same Pentagon that kept journalists far from the front lines during the Persian Gulf War. Yet from reporters inhaling the exhaust of infantry units to bleary-eyed New York anchors spellbound by squads of generals analyzing the data stream, the news media have marched practically in lock step with the military.

Not since the halcyon days of Ronald Reagan has an administration been so adept at managing information and manipulating images. In Iraq, the Bush administration has beaten the press at its own game. It has turned the media into a weapon of war, using the information it provides to harass and intimidate the Iraqi military leadership.

None of the early attacks on Baghdad destroyed the power or communications infrastructure, as they did in the early hours of the Gulf War. As bombs fell on palaces and government ministries, the real war was being brought to Baghdad via satellite dish. Images that had been curtailed in the Gulf War are now being used as a force-multiplier.

Knowing that Iraqi military leaders are watching the same satellite feeds as they are -- from CNN as well as from Al Jazeera and other cable networks -- Pentagon officials have been in contact with Iraqi generals by radio, cell phone, even e-mail. The message they are sending is simple and direct: Surrender your forces. Opposition is hopeless. If you don't believe us, just turn on your TV.

Iraqi leaders have made their own attempts to manipulate the media, of course. They have provided Al Jazeera footage of American prisoners of war, downed aircraft and injured and dead civilians. But the audience they're trying to influence doesn't wear stars. Iraq is trying to influence the so-called Arab street -- inside Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world. And they are no doubt attempting to counter the depressing effect of the bombs-over-Baghdad footage on their own beleaguered forces.

Both sides are taking an enormous gamble by using the news media. But it's an especially risky gamble for the Pentagon. The same satellites that transmitted images of U.S. armor rolling easily across the sand last week are now carrying images of dead and captured American soldiers. And now American commanders have to worry not only about embedded reporters, but also about embedded Iraqi Fedayeen forces left in cities passed by during the American advance on Baghdad. All the Iraqi fighters have to do is sneak a dish up on a rooftop in the dark, and they will have access to much of the same information as their enemy.

So maybe the American news media were suspicious of the Pentagon's newly permissive policy for the wrong reasons. They thought the administration had the same goal as they did: high ratings -- not necessarily for the war coverage, but for the war itself. But it turns out that the Pentagon had a different audience in mind. At this point in the war, it is entirely unclear whether its strategy will achieve the results that were intended when the media was weaponized.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a 1969 graduate of West Point, is a novelist and screenwriter. He wrote this article for the New York Times.

From The Media Guardian


Al-Jazeera critics accused of double standards

Jason Deans

Thursday March 27, 2003

Critics of Arabic news channel al-Jazeera's decision to broadcast footage of dead British and US soldiers were today accused of double standards by a former BBC senior journalist in the Gulf region.

A former BBC Middle East correspondent, Tim Llewelyn, an expert on the region's media, said al-Jazeera was just doing what the BBC "had taught them to do" and providing coverage of the Iraq war from another perspective.

Many al-Jazeera journalists were "products of the BBC", having worked for the corporation's Arabic service before joining the Qatar-based satellite news channel, he added.

"The Arab media is used to [criticism from the west] and they talk about double standards. What they are doing is showing the war from a different perspective while we show it from a British perspective," Llewelyn told BBC Radio 5 Live's lunchtime news.

"Of course what they are showing is upsetting. But we've shown terrible pictures of things happening to other people around the world. They are just doing to us what we've been doing to them.

"We are in a whole new ball game now. Arab journalists can get into places that we can't go. I think that's perfectly valid - there's another side to this."

Nicola Baldwin, a UK freelance journalist working for the Middle Eastern Broadcasting Corporation in Dubai, said there was also a cultural element to an Arabic TV station such as al-Jazeera showing graphic footage of dead British soldiers.

There is much less of a taboo about showing close-ups of dead bodies on TV across the Middle East - an area that has grown accustomed to conflict, Ms Baldwin added.

"When I'm editing stuff like that out here I get upset, but Iraqis I work with just say 'you've never seen a war before, have you?'," she said.

"TV stations in the Middle East have always shown pictures of bodies. They don't have the same restrictions - it's normal for them. They will show pictures of dead Palestinians and Israelis, for instance," Ms Baldwin added.

But the Conservative media spokesman, John Whittingdale, has called on the BBC to scrap its news footage deal with Arabic news channel al-Jazeera, after the Arabic news channel yesterday broadcast close-ups of two dead British soldiers.

Mr Whittingdale said he would be writing to the BBC to ask the director general, Greg Dyke, to reconsider the corporation's news footage deal with al-Jazeera, adding that it was broadcasting "propaganda".

"The BBC is using footage supplied by al-Jazeera which, it is clear, is not coming from an objective standpoint," he added.

"For the BBC, which is funded by the taxpayer, to be giving a platform to an Arabic station which is putting out propaganda against the war, raises real questions about whether this relationship is appropriate."

But a BBC spokesman dismissed Mr Whittingdale's claims as unfounded, claiming the BBC applied the same editorial standards to al-Jazeera footage as it did for film from other sources.

"Everything we show is subject to our editorial guidelines, so propaganda simply wouldn't get through. We edit material and make sure people are aware of the context," he added.

"We review the situation case by case and hour by hour. We take into account next of kin and context - is it humiliating, are people being used as exhibits?" the spokesman said.

From The National Review


National online review

Guest Comment

March 26, 2003, 8:25 a.m.

Jihad TV
al-Jazeera, the global madrassa.

By Walid Phares

Al-Jazeera is ruled by politics. Take the recent airing of footage of American soldiers killed by Iraqis and of the interrogation of American POWs. The decision to air the footage was just another example of the network making politics - rather than reporting - its business.

The constant replay of the graphic images on Sunday was a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention. Showing footage of dead soldiers and conducting of prisoner interrogations before the media both clearly undermine international law. The Qatar-based network's goal was clear: It wanted the Americans to be seen as mercenaries.

And the network's politics was all over the coverage. Consider:

• Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Washington, Wajd Waqfi, challenged the American media to broadcast the footage of dead American soldiers and of prisoners of war. Waqfi alleged that such a broadcast would have a "tremendous impact on the American street."

• Later on, Hafiz al-Mirazi, the network's director in Washington, said while interviewing U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: "How can you talk about the Geneva convention when the U.S. showed political prisoners to the media in Afghanistan" - a subtle attempt to defend al Qaeda and the Taliban.

• Mohammed al-Said Idriss, who is serving as al-Jazeera's analyst on the war in Iraq, claimed that the "American media is an arm of the American government," adding that its role is to prepare the psychological ground for U.S. government decisions. The media in America, he insisted, is as state-controlled as the media in Iraq. As a result, he explained, neutral media - such as al-Jazeera - are needed to "uncover lies."

To rebut these allegations, let's note that in Afghanistan, U.S. forces captured terrorist elements and followed the terms of the Geneva Convention. They haven't filmed al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in close-ups with bullets in their heads. It's one thing for the media to film dead fighters and soldiers in the battlefield, quite another to film and broadcast corpses in the custody of the Iraqi regime. It's one thing to show prisoners before and as they are arrested, quite another to film an interrogation session in which subjects are humiliated. The American forces' handling of irregular militias in Afghanistan exceeded the requirements of the Geneva Convention; the Iraqis' treatment of our troops has flouted it.

Following the sharp criticism of the Iraqis for breaching international law, al-Jazeera asked one of its advisers to provide additional defense arguments. Former Colonel Osama Damj at first acknowledged that prisoners should not be displayed for public curiosity. But, he added, there is an exception: that is, if the display is in the interest of the prisoners. Damj explained that the Iraqi leadership had two objectives in airing this broadcast. One was to prove they did indeed have U.S. soldiers in their custody. The other was to demonstrate that Baghdad respects human rights and that the prisoners are in good health. And then, Damj disclosed the real reason behind his arguments.

To back up the so-called humane aspect of the Iraqis' behavior, he cited the example of the mother of one of the soldiers - who, as soon as she had learned her son was in captivity, begged President Bush to do something for her son. Damj eventually admitted that, at the end of the day, the broadcast was really about using the prisoners to score a political victory.

So, is al-Jazeera a media outlet or a political organization? Answer: It's both. It has the sophistication of modern-day, multidimensional satellite TV - which has led many in the Western intellectual establishment to dub it the "Arab CNN." Despite the nickname, however, al-Jazeera is nothing like Western media outlets, which operate independently of government mandate in countries that guarantee freedom of the press.

In sum, it's "Jihad TV." Its doctrinal message is sculpted patiently through panel discussions including the "al-Sharia wal Hayat" (Law and Life), featuring mainly Sheikh Yussef al-Qardawi, a very influential Muslim Brotherhood cleric. The network functions essentially as a high-tech madrassa, broadcasting the ideology of jihad to millions around the world. Every development is thoroughly analyzed from a jihadist angle.

One example was the Iraq campaign. Months before the U.S. engagement began, two audiotapes were aired by al-Jazeera in which Osama bin Laden called on Muslims to fight for Baghdad as the "second capital of Islam" - not as the center of Saddam's Baath. al-Jazeera was to use the term repeatedly, slowly building up the illusion that such a jihad would be fought for Iraq, not for Saddam. Interviews with religious fundamentalist leaders multiplied. The pressure eventually led al-Azhar, the Vatican of Sunni Islam, to call for jihad if Baghdad were to be attacked. That call, now "news," in turn was broadcasted by al-Jazeera. Call it an electronic fatwa. By the time allied forces invade Iraq and the region's fundamentalist masses explode, al-Jazeera has not merely reported the fact - it has created it.

- Walid Phares is a professor of Middle East studies and comparative politics at Florida Atlantic University, and author of several books on the Middle East. He is also an analyst for MSNBC.

From The Financial Times


The media get conscripted to the fight

By Lionel Barber

Financial Times March 24 2003

General Tommy Franks describes operation Iraqi Freedom as a campaign like no other in history. He is right - but not in the sense of Hannibal's encirclement of the Roman army at Cannae or Napoleon's victory against superior odds at Austerlitz.

Aside from the speed of the US advance on Baghdad, the campaign's salient feature has been the use of non-lethal methods of warfare. These psychological operations - "psy-ops" - aim to break to break the morale of Saddam Hussein's regime, in pursuit of a swift victory without heavy civilian casualties. More than 500 journalists from the world's press in the region have found themselves playing a role in the campaign. Dozens are "embedded" with US and British forces, often reporting from or near the front line.

In previous conflicts, the Pentagon and the UK Ministry of Defence practised a policy of media containment. The restrictions were largely a legacy of Vietnam. A generation of US journalists discovered that neither the US military nor the US government had a shred of credibility, while the military believed the media had stabbed them in the back. The Pentagon's current policy reveals a new self-confidence. It stems not only from technological prowess such as precision-bombing, night-fighting and real-time communication among land-, sea- and air-based forces. It is rooted in a widespread conviction that a well funded, well trained, all-volunteer military is the one part of the US bureaucracy that works.

In the opening phase of the campaign, the US public has seen a host of articulate, confident faces on television: commanders such as Lt Gen John Abizaid, second-in-command to the lumbering Gen Franks, as well as 20-something combat pilots and soldiers.

The result is a new form of reality TV that serves several purposes. The viewing public gets a piece of the action, via a broadcast media hungry for live pictures. The media is "educated" in the art of modern warfare. Pentagon officials hope this will encourage sober judgments about casualties rather than endless recycling of harrowing pictures, as occurred in Somalia. Mindsets may be changing. At the weekend, most networks refused to broadcast the full al-Jazeera tape showing Iraqi captors humiliating American prisoners of war on camera. Footage of a crash of a US Marine helicopter carrying US and British troops was handed to US investigators by a correspondent. The tape was withheld until the victims' families could be notified, although later broadcast.

The "embedding" policy has had other indirect effects. It has made life infinitely more dangerous for "firemen" - free-roaming reporters sent in by news organisations to cover conflicts. The death of Terry Lloyd, ITN correspondent, and two of his crew, apparently as a result of friendly fire, is one tragic example.

Baghdad-based correspondents have also seen their importance diminished. In the first Gulf war, correspondents such as CNN's Peter Arnett grabbed air time simply because they appeared to be in the line of fire.

Today, these correspondents have been upstaged by their colleagues accompanying US and British forces. The advance of the 7th Cavalry Division through the desert, the night-time firefights involving British Marines outside Umm Qasr - these live pictures have beaten out the fuzzy black images of the latest presidential palace exploding on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Television reporters have at times found it hard to maintain distance from their subjects. One network correspondent aboard a US aircraft carrier asked a bomber pilot whether he was pleased with his "performance". On Saturday, a correspondent asked Victoria Clarke, chief spokesperson, whether Americans could expect another "show" like Friday's shock-and-awe strike on Baghdad. War is not a game, snapped Ms Clarke.

Print journalists, too, have found it difficult to avoid being co-opted by the Pentagon's seductive embrace. This is especially true when reporting on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, has deliberately kept alive rumours that the Iraqi leader is either missing, injured or dead. These comments have been dutifully reported daily, with less attention paid to the underlying goal: sowing confusion in enemy ranks and splitting Mr Hussein from his high command.

Mr Rumsfeld has also dropped hints about unofficial contacts between US intelligence, US special forces and elements of the Iraqi military. Such psy-ops, coupled with the dropping of 25m leaflets in Iraq, the decapitation attempt on the life of Mr Hussein and the bombing of his symbols of power, are all integral to the "effects-based" US military campaign.

In the last resort, much will depend on a short campaign. Pollsters such as John Zogby estimate that public support for the war will remain solid for at least the first three weeks. After that, everything becomes more fluid. This explains why winning the battle for hearts and minds is as important as defeating the Iraqi Republican Guard - not just in Iraq but also in the US and in the rest of the world. That will be the ultimate test of operation Iraqi Freedom.

The writer is US managing editor of the Financial Times

From the San Francisco Chronicle


DTL Arab news channel fends off criticism of harsh images Al-Jazeera says it must show reality of war

Ashraf Khalil

Monday, March 24, 2003

Doha, Qatar -- The Al-Jazeera news channel, based in Qatar, found itself in the center of a media storm Sunday after airing graphic footage of dead and captured U.S. soldiers.

The video, provided by the Iraqi government, dwelt at length on the corpses of several U.S. servicemen apparently killed during the battle for the southern Iraqi town of Nassiriyah. It later went on to show several dazed, and in some cases bloodied, American POWs being asked questions such as: "Why did you come here to kill Iraqis?"

The airing of the footage, at about 6:30 p.m. local time, cast a pall over the Al Saliyah military base on the outskirts of Al-Jazeera's home city of Doha. One military public affairs officer -- eyes still wet -- declined to comment on the footage, saying, "I really don't want to talk about Al-Jazeera right now."


Several hours later, at a daily press briefing, those raw nerves were still evident. After fielding a question by Al-Jazeera correspondent Omar Essawi, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid took exception to the footage, calling its airing "totally unacceptable" and "disgusting." The mood in the press room chilled further when a reporter for New York magazine asked Abizaid if Al-Jazeera would, at some point, be considered "hostile media."

The controversy is just the latest for the 7-year-old Al-Jazeera channel, which has in the past earned the enmity of both the U.S. government and several Middle Eastern countries. Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. officials complained publicly about the channel's penchant for airing videos of Osama bin Laden and providing airtime to Muslim fundamentalists and harsh critics of the United States. In early October 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell took the extraordinary step of asking the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, to rein in the channel, which is funded by the Qatari government.


Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera has carried on a series of running battles with several Arab governments over its willingness to host guests openly critical of local leaders. Al-Jazeera staffers say the sheer diversity of their critics is proof of their journalistic credentials -- a trait that they say has helped the channel win a vast and loyal Arab viewer base.

One Al-Jazeera producer, who was present when the Iraqi footage first arrived at the channel, said there was never any question of whether to run the images.

"It was footage and it was real, so we ran it," he said. Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ali Ballout defended the decision to air the gruesome images, saying the channel has never shied away from depicting the reality of war. Earlier Sunday, the channel had aired equally graphic footage of the aftermath of U.S. attacks on the Ansar al Islami group's stronghold in northern Iraq.

"It was horrible today. But it was horrible yesterday as well. War is horrible," he said. "It's like everybody forgot that war creates death."

Most Western broadcasters made repeated reference to the Al-Jazeera footage, but showed only short clippings -- with the faces of the prisoners of war pixilated to obscure their identities.

All the networks said they would not show video of what was said to be an Iraqi morgue containing American bodies, saying the material was neither newsworthy nor appropriate for airing. However, both CNN and NBC aired a still image of bodies that could not be identified.


"They are horrifying pictures, and we are not showing them on MSNBC," said anchor John Siegenthaler. "Why would Al-Jazeera put them on television?"

ABC News President David Westin said he decided not to show the footage of dead soldiers even before learning of a Pentagon request to withhold broadcast.

"I didn't see the showing of actual bodies as necessary or newsworthy," he said. "It was clearly done for the purpose of disturbing and enraging people." But he said he would air the footage of the prisoners of war once their relatives had been notified. CBS spokeswoman Sandra Genelius said her network also would make "judicious and tasteful" use of the POW footage after the Pentagon notification.

Late Sunday, Al-Jazeera aired a news package exploring the issue of what is acceptable to broadcast during wartime -- pointing out that equally gruesome images were commonly shown in the Western media during the Vietnam War, images that helped turn the tide of U.S. public opinion against the conflict.

But in what can be viewed as an acknowledgment of the sensitivity of the issue, Al-Jazeera has not shown the footage again after its initial series of airings. The producer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a decision was made not to show the footage in its entirety again.

Chronicle news services contributed to this report

From The Financial Times



US networks launching TV wars

By Alison Beard and Christopher Grimes in New York

Financial Times, March 21, 2003

US television networks put their multi-million-dollar war news operations to work on Wednesday night, launching into commercial-free coverage minutes after sirens and explosions were heard in Baghdad.

NBC, which had Peter Arnett reporting from the Iraqi capital, was first to preempt its regular programming, but it was followed closely by CBS and CNN and Fox News Channel cable networks. ABC, which had been airing The Bachelor: Where Are They Now?, a follow-up to its hit reality series, was last to break away.

The US strike proved difficult to cover. The networks - and viewers - had been led to believe that the war would begin with an assault that would inspire "shock and awe". But they were forced to make do with benign images from Baghdad, speculation from instudio military experts and reports of relative calm from journalists embedded with troops.

"This is a television event that has been promoted for 18 months," said Robert Thompson, a media studies professor at Syracuse University. "All of a sudden it starts, and it was extraordinary how little footage we had. You could have almost listened-to it on the radio."

Excelling at war coverage is a matter of pride for all the networks. Few will reveal how much money they are spending or how much they may lose as ads are pre-empted and pulled. But analysts estimate that costs will total more than $100m for all the networks combined and that a week's worth of 24-hour coverage would result in lost ad revenues of $130m-$150m.

Still, television executives view war reports as a public service and as a way to build their brand. CNN, in particular, wants to re-establish its strength in cable news, after falling behind Fox. The big broadcast networks also hope to score points with viewers.

"It's important to be all over this from the beginning and we really think we established ownership of the story" on Wednesday, said Allison Gollust, an NBC spokesman.

CBS, which had an exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein last month, earned kudos for early reports from David Martin, Pentagon correspondent, that the US had seized a "target opportunity", launching cruise missiles and bombs ahead of its main onslaught.

Anchor Dan Rather added colourful commentary, describing the attack as a "Good morning Baghdad from President Bush" that would "give Saddam the willies". CNN was the first to report that Saddam Hussein had been a likely target in the Wednesday strike. Only two networks, CBS and Fox, used patriotic symbols in their coverage, putting flags on war report logos and, in Fox's case, on journalists' lapels.

Networks were lambasted for similar moves after the September 11 attacks, with critics arguing that it diminished their journalistic credibility.

"Clearly this was being reported from the American point of view," Mr Thompson said of all the reports. "But the average American viewer doesn't see a problem" with the flag imagery. Nielsen Media Research, which tracks US television viewing habits, said yesterday that it was too early to declare which network had achieved the highest ratings on Wednesday night.

On Monday, ABC's decision to follow President George W. Bush's address with a three-hour news special as competitors returned to sitcoms and dramas boosted the network to a second-place tie in the nightly ratings.

From the Columbia Journalism Review


March/April 2003


In a Desperate Race for Ratings, the Public Falls Behind


In a windowless, sprawling newsroom the size of a football field below street-level in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center, scores of youngish writers, editors, producers, and technicians are scurrying about amid a warren of workstations. The pace quickens as prime time in the East, 7 to 11 p.m., approaches. Along one wall, a row of office "pods" enclose the staffs for Fox News Channel's New York-based on-air personalities: Neil Cavuto, John Gibson, Shepard Smith, Bill O'Reilly. Against the opposite wall is the "war room," where top editors meet to decide what stories get covered and by whom. Occupying the "end zone" of this bustling rectangle is an expansive glass-enclosed master control room, with its towering wall of blinking television monitors, from which Fox News - the nation's number one cable news network - sends its television pictures to 80 million homes.

Three floors above, forty-nine-year-old John Moody sits in a smallish office at an impeccably neat desk before three muted television screens, tuned to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. Moody is the former Time bureau chief in Eastern Europe and Latin America (and author of a pair of novels) who runs Fox's day-to-day news coverage. He is pondering the question: How did the upstart and reviled (in many quarters) FNC, which came on the air in late 1996, so quickly and unpredictably triumph in the ratings over its two competitors: CNN, the granddaddy of cable news networks, begun in 1980; and MSNBC, which arrived (early 1996) with a silver spoon in its mouth, put there by its parents, two of the richest companies in U.S. business history (General Electric and Microsoft), and having NBC News (also owned by GE) as a sibling?

Few in the press gave FNC much of a chance in that field of three, Moody recalls, but they hadn't counted on the resourcefulness of Roger Ailes, the network's chairman - named by Electronic Media magazine as the most powerful figure in TV news for the last two years - or on Rupert Murdoch's determination to mount a successful cable news operation (and, by the by, to spank his old nemesis, CNN's founder, Ted Turner, who had predicted CNN would "squash Murdoch like a bug"). "We had a message," says Moody. "More than a slogan, it's a way of looking at the news business - 'fair and balanced' - and it rang a chord with American viewers who were tired of being lectured to, of being told that snail darters are more important than jobs. If there's a reason for our success, it's that we speak to people, not down to them."

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Fox executives resent the charge (or pretend to) that Fox is unequivocally a politically conservative network. ("I absolutely, totally deny it," Ailes roared to Brill's Content in 1999. In November, Ailes drew hostile fire when it came to light that he had volunteered policy advice to President George W. Bush.) Critics brand FNC with the scarlet "C," Moody claims, because "we don't accept the standard liberal truisms. They want no tinge of doubt, for example, that Nelson Mandela is the best thing that ever happened to South Africa. I'm not sure that's true. They insist that the most pressing health issue in the U.S. is AIDS. I think more people would rather cure cancer. They want homosexuals treated not just as equals, but given special treatment. On the street where I live, most people would say 'no thank you' to that idea. So if we are accused of being conservative it's because we haven't fallen for the same truisms that have masqueraded as journalism for the last twenty-five years."


The matter of FNC's political orientation or lack of it is, in fact, a sideshow issue in the fierce rivalry raging between CNN and Fox, with MSNBC a distant third. In January 2002, FNC for the first time began attracting larger audiences than CNN. In prime time, the network is averaging 1.4 million viewers to CNN's 901,000 and MSNBC's 379,000. On election night 2002 between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. Eastern Time, Fox enjoyed a 35 percent increase in its audience size over the 2000 election night. CNN was down 59 percent and MSNBC fell off 65 percent. Fox's emergence as the most watched cable news network is the more remarkable because CNN reaches 9 million more homes. (Fox's viewers are also more affluent, with $64,500 average income among 25- to 54-year-olds, versus $62,000 for CNN and $59,500 for MSNBC. And CNN's viewers are a lot older: 61.1 years on average, to Fox's 57.4 and MSNBC's 52.3.)

But the big story in cable news is the effect that supercharged competition is having on the quality of the prime time cable news schedule. All three networks are battling with the same weapons: talk, opinion, punditry, debate - not to mention the psychedelic, color-saturated graphics, a rataplan of computer-generated sound, and screens so crowded with info-bits, including a traveling zipper of text across the bottom, that they look like pinball machines in a penny arcade. (CNN's Lou Dobbs and Aaron Brown don't disguise their disdain for the so-called "creepy crawler," which challenges people to read, listen, and watch video all at the same time. Dobbs has encouraged viewers to block out the bottom of their screens with duct tape. Brown responded to the news that CNN research showed that 67 percent of viewers prefer the crawl: "Prefer it to what? Freeze-dried coffee?")

Robert Lichter, president of the Washington-based Center for Media and Public Affairs and a paid consultant to Fox, says: "I've never been able to figure out how competition makes cars better and television news worse." He means that the struggle to grab viewers is currently dragging the whole cable news environment down. "In other industries, competition creates new and different products. In television, it makes all the products look the same. That's weird."

Weird or not, TV watchers are showing up in ever greater numbers for the nightly circuses on cable news. Phenomenally, the average audience has doubled just in the last two years from 1.1 million to 2.2 million, according to Nielsen Media Research figures. It now appears that by 7 p.m., many Americans have ingested all the news they care to hear - on car radios, the Rather-Brokaw-Jennings programs, the Internet - and are ready to settle back after dinner to enjoy gladiatorial slugfests and verbal duels to the death about a narrow range of news events (snipers, Gary Condit, Winona Ryder, JonBenet Ramsey, Elian Gonzalez) rather than detailed, substantive reporting about what's really going on in Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia, and here at home.

Thus, at 7 p.m., CNN's Crossfire, with Robert Novak, Paul Begala, Tucker Carlson, James Carville and guests, stages an OK Corral political shootout between Left and Right, marked by shouted crosstalk before a live audience. Fox's Shepard Smith fronts the network's flagship newscast of the evening, a grab-bag crammed with more than a hundred news and news-feature snippets, many of them just seconds long, interrupted by pounding tympani, terrifying bursts of video-parlor graphics and sound, along with the oft-repeated mantra "We report, you decide." At 8 p.m., Fox's Bill O'Reilly, the king of prime time cable, plays the angry-white-male defender of commonsensical values to an audience (2.4 million) that leaves CNN's Connie Chung (739,000) and MSNBC's hapless, overcaffeinated Phil Donahue (379,000) with the crumbs. Other loudly confrontational tussles arrive at 9: Fox's right-wing Sean Hannity and left-leaning Alan Colmes, opposite MSNBC's hardballing wonk, Chris Matthews. Over at CNN at that hour, Larry King's relatively somnolent style makes him seem increasingly like a senior citizen who has wandered into a heavy-metal concert. Bracketing CNN's prime time schedule at 6 and 10 is a pair of substantial, more traditional newscasts: Lou Dobbs Moneyline and NewsNight with Aaron Brown, with reports from CNN's bureaus around the world. Fox's curtain-raiser at 6 is a newscast cum pundit-fest, orchestrated by the network's main man in Washington, the conservative anchor Brit Hume, with panelists Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke, and Mara Liasson.

So how come Fox's schedule is the big crowd-pleaser? The network's success is arguably more the result of packaging and personalities than right-wing politics.

"They're fast, they're funny, and they're furious," says Reese Schonfeld, the founding president of CNN. "They're also very slick and beautifully produced." He thinks that Ailes - a former adviser to Nixon, Reagan, and Bush One - performed remarkably in overtaking an established brand like CNN in just six years.


An evening of cable news watching can leave one overstimulated and underinformed - endless garbaging of opinion with little hard information except for scraps of news at the top of the hour. (More hard news is conveyed in the daytime, when audiences are tiny and the stakes lower.) No long-form documentaries on subjects of crucial importance to the nation interrupt the weekday prime time personality parade. Long gone is a CNN newsmagazine, NewsStand, which utilized the massed firepower of Time Inc. to bring a jot of variety to the schedule. Creating documentaries and covering news is expensive, says Richard C. Wald, a long-time ABC News executive, now a professor at Columbia's journalism school. "Talk is cheap."

CNN's boss, chairman Walter Isaacson - the former editor of Time, drafted in July 2001 by AOL Time Warner to energize CNN - is at pains to build space between his network's talkers and those of the other two. Nobody tunes in Connie Chung and Larry King to learn their opinions, Isaacson told cjr. The task of the ChungKing shows is to elicit the guests' (usually fervent) views. In the same time period, O'Reilly and Hannity & Colmes on Fox and Donahue-Matthews on MSNBC market their own views as the stuff and substance of their programs. "We've moved away, while the other networks have moved toward, the idea of giving opinions," says Isaacson. "We want journalists who are there to listen to other people's news and information and opinions. To say that all talk is the same is missing the point of what cable is about and what the mission is about." Point taken, Crossfire notwithstanding.

The big mystery over at MSNBC is: How come that network, with its enviable pedigree, has demonstrated so little audience appeal that experts are wondering if there's really room in this combat zone for three cable news networks? In April, Erik Sorenson, the president of MSNBC, told USA Today: "Fox is doing the tango while CNN and MSNBC are waltzing. We're doing a beautiful waltz, but the tango is the dance of the day." In October, GE's chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, dissed his own journalists when he appeared on Fox to announce his dismay over MSNBC's performance. "I think the standard right now is Fox," he told Neil Cavuto, the network's business anchor. "I want [MSNBC] to be as interesting and edgy as you guys are." The remark sent morale at MSNBC even lower. Microsoft's ceo, Steve Ballmer, has confessed several times that if he had it to do over again, Microsoft wouldn't team up with NBC News. The company had put up $500 million to buy into cable news, and continues to pay GE a $30 million license fee each year for access to NBC News coverage. The question becomes: Will Microsoft continue its partnership with GE indefinitely, and if so, why?

The idea behind a Microsoft/GE liaison was that NBC News would be the newsgathering mother ship for multiple appendages - MSNBC, CNBC, MSNBC.Com, the NBC affiliates - and that synergy (a term now in some disrepute) would make the whole greater than its parts; also, the deal would usefully conjoin computers and television in marvelous new ways. That structure was brilliant in theory, says Merrill Brown, former editor-in-chief of MSNBC.Com, but the partners are still struggling to figure out how to make it actually work. Unlike the other two cablenets, MSNBC has virtually no capacity of its own to cover major events, and relies almost entirely on NBC News for major stories like wars and election nights.

In July, MSNBC revamped its prime time schedule, banishing Brian Williams and his respectable 8 p.m. newscast to CNBC and thrusting Phil Donahue into combat against O'Reilly and Chung. It was a disastrous misstep, sending all the wrong messages about the network's putative dedication to news. Removing Williams - destined to be Tom Brokaw's successor after the 2004 elections - "reduced the journalism quotient of the entire network," says Jack Myers, editor of the trade journal The Myers Report, "depriving it of a journalist who had visibility and credibility." Donahue started strong, then quickly lost most of his audience, leaving him with a viewership almost too tiny for Nielsen to measure. Barring major improvement, Donahue will disappear from MSNBC's schedule early in 2003, possibly replaced by former Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota.

Enter Jerry Nachman, hired by MSNBC in May as vice-president and editor-in-chief. Nachman, a rough-and-tumble hard-news guy, a former editor of the New York Post, has been a TV news director, radio and TV street reporter, and staff writer on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, and owns a Peabody and an Emmy. What's MSNBC's strategy for getting into the ballgame? "I honestly don't think there is a strategy yet," Nachman replied in mid-October. "But the hole in the middle of that line of scrimmage is so big - between what Fox does with its daunting, jangly pinball machine, and what CNN offers - that somewhere in there is the right place for us to be. Some mix of opinion and hard news." Viewers gravitate to O'Reilly, Nachman says, irrespective of the day's topic. "They want to see him. We don't have anyone like that yet."

The people who have owned and operated MSNBC are afflicted with what Nachman calls "impulse control disorder" - they mess with the schedule and don't give programs enough time to find their audience. O'Reilly earned low numbers on Fox for years, Nachman recalls, but the network stuck with him and eventually he became the most popular figure on cable news. "When the viewers go to Fox or CNN they pretty much know what they're going to get. We've been a work in progress too long. We need to work it out sooner rather than later."


Even though CNN runs second to Fox in the ratings, it is number one in credibility among all television news sources - broadcast or cable - according to a Pew Research Center poll released in August. Thirty-seven percent of Americans who have an opinion on the matter say they believe "all or most" of what CNN tells them. MSNBC gets 28 percent and FNC 24 percent. Isaacson, who took over the reins at CNN in July 2001, is happy to expand on that. "Just because you're getting the highest rating," he says, "doesn't mean you're doing the right thing. Ratings don't necessarily translate into money or success or respectability or good journalism. I could get extremely good ratings by putting on every car chase, plus wrestling and SpongeBob."

Moneyline, in fact, attracts a smallish audience at 6 o'clock, but its affluent viewers are highly desirable to advertisers, so the program is a major money maker. For such reasons - and others, relating to CNN's presence in more cable households than its competitors - the network boasts higher revenue than both Fox and MSNBC. "Under most ways of defining who's winning," Isaacson says, "we're very healthy, very profitable, and growing, opening more bureaus around the world." CNN's global reach is, in fact, far greater than that of any other TV news organization: forty-two bureaus, thirty-one of them abroad. CNN International, launched five years after CNN, is the world's only global, twenty-four-hour news network, reaching more than 160 million households in 212 countries and territories. For years, CNN has enjoyed pride of place in hotspots like Baghdad and Havana.

The threat of war in Iraq is the armature for a mega-merger that could forever alter the balance of power in the cable news wars. Covering the conflict would drain tens of millions of dollars from news budgets. ABC News is the latest suitor for CNN's hand in a marriage that might save each of them $100 million a year. It would create a news powerhouse that would combine the star power of ABC News - Jennings, Koppel, Sawyer - with the global reach and 24/7 ubiquity of CNN. Experts differ mightily on whether it's a good idea or a dreadful one. The decision to wed or to break off the engagement will be made for monetary reasons, not journalistic ones. Michael Eisner, chairman of Disney (parent of ABC), wants the nuptials badly and so do top-echelon executives at AOL Time Warner, parent of CNN. The question is: Once in the bedroom, who will do what to whom? Who gets to be on top? Who gets operating control? A deal would give ABC News a global audience and CNN would get access to virtually all 110 million U.S. TV homes, rather than just the ones it reaches now via cable and home satellite. CNN's operating profit of $200 million on revenues of $1.6 billion dwarfs that of ABC News.

Eisner's devotion to news is famously minimal: he tried to bump Ted Koppel from Nightline and hire David Letterman; insiders suspect he'd dearly love to be rid of ABC News. Both Disney and AOL Time Warner shareholders are mutinous at the calamitous decline in the companies' stock values. A merger would signal Wall Street that they are serious about taking dramatic action. Trade union issues are a roadblock: much of ABC News is unionized, much of CNN isn't. Also: the combined salaries of ABC's handful of news "stars" - some of them in the $10 million a year range - equal a large percentage of CNN's entire operating budget.

A few Wall Street analysts are leery of the whole idea. Tom Wolzien of Sanford C. Bernstein can claim special insights because, as an NBC News executive for sixteen years, he was involved in three unsuccessful attempts to marry CNN to NBC News. An ABC deal with CNN might not produce the savings both imagine, he believes, or generate the expected spike in the companies' stock prices. In a research report, Wolzien identified two possible cost-saving options: ABC News remains a Disney property but shuts down many of its foreign and domestic bureaus and gets most of its news from CNN. Or: Disney divests itself completely of ABC News and hands the whole news operation over to CNN. Either way, Wolzien concludes, "the marriage could easily turn out to be less than one made in heaven."

Consumer activists are standing on tiptoe, shouting responses to the question: "Does anyone know any reason why this couple should not be joined in matrimony?" Jeffrey Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based watchdog group, expresses sentiments echoed by Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, and other activists. The marriage would harm the public interest by reducing the number of news outlets, he claims, and besides that, Disney promised when it bought ABC - and AOL vowed when it acquired Time Warner - that the deals would add depth and diversity to Americans' news diets. They're reneging on those promises, says Chester, and the Justice Department and the FCC should block the merger.

Others object for less lofty reasons. "I think it's an awful idea," says Reese Schonfeld. "The problems can be worked out on paper but never in the real world." Says Jack Meyers: The plan is "culturally inconceivable."

Will CNN and ABC News actually hook up and thus permanently alter the balance of power in the cable wars? The answer: a firm "maybe."


Cable news generates far more buzz than broadcast news, even though ABC, CBS, and NBC have most of the marquee names and a total audience that makes the cablenets look like scrawny new kids in the neighborhood. Rather-Brokaw-Jennings attract an average of 34.7 million unique viewers. That's more than ten times the 3.2 million people watching CNN, FNC, and MSNBC - plus CNN Headline News and CNBC - from 6:30 to 7 p.m., according to figures compiled by CBS News. But cable news is edgier, noisier, more outrageous, more tendentious - and it's there all the time.

For three weeks in October, for example, the cablenets virtually ignored all other news except the search for the alleged snipers, John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo. Nielsen figures showed that viewers immediately switched to a rival network whenever one of them bailed out of that story to give other news. Cable's producers read the handwriting on the wall - as they had many times in the past, with O.J., Monica, Chandra, and others - and remorselessly hammered the sniper story, giving short shrift to the coming November elections. It paid off. Cable news won its largest average daily audiences of 2002; on October 24, the day of the capture, 1.7 million people watched FNC, CNN attracted 1.3 million, and MSNBC got nearly 700,000, all record numbers.

CNN's Isaacson admits that his network sometimes runs too hard with a story. Every time he'd tell his producers to scale back coverage of the snipers, however, another victim was shot. "Everybody in the newsroom would go nuts, and I'd say, 'Okay, Okay, never mind.'" Cable news networks have learned to lie in wait for the next big story and then smother it. One such mega-story lifts all boats. In between, their ratings sag. Says Robert Lichter: "The problem for cable journalism is that, too often, all resources are funneled toward the one story that's increasing ratings for everybody. The same journalists who claim to be proud of their high calling will shrug and say, 'The Nielsens made us do it.' There's a hypocrisy there. Economics trumps quality."

The next real test of the power balance in cable news looms, as war with Iraq becomes more likely. CNN, with far greater reach and resources, wants to own the story, as it did in the Persian Gulf in 1991 before FNC and MSNBC were born. That conflict made CNN a major player in global news for the first time. If, as CNN expects, viewers defect to it in droves during the action, the network could once again become the cable news leader by holding onto a percentage of them when the war ends. Eason Jordan, the executive who oversees CNN's international newsgathering, is leading a full-court press in the effort to assure that the network will dominate coverage in a war on Iraq. "It's a struggle every day to maintain our presence there," he says. Hard-line factions within the Iraqi government view all journalists as spies. On one of Jordan's dozen trips to Baghdad, a member of the so-called Revolutionary Command Council accused him not only of spying but of being the CIA station chief for Iraq. Wolf Blitzer, Christiane Amanpour, and Richard Roth are among CNN correspondents who've been banned from the country for coverage the Iraqis deem unfriendly.

"If the balloon goes up in Iraq," says Garrick Utley, a CNN contributor, "it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top in the ratings." The old-line warhorses at ABC, CBS, and NBC will be moving their heavy chariots into position, making it a six-horse race instead of three.

But cable news practitioners feel sure that they are the future and that the Rather-Brokaw-Jennings axis is increasingly an anachronism, despite the current numbers. "At this moment, we're in the early stages of a big changeover," says Jack Abernethy, Fox's executive vice president. He's wagering that cable, not broadcasting, will become the principal source of television news in peace as well as in war.

That sounds like a good bet - if you plan to be around long enough to collect.

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