March 24, 2003

Media Mayhem Attention: Rant Ahead

Media Mayhem
Attention: Rant Ahead

I'm a journalist. I went to school for journalism and earned my degree in mass communication/journalism, and I've been working in a variety of print mediums, from newspapers, to books, to magazines, for the past six years. Six years doesn't make me an expert on anything, and I don't profess to be an authority on anything except bowel movements, but I can tell you, as a journalist, I think the quality of mass media war reporting is horrible.

It doesn't matter what side you're on--whether you're for or against this war. Coverage on either side is so biased it would be laugh-out-loud funny if it weren't such a serious issue. In my mass communications classes, professors admitted that it was difficult not to become involved with the articles we write, but they all said that we should try our best to keep our opinions out of genuine news pieces. If it's an editorial, fine, go ahead and opinionate until you're gasping for breath, but if you're writing news, keep a cap on the bias. Somewhere along the line, however, this golden rule of journalism got tossed to the curb like a pee-stained couch.

For example, since when is it the reporter's duty to interject haughty adjectives into pure news pieces? What gives reporter Preston Mendenhall the right to categorize Iraqi resistance as "vigorous?" As opposed to what? Casual resistance? Just say "resistance." I think readers can connect the dots from there.

Fox News isn't any better. Granted, Fox News couldn't be any more biased even if all their anchors were Republicans hand picked by W Bush himself, but their reporting is often so transparent they come across with about as much subtlety as the Creel Committee World War I propaganda machine. When the Iraq war first started, I heard a Fox News anchor announce that "America has yet to release its mighty might" and I damn near shot Diet Pepsi out my nose. "Mighty might?" I kept imagining a cape-wearing mouse singing "Heeere I come to save the daaaaayy!" That's not reporting; that's cheerleading.

While flying back from Colorado on Saturday night, I was perusing the latest issue of Newsweek. Their cover story, written by Fareed Zakaria, had the headline "Arrogant Empire." Jeez! Let's not even touch the whole "arrogant" issue. I could expound on that until my fingers fall off on the keyboard. What gets me is the whole "empire" thing, as if the United States is spreading out across the world and planting its flag in the butt crack of every world leader. If we were truly seeking and maintaining an empire, the Middle East would consist of the United States Arab Emirates, the American Protectorate of Libya, the Territory of Qatar, and Afghanistan would be our 51st state. Empire my ass (hey, that's three posterior references in five paragraphs. Impressive).

Now I am by no means innocent of the sin of journalistic bias. In the year and a half I've written for IBM eServer Magazine, I've sacrificed my non-biased integrity more times than I can count, mainly because we're beholden to the "almighty might" of the the IBM legal department, which pretty much dictates what the word "is" is. But this is a niche publication, and people don't necessarily rely upon it for informed political and world discussion (and if they do rely on it, they have problems). I expect more, much more, from the journalists and reporters who bring me international news. Hell, Salam Pax does a better job of reporting from Iraq than most professional reporters do, and he's an Iraqi living in Baghdad. Consider:

>From Salam Pax: half an hour ago the oil filled trenches were put on fire. First watching Al-jazeera they said that these were the places that got hit by bombs from an air raid a few miniutes earlier bit when I went up to the roof to take a look I saw that there were too many of them, we heard only three explosions. I took pictures of the nearest. My cousine came and told me he saw police cars standing by one and setting it on fire. Now you can see the columns of smoke all over the city.
Todat the third in the war, we had quite a number of attacks during daytime. Some without air-raid sirens. They probably just gave up on being able to be on time to sound the sirens. Last night, after waves after waves of attacks, they would sound the all-clear siren only to start another raid siren 30 minutes later.

Aside from the occasional word spelled incorrectly, that's a pretty unbiased excerpt. It tells you what the situation is in a concise fashion. Now consider:

>From reporter Nate Thayer: Today, for the first time, the bombs fell and the missiles struck in daylight. The assault lasted all day. And it came not only from long-range missiles but from coalition planes that are flying over our heads and dropping their payloads in the neighborhood of the Palestine Hotel, where most of the foreign journalists remaining in Baghdad are staying. Today is also the first time that I am truly frightened. It is not the American bombs I am primarily afraid of. What frightens me and Mary - the name I'll give a photographer with whom I've become inseparable - is the mood of the people. The city is thick with anger and defiance, and we are Americans.

So, what I'm gathering is that Nate is a pretty scared little puppy, and he'd appreciate if the U.S. would stop bombing so close to his hotel. Awwwwww. Really, what did Nate expect? He should stop whining and do his job, and maybe take some tips from Salam Pax.

And at what point did the nation's media get together and decree that this war should be wrapped up in a week? Granted, we have a pretty spectacular military, but it's not immune to unknowns of war. Yes, American soldiers have died, perhaps 50, perhaps fewer. That does not constitute some horrific failure. It constitutes war. Coalition forces have rumbled to Baghdad's door in less than a week, and the media outlets of the world are asking what the hold-up is? Jeez. Even when my family drove to Montana when I was a child, we had to stop twice over night, and no one was even shooting at us, and we didn't have to maintain supply lines or anything. To the mass media agencies of the world, can I just offer up this tidbit of advice: please don't play up every death or setback as a major defeat for the U.S. military. Shit happens in war. There's your headline. When you look at the big picture, Iraq is about to fall.

Then the U.S. can add the Protectorate of Iraq to our arrogant empire.


Posted by Ryan at March 24, 2003 01:52 PM
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