It’s been a dark war for journalism.
At first, all seemed wonderful, what with the embedded reporters and cooperative Pentagon. Reporters and photographers alike rejoiced in the access allowed them.
But something has gone terribly wrong.
First came the blind following of media voices, echoing the spin-laden words of the military brass: “shock and awe,” “quick campaign,” “psy-ops,” the list goes on. The result was a mass consciousness that the Second Gulf War would be quick, easy and painless.
But of course, things got more difficult. And so the news reports begin echoing each other, again using similar phrases: “bogged down,” “stalled,” “strained supply lines.”
But the war has really remained even-paced, not this manic-depressive roller coaster as portrayed by the cable TV news machine. No one in Washington was surprised when military equipment was found in a hospital or when soldiers used women and children as human shields.
The news reports have been panic-driven, questioning everyone in the chain of command-from the commander in chief on down, which is good. The media should be questioning the government closely in a time of war.
But by blindly parroting Pentagon spin in the days before the war, the media eroded their credibility, seeming to speak out of both sides of their mouths. War is bad enough without hysteria.
But far worse than the mass media and their sudden schizophrenia is that of Peter Arnett, once the most respected Persian Gulf journalist, now the most disgraced.
Arnett gave a 15-minute interview to state-controlled Iraqi television this weekend. In it, he said the U.S. war plan had failed. Arnett threw journalistic integrity to the wind by making up facts and broadcasting them to the Iraqi people:
* “Now America is reappraising the battlefield, delaying the war, maybe a week and rewriting the war plan,” Arnett said. “The first plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another plan.”
This simply cannot be backed up unless Arnett, who is in Baghdad, somehow has access to the military command centers in Washington and Qatar.
* There is a “growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war, and also opposition to the war.”
With nearly three-fourths of America supporting both the president and the war, Arnett’s assertions are not only inaccurate, they are blatant opinion belying that reporter’s own bias against the war.
Quite appropriately, NBC, MSNBC and National Geographic all fired him within hours. The dangerous trend of the mass media to deliver opinion-laden “news analyses” mixed with their news has culminated in this appalling example.
On the media front, at least, the war has been disastrous.