Monday, November 28, 2005

American media bored with Iraq war?

Two weeks ago we ran a review of a book of Iraq war photography, Unembedded; in it, we noted the lack of coverage - both in print and on television - of this war. Leaving aside the problem of how physically dangerous it is for reporters, whether photographers or print, the question still remains: where is the coverage?

Rebecca Dana and Lizzy Ratner in a recent article for The New York Observer have posed the same question and have come up with one possible answer:

In 2003, after the invasion, media companies were warned not to feed the American news consumer too much material on the downside of war. The media-consulting firm Frank Magid Associates advised broadcast outlets that its survey results suggested that viewers had very little appetite for stories about casualties, prisoners of war and anti-war protests.

“There’s this kind of general, industry-wide view that Americans don’t like anything tough, don’t like anything complicated, don’t give a shit, don’t know how to spell the country much less care what’s going on there,”
Ms. [Christiane] Amanpour said. “I find that a very patronizing attitude.”

Yes, it is patronizing, but probably realistic, as far as it goes. When the national news coverage goes on for days about some white chick who left her husband at the altar or JaLo’s recent pregnancy (did that happen? I really don’t know) for hours and hours of Jacko or that skinny Hilton broad, I personally can’t figure out if the media is generating the celebrity-watch demand or if the public really wants to see this crap more than they want to know how their Johnny might be doing in that foreign country where the towel heads are all trying to kill him.

Bear in mind that military policy presently forbids the photographing of coffins arriving from Iraq and military funerals taking place here in America on public grounds, i.e. Arlington National Cemetery, by anyone - and that includes the grieving parents of the deceased.

So if the American media couldn’t be bothered to report the news from Iraq and the American public couldn’t be bothered to watch it, why then is the US abducting or killing reporters and targeting media offices?

Don’t think so? Read this, from the UK Guardian:

22 November 2005
Madness of war
By Kevin Maguire And Andy Lines

PRESIDENT Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a "Top Secret" No 10 memo reveals ... Bush disclosed his plan to target al-Jazeera, a civilian station with a huge Mid-East following, at a White House face-to-face with Mr Blair on
April 16 last year ... The No 10 memo now raises fresh doubts over US claims that previous attacks against al-Jazeera staff were military errors ... In 2001 the station's Kabul office was knocked out by two "smart" bombs. In 2003, al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a US missile strike on the station's Baghdad centre ... The memo, which also included details of troop deployments, turned up in May last year at the Northampton constituency office of then Labour MP Tony Clarke.

To bring us up to date, the number of journalists killed so far in Iraq (74) exceeds those killed during the Vietnam War (66), which lasted twenty years. But getting killed isn’t the only problem. It seems that if the insurgents don’t kidnap reporters, the Americans will:

The Iraqis who have taken up the most dangerous legwork are not safe either. Five Iraqi journalists are currently being held without charges by U.S. and Iraqi government troops. Since April 2003, between 10 and 13 have been killed by American gunfire.

“It really comes from all sides,” said Reuters global managing editor David Schlesinger, who has lost three Iraqi reporters to U.S. gunfire and three more to detention facilities. “Certainly there’s a huge risk from insurgents, either to be hurt or killed accidentally … but unfortunately, there’s also been an issue with U.S. troops.”

And don’t forget:

(1) Italian journalist Juliana Sgerno was shot at and her bodyguard killed at a US checkpoint,
(2) CNN’s former chief
Eason Jordan called for the US to stop targeting journalists, and
(3) The
Palestine Hotel, headquarters for the international press in Baghdad, was blasted by a US tank, with two journalists killed and several wounded, May 2004.

And of course, having embed-induced tunnel vision doesn’t help, either:

“If you’re a [Western] print reporter,” [former Washington Post bureau chief] Mr. Chandrasekaran said, “you’re pretty much confined to Baghdad. And if you want to go anywhere else, you basically have to be embedded.”

This also keeps the press working within an official, bureaucratic context. Jon Alpert, a filmmaker working on a documentary for HBO about military medicine, said that the MedEvac unit he embedded with for the project was surprisingly accommodating. But when injured troops reached the field hospital, officials invoked the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the same privacy law that has come to thwart stateside reporters.

“When we were in the hospital,” Mr. Alpert said, “I had to have a public-affairs officer with me all the time. Because it was a hospital, they were applying the HIPAA laws.”

The combination of structured access to U.S. forces and open hostility from insurgents has left reporters with lopsided sources. “Who are the insurgents?” said freelance photojournalist Kael Alford, who covered the invasion and the first three months of the occupation. “Who are these people and why are they fighting? That’s a really valuable perspective …. It’s the story we have all been trying to do all along, and very few journalists have been able to get it.”

So maybe the American media isn’t bored with the Iraqi war; perhaps they’re just frustrated by the lack of exciting visuals, corporate policy that favors tits over national security, damn little access to the Iraqi populace, lack of personnel on the ground, active interference by the military, and governmental policy that restricts what can be reported, both from here and Iraq.

In other words, it’s not their fault.

In the meantime, keep your Internet provider bill paid up or subscribe to a foreign newspaper, because that’s the only way you’re going to find out anything worth knowing about this war.

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