We have all been reading and seeing reports from Iraq, from journalists embedded and not, reports from what have been described as the frontlines of the fight for "Iraqi freedom." Throughout the American media world and beyond, there has been a hearty sense of a job well done and regrets for colleagues who never made it home.
The Iraq war coverage inundated us as if there were no other news in the world. It was blow-by-blow and wall-to-wall, with the focus on the United States military campaign as it rolled across the desert and fought its way into Baghdad, stronghold of Saddam, capital of the regime, whose overthrow was demanded and accomplished. We've also seen the images and heard first-person accounts of journalists about their adventures, difficulties, scoops and disappointments.
Reporters who worked under limits imposed by the deposed Ministry of Information in Iraq were not shy about explaining what they'd had to put up with. Embedded reporters were less forthcoming about their restrictions, although nearly all claimed they were not really restrained but rather assisted in their work by Pentagon press flacks. Many of them talked about how they came to identify with and sometimes befriended soldiers in units they tagged along with, usually with the caveat that it was no different from covering any other beat. The cumulative impact of their work prompted former Pentagon press chief Kenneth Bacon to tell The Wall Street Journal, "They couldn't hire actors to do as good a job as they have done for the military."
Covering the War Coverage
I have been covering the war, too, but from another vantage point. I was embedded in my small office in NewYork's Times Square where I work as editor of the nonprofit Mediachannel.org, a global media monitoring Web site with more than 1,060 affiliates worldwide. I focused on covering the war coverage on a global basis and disseminating my findings, ruminations and dissections (I'm known as "the news dissector") on a daily Weblog. Many of these Weblog entries run 3,000-4,000 words each day; during the war, they sometimes appeared seven days each week, which speaks to my obsession with the issue.
Someone had to keep track of the media war. I say this because I've become ashamed by how much of what I've read, heard and seen has been used not to inform, illuminate and explain--what journalists once considered important--but to rationalize (a political agenda), mesmerize (the public), and create a consensus (for more preemptive unilateral action). This forces me to conclude that much of what passes for journalism here is seen as nothing but propaganda by people in other countries and by an increasing number of Americans, who are turning to international Web sites to find the kind of news they can no longer get here.
There is a mission to my madness, as well as a method. From years of covering conflicts on radio in Boston and on television at CNN, ABC News, and Globalvision (the company I co-founded), I have come to see the inadequacies in journalism's "first draft of history." There are the ways it excludes so much more than it includes; how it narrows issues in "framing" them; how it tends to mirror and reflect the view of decision-makers while pandering to the patriotism of the audience. And, most interestingly, now that the Web provides instantaneous access to comparable news stories from different countries, we can see how ideology and cultural outlook shapes what gets reported and what doesn't.
Comparing Reports From Different Countries
Web technology made it possible for me to monitor and review, with the help of readers and other editors in our shop, war coverage from around the world. Clearly some of the reporting from other countries brought biases as strong as our own. But being able to read these reports also offered information, context and background missing in U.S. media accounts. Most of our news outlets, for example, covered a war in Iraq; others wrote of this conflict as a war on Iraq. …