Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq/Beyond the Front Lines: How the News Media Cover a World Shaped by War/Soft News Goes to War: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy in the New Media Age

Article excerpt

* Miller, David, ed. (2003). Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq. London: Pluto Press, pp. 310.

* Seib, Philip (2004). Beyond the Front Lines: How the News Media Cover a World Shaped by War. New York: Palgrave-MacMillan. pp.185.

* Baum, Matthew (2003). Soft News Goes to War: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy in the New Media Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 353.

News media maintain a critical social role, and recent works by Seib, Baum, and Miller offer valuable contributions to a vast body of literature on this subject through their focus on changes that are reshaping that role. Each of the texts grounds itself in the notion that media are vital for the preservation and development of democracy in an evolving global community, but from there they offer divergent yet equally important perspectives. Focusing on war and U.S. foreign policy, Beyond the Front Lines, Soft News, and Tell Me lies offer readers valuable understanding of ways in which media shape and influence public opinion.

In Beyond the Front Lines, Seib contends that "news media's job is to educate the public about the new causes and contexts of conflicts as well as the dynamic of political and economic globalization" (p. xii). His analysis of U.S. coverage of the invasion of Iraq reveals how U.S. news outlets struggle with this endeavor as they fail to provide crucial context. Highlighting these failures is a new global journalism comprised of numerous Internet and international news sources that is forcing U.S. media to confront their shortcomings.

During the Iraq invasion, U.S. media were critiqued for their use of embedded reporters, the lack of international bureaus, real-time vs. informed reporting, and sanitized coverage. Beyond the Front Lines acknowledges these criticisms but focuses more on the difficult task faced by reporters attempting to balance an identity as detached journalists with the reality of American citizenship. Even as he recognizes the production of numerous inaccurate stories, i.e., the legend of Jessica Lynch, the author's assumption that U.S. media institutions demand objective and unbiased accounts overshadows the critiques. Stating that "precision in war coverage is...elusive" (p. 77), Seib applauds the efforts of U.S. journalists and argues that "during the Iraq war, most American journalists positioned themselves on that middle ground" between reporting and saluting (p. 86).

This forgiveness is not evident when considering the biases exhibited by Middle Eastern news organizations or the reliability of online news venues. Thanking technology for providing a voice for the silenced, these new players in the distribution of news deserve skepticism. He cautions that "web-based information... does lend itself to deception" (p. 95), and singles out Al-Jazeera to explain that "credibility and objectivity are not the same thing" (p. 107). U.S. media giants successfully transform military generals into objective military analysts, but Al-Jazeera needs reminding that access to important sources does not justify reporting propaganda as fact (p. 107). The argument that Arab media must offer more than the "Arab point of view... [because] Arab people deserve the truth..." (p. 113) needs to be expanded; otherwise media coverage during war time will remain problematic.

Matthew Baum's Soft News offers a similar understanding of news media's ability to shape political understanding, but shifts the focus to changes in the U.S. news landscape that are impacting public opinion and political decision making. Grounded in both political science and communication, Soft News establishes a news dichotomy that reveals coverage differences found in traditional hard news programs and the more recent television genre represented by The Daily Show, Access Hollywood, and Entertainment Tonight. For Baum, these coverage variations raise important questions concerning the extent and circumstances under which entertainment programs (i. …