6. the Iraq War

By Biernatzki, William E. | Communication Research Trends, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

6. the Iraq War


Biernatzki, William E., Communication Research Trends


The Data Are Still "Raw"

Needless to say, this writing, in June and July 2003, is too soon after the end of the major ground fighting in the Iraq war to be able to refer to much academic research on that war. Nevertheless, reporting on the war has been subjected to such intense scrutiny that many "journalistic" articles on the topic can lay some claim to the name "research." Such articles, as well as some commentary by informed sources provides most of the source material for this section.

A Long Preamble

Between what we are calling the "Gulf War," of 1991, and the "Iraq War," of 2003, was a period of 12 years dominated, with regard to Iraq, by repeated United Nations calls for Iraq to give up its "weapons of mass destruction" and submit to arms inspections, by the declaration of no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq and their enforcement by British and American air forces, and by the Iraqi government's repression of anti-Saddam elements within the country and obstructionism regarding weapons inspections. American claims that Iraq possessed and would use weapons of mass destruction (WMDs--chemical, biological, and radiological weapons) became increasingly urgent in tone.

The American concerns grew even more insistent after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by al-Qaida and the American attack on al-Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. They reached a crescendo in President George W. Bush's January 2002 declaration that Iraq was one of three members of an "axis of evil," with Iran and North Korea, because of its possession of WMDs and its bellicose statements and irresponsible behavior in its international relations.

Afghanistan Overshadowed

The war in Afghanistan was popular and intensely covered by American media, but news coverage was limited by the largely-clandestine character of U.S. involvement--employing special forces and CIA agents working through the various anti-Taliban Afghan forces--and by the country's vast distances, unfamiliar culture, and daunting terrain. It also was quickly forgotten by many, as tensions in Iraq built up and monopolized media interest. Lori Robertson reports that Lexis-Nexis, in the period January to April 2002 carried more than 1,000 stories on Afghanistan "that were too long to display." By the same period in 2003, the total had declined to 167. Robertson quoted the Baltimore Sun as titling an April 2003 story, "Remember Afghanistan? Anybody?" Nevertheless, the situation in that country remains a live issue, likely to develop into a major problem again unless greater attention is paid to it by the American press and government (Robertson, 2003).

An international symposium, "Between War and Media," under Japanese and French sponsorship, was held in Tokyo March 25-27, 2002, to discuss factors such as the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the American response in Afghanistan, that already were beginning to foreshadow the attitudes and developments that finally led to the Iraq War. A preliminary outline for the symposium noted the centrality of the role of the media in modern warfare. In the 20th century "media did not simply record and cover war from without, but rather became a part of war, defining it, representing it, and mediating its memory ..." The same outline added, "now, we are at present witnessing the ultimate combination of war and media at the entrance to the 21st century." September 11th, Afghanistan, and the "war on terrorism" were seen by the author of the outline as marking the beginning of a larger war.

   The trends of the war that has just started are as
   yet unclear. Yet there is no doubt that media will
   become an essential condition for structuring our
   perception of the world.... And media, one must
   add, is steadily becoming unavoidably involved
   with this horizon of perception itself.
   (International Symposium, 2002)

Polls and Coverage: Pro and Con

The attack on Iraq in 2003 had far less international support than the 1991 war. …

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