CNN-War Casualty. (Comment)

By Douglas, Susan J. | The Nation, April 14, 2003 | Go to article overview

CNN-War Casualty. (Comment)


Douglas, Susan J., The Nation


You could have knocked CNN's Aaron Brown over with a feather. He seemed incredulous that within a twenty-four-hour period the Iraqi Minister of Information had thrown CNN out of the country (reportedly for being worse than the Bush Administration when it came to propaganda), and, back home, thousands of people had gathered outside the network's Los Angeles and Atlanta offices to demonstrate against its Mortal Kombat-style coverage of the invasion, holding signs that read, War Is Not a Game. Iraq's charges were "fabricated" and "unfounded," CNN insisted. As for the demonstrators, their charge that the network was "glorifying" the war was put in the usual let's-dismiss-this-drivel quotation marks. In fact, Brown noted, most people relax during the weekend and "for them," meaning the real Americans, "we have polls." On came political oracle Bill Schneider (as a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, hardly a neutral analyst) to report "strong support" for the war (based on a survey of 463 people). Democrats, according to Schneider, "don't see the connection between Iraq and 9/11 that a lot of Americans do." In other words, Democrats are blind, and un-American to boot. Schneider advised Team Bush that they would have to find weapons of mass destruction and produce images of grateful Iraqis welcoming US troops to make the Democrats admit their "error."

Adherence to the Katie Gibbs school of journalism--stenographers dutifully copying down and repeating back what the Big Government Officials say--has made CNN, its credibility and dignity, a huge casualty of this war. Peter Jennings and the folks at ABC sound like I.F. Stone's Weekly by comparison. (Indeed, ABC has been targeted by the right for being too liberal because it has at times actually questioned Administration assertions.) CNN built its reputation as the television news of record, covering international stories with a depth and breadth the broadcast networks couldn't match. But now, "the most trusted name in news" (as its news crawl has been asserting for months) looks to many of us like Team Bush's ministry of propaganda.

This has been going on since long before the war began. On March 7, for example, Schneider effused that "America's British allies turn out to be strongly supportive--75 percent!" Viewers then got the small print--if inspectors found proof that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction and if the UN approved such action. While CNN did air debates between those opposed to and those in favor of the war, the overall common sense it conveyed was that Democratic opponents should bite their tongues. To select just one example, Judy Woodruff led a discussion with political analysts Stuart Rothenberg and Amy Walter about the Democrats' prospects for 2004. Rothenberg said war makes it "very difficult to be partisan," and Democrats can't "second-guess" the President because it will make them look unpatriotic. Was any candidate free to speak or were they all really just "under a blanket"? Woodruff asked leadingly. "While fighting is going on," Woodruff pressed on, "is it pretty much just an unspoken agreement that they can't really say anything?

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