Magazine article Newsweek International

The Uncredible Hulk

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Uncredible Hulk

Article excerpt

It was day 14 of the war, and the headlines in the Spanish papers were awful. ABC of Madrid: civilian victims mount. El Pais, Madrid: dozens of women and children die. El Periodico, Barcelona: the daily massacre in iraq. At the Madrid headquarters of the state television network TVE, journalists were putting together the nightly news. Some wore antiwar buttons. They all worked amid no to the war banners erected by unions. And this was at a TV powerhouse run by a government that is pro-war.

As the deadline for the 9 o'clock news neared, grim footage, much of it picturing wounded Iraqis, flashed on scores of monitors. Setting aside his scripts for a moment, news anchor Alfredo Urdaci said: "What people are seeing on television is reinforcing all the doubts and concerns they had from the beginning. The planners said the war was going to be surgical, fast, clean. It didn't happen."

The war is now going far better for America. But the fact remains: the United States has lost hearts and minds--and credibility--all over the world, not just the Middle East. In the first two weeks of the war, most viewers were treated primarily to images of bloodied Iraqi civilians, stories of friendly-fire accidents and dire humanitarian needs--not the rah-rah catalog of Coalition victories evident on U.S. television. Pentagon suggestions that Saddam Hussein is dead--several times over--are reported uncritically on American media like Fox News, but are treated more skeptically in Europe and serve only to put Washington's war in worse light. This, --in turn, opens the door for outrage reporting in Europe, such as the German magazine Der Spiegel's cover story that compared the bombing of Baghdad to the carpet-bombing of Dresden in 1945. From the front page of the Greek daily Eleftherotypia blared the headline serial killers.

The saturation coverage means that even when the news is good--and particularly when it's presented by high-profile hawks like U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld--fewer and fewer people are willing to listen. It was the patently unbelievable statements coming out of the Pentagon's "5 o'clock follies" briefings during Vietnam that gave birth to the dreaded phrase "credibility gap." It took decades for U.S. military and political leaders to overcome that legacy of popular mistrust--if not active dislike. Now, it sometimes seems, America has come full circle. "It's gotten to the point that, rightly or wrongly, the public doesn't know what to believe, except that it shouldn't trust America," says Felipe Sahagun, a columnist for El Mundo in Madrid.

The tenor of the news feeds upon an already virulent anti-Americanism. It taps into three-year-old suspicions of President George W. Bush's motives, intelligence and capabilities. And it is reopening historical wounds. In Greece people remember how Washington supported a repressive military junta two generations ago. So it was only mildly shocking when the film director Nikos Koundouros went on a TV chat show last week and declared: "Americans are animals. …

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