Commentary and links relating to media coverage of war; both before, during, and after.

William A. Dorman is Professor of Government at California State University, Sacramento, and has taught a course in War, Peace and the Mass Media since 1970.

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War, Peace, and the Mass Media
Saturday, January 10, 2004  
Think Again: The Myths of National Security Credibility

by Eric Alterman
Center for American Progress
January 8, 2004

[Blog editor's note: The Alterman piece is a particularly insightful piece of critical thinking about the dangers of failing to question a source's assumptions and the resulting effect on journalistic framing.]

When it comes to framing issues of national debate, more often than not, what a journalist does not say or write is even more significant than what he does. It is, after all, the underlying assumptions of any given issue that determine whether one party or another will be perceived as more “credible” than the other. To take an obvious example, if economic leadership were determined to imply “giving massive tax cuts to the wealthy,” then clearly George W. Bush and the Republicans would be in the ideological driver’s seat. In such a case, it would not be necessary for the White House to employ a bevy of spin-based bait and switch tactics to cover up its miserable record on job growth and deficit creation.

While the conservatives have made great strides in recent times in convincing reporters to treat economic news as the exclusive concern of Wall Street and big business, their success in this regard is in no way comparable to what they have achieved in the area of “national security.” The very words are deemed to put Democrats on the defensive. This is not because of any objective standard to which analysts or reporters can point. Did President Nixon make Americans any safer with his illegal invasion of Cambodia and his willingness to aid in the overthrow of the legally elected government of Chile? Did President Reagan increase the nation’s security by selling arms to terrorists in Iran and Central America? Has President Bush done so by alienating most of the world with his misguided adventure in Iraq as he simultaneously ignores genuine threats to our homeland deriving from the vulnerability of our ports, our nuclear facilities, our chemical facilities, etc?

Fair-minded analysts would have to go back all the way back to President Johnson and the Tonkin Gulf resolution to find a Democrat who pursued a national security strategy that was simultaneously so secretive, misguided, and counter-productive to the nation’s national security interests. And yet it is Democrats, rather than Republicans, who are almost universally deemed in the context of mainstream debate to have a “credibility” problem with national security.

A perfect example of this assumption at work can be found in an otherwise thoughtful treatment of the topic by the journalist James Traub in a New York Times Magazine cover story last Sunday, entitled “The Things They Carry.” Traub respectfully quotes Condoleezza Rice, from an essay that appeared in Foreign Affairs. Below is the full quote as it then appeared:

For the rest of Alterman's thoughtful piece, see Center for American Progress

10:58 AM

Friday, January 09, 2004  

COMMENT in Columbia Journalism Review***
Mr. Jennings’s Medal

A content analysis claims that ABC was “antiwar.” What does that mean?

A study of television news coverage of the war in Iraq says ABC’s World News Tonight was the most antiwar — far more than CBS, NBC or Fox.
— USA Today, September 9

Antiwar? What are we to make of that word, exactly? For starters, it brings to mind a twelve-year-old study on press coverage of the Catholic Church by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, the same outfit that did the study mentioned above. The findings then: press coverage is anti-Catholic. The center, which works to maintain a neutral image, did not use exactly those words but did frame its findings with a discussion of anti-Catholicism in America. And the sponsors of the study, the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic League, had no trouble characterizing it as confirming “everything most people sense about media bias against the church,” as a league official put it.

But to dig beneath the scientific-sounding mumbo in that study was to discover an Alice-in-Wonderland logic that essentially weighted as anti-Catholic bias any coverage of dissent and debate within the church. In an opening explanation of its methods, the study reprinted a straight news story about an outspoken priest/intellectual who was being silenced by the Vatican. The piece quoted the priest and described some of his controversial opinion. The center then explained its analysis: “The data we collected on this story would show that it presents a debate over Church policies on internal dissent, that the Church’s policies are criticized, and that the Church is characterized as oppressive.” Really. We wonder what the center would have reporters do? Edit away the priest’s view that a church that silences him might be oppressive? Ignore the significant and interesting ferment inside the Catholic Church? Real journalists would advocate precisely the opposite.

For the rest of this editorial comment, see Columbia Journalism Review
***[Blog editor's note: CJR is the most prestigious journal of its sort in the U.S.]

12:43 PM

Washington Post Relegates Iraq War Debate to 'Style' Section

[Blog editor's note]: One of the more bizarre news judgments I can recall in recent times occurred just before Christmas when the Washington Post relegated side-by-side interviews with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, on the one hand, and Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni (Ret.) to the newspaper's Style section. See Washington Post. Wolfowitz, of course, is a major advocate (and some say architect) of the Iraq war, while the retired 4-star general is its most highly credentialed critic. Evidentally, a good number of readers agreed that a debate of this importance deserved much different treatment.

According to the Post's ombudsman, Michael Getler, "Most of the calls and e-mails were focused on the reported views of Gen. Zinni, and many of those readers also asked, as one put it, 'why these articles appeared in the Style section.' 'I read every word,' said another, 'wondering the whole time, why is this in Style? And on a slow news day to boot!' Zinni's remarks, said another caller, 'were incredibly important. They really should have been on the front page. I've never heard his viewpoint before.' Another said this was 'too significant for Style. It really deserved the A-section. This is serious business.' 'For crying out loud!' said another. 'This is not a Style article; this is an important political story concerning the lives of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens.' There were lots more."

For the rest of Getler's discussion of how the Post handled these two stories, see Washington Post

10:59 AM

Tuesday, January 06, 2004  
Iraq Blotted Out Rest of the World in 2003 TV News

Analysis - By Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service

[Blog editor's note: This piece, which quotes your blog editor, focuses on the end-of-year report on American network news prepared by ADT Research, the leading monitor of evening TV news coverage]

WASHINGTON, Jan 6 (IPS) - AIDS killed three million people around the world last year, more than two million of them in Africa. The three major U.S. television networks' evening news programmes devoted a combined total of 39 minutes to the issue.

The American Geophysical Union and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences both concluded last year that greenhouse gas emissions almost certainly contribute to global warming, which is altering the Earth's weather and climate in potentially catastrophic ways. The three evening network news shows devoted 15 minutes to global warming in 2003.

Over the same year, the United States invaded and occupied Iraq, an operation in which some 8,000 people might have been killed, the same toll as AIDS takes in a single day. The three major networks' evening news shows devoted 4,047 minutes to coverage of Iraq.

It is statistics like these, compiled annually by ADT Research of New York, that make this observation by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan sound ludicrously understated. ''All of us -- leaders, politicians, diplomats and journalists -- have been very focussed on Iraq this year,'' he told reporters at his year-end press conference in December. ''We simply haven't paid enough attention to the many other pressing challenges facing us.''

For the rest of Lobe's analysis, see Inter Press Service News Agency

2:56 PM

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

A Debate: Should War Reporters Carry Arms?

[Blog editor's note: An interesting exchange on the subject of whether war correspondents should ever carry weapons can be found in the letters section of Jim Romenesko's Poynter Institute website. Scroll down to the third letter for the beginning of the exchange] See Poynteronline

12:13 PM

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