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
Thursday, March 04, 2004  
The Editorial Pages and the Case for War

Did Our Leading Newspapers Set Too Low a Bar for a Preemptive Attack?

Columbia Journalism Review
March/April 2004

On February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered his now infamous presentation to the United Nations concerning Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and its ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network. At the time, many journalists, members of Congress, and key Security Council nations remained unconvinced of the necessity of invading Iraq. Laced with declassified satellite imagery, communications intercepts, and information gleaned from Iraqi defectors, Powell’s speech sought to bolster the Bush administration’s case for war by demonstrating an “accumulation of facts and disturbing patterns of behavior” on Iraq’s part. And it enjoyed a strikingly warm reception from one key U.S. audience: the editorial page writers of major newspapers.

For the rest of this analysis, see Columbia Journalism Review

7:05 PM

Tuesday, March 02, 2004  
Sy Hersh, Then and Now

Columbia Journalism Review
July/August 2003

Blog editor's note: Given the thrust of the item just preceding this one that deals with how it's possible for a reporter in the U.S. to do far better journalism than a correspondent in the field, I have posted this item on Seymour Hersh, the reporter who broke the story about My Lai atrocity in Vietnam, and who would go on to break a good number more major stories and establish a reputation as one of the top investigative reporters of our time, particularly on matters involving the national security state. This piece is from Columbia Journalism Review and is one of the most interesting profiles of a journalist that I've ever read.

On a humid morning in late April, a group of students from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism attended a two-hour seminar at ABC News in Washington. The topic was state secrets and anti-leak legislation, and the session was organized by Richard Wald, a professor of journalism at Columbia.

At 11:05, the guest speakers for the second hour — Seymour Hersh and his old friend, the journalist David Wise — stride into the conference room. Hersh is laughing and making jokes. He is wearing a jacket and tie, but his belt buckle is slightly awry.

Wald, the moderator, begins by summarizing the remarks of the previous speaker — Chris Ford, a smooth, clean-cut, recently departed general counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who helped draft the anti-leak legislation that some have referred to as the "official secrets act." Ford himself has left the room. "Ford's been saying leaks are terrible," Wald says. Hersh is rocking back and forth in his swivel chair, taking in the professor's summary. "Here are two guys," Wald continues, "who don't exactly live off leaks, but have in the past used them to great advantage for the general public. I throw the floor open to questions."

Hersh's jokes have ceased. Now he's prepared for combat. His voice is full of rough edges.

To read the entire profile, see Columbia Journalism Review

4:00 PM

Pressing Issues: The Hidden Victims of Conflict in Iraq
One UPI reporter led the way in exposing injuries and suicides.

By Greg Mitchell
Editor, Editor & Publisher

Blog editor's note: A fascinating tribute by the editor of the newspaper industry's "bible," Editor & Publisher, which discusses the work of a journalist who has quitely gone about his work without leaving the U.S. and ended up having far more to do with uncovering useful information about today's military than most field reporters who cover Iraq daily. In this regard, he offers further evidence that war correspondence, per se, is not nearly so important to public understanding of military affairs as is hard nosed stateside reporting. Just as it took Seymour Hersh, who had never been in Vietnam, to break the My Lai atrocity story, so it is with Mark Benjamin's work on the true cost of war for American service personnel.

(March 01, 2004) -- My vote for reporter of the year goes to a low-profile journalist who did not cover the war itself and has never even been to Baghdad. His name is Mark Benjamin, 33, and he serves as investigations editor for United Press International out of Washington, D.C. E&P has documented his work since last autumn, and now the heavy hitters — The New York Times and The Washington Post — are following his lead, taking a long look at the forgotten American victims of the war: the injured, the traumatized, and the suicides.

It was quite a February for Benjamin. Early in the month he was awarded second prize in the annual Raymond Clapper Memorial Awards for Outstanding Washington Reporting. The judges cited, in particular, his work last October in revealing that hundreds of soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga., were being kept in hot cement barracks without running water while they waited, for as long as months, for medical care. (Twelve days later he exposed ghastly conditions at Fort Knox in Kentucky.)

This was one of those rare stories that produced quick and measurable results rather than mere promises. Army Secretary Les Brownlee flew to Fort Stewart, new doctors were dispatched and within a month the barracks had been closed. Pentagon officials later declared they would spend $77 million this year to help returning troops get better treatment. And the media started paying more attention to the injured. Until then the 2,000 non-fatal casualties were rarely mentioned.

Benjamin also was one of the first reporters to link U.S. illnesses and deaths in Iraq (and elsewhere) to possible side effects of various vaccines. And he was first to closely analyze non-combat injuries and ailments in Iraq — a step E&P advocated as long ago as last July. Benjamin showed that one in five medical evacuations from Iraq were for neurological or psychiatric reasons. He followed that with a probe of the unnervingly high suicide rate among soldiers in Iraq, and also revealed that two returning soldiers had killed themselves at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington (a fact the military had kept hidden).

To read the rest of the piece, see Editor & Publisher

12:45 PM

Monday, March 01, 2004  
Gaffes and gullibility: NY Times gets it wrong

By Jim Lobe

Blog editor's note: This piece uses a classic 1920 study of the failures of American foreign press coverage to posit that the more things change, the more they remain the same, particularly if one looks at how The New York Times covered the question of WMD in Iraq before and after last year's war. As a foot note, the book referred to at the end of Lobe's piece is U.S. Press and Iran: Foreign Policy and the Journalism of Deference [U.C. Press, 1987] which was co-authored by this blog's editor.

WASHINGTON - If Walter Lippman, perhaps the most influential US press critic and foreign-policy columnist of the 20th century, were alive today, chances are he would shake his head knowingly and mutter something like, "The more things change, the more they remain the same."
After all, it was in 1920 that he and a colleague, Charles Merz, wrote in their analysis of New York Times coverage of the Bolshevik Revolution between 1917 and 1920 that the newspaper's reporting on Russia during that period was "nothing short of a disaster".

In an article in The New Republic magazine, they wrote that the Times had reported the imminent or actual end of the Soviet regime "not once or twice, but 91 times in the two years from November, 1917 to November 1919".

"They [Times journalists] were performing the supreme duty in a democracy of supplying the information on which public opinion feeds, and they were derelict in that duty," added Lippman and Merz.

How had the Times gotten things so wrong?

Eighty-four years later, the same question is being asked about the performance of the mass media - especially the Times - on reporting about Iraq, particularly the prewar and even postwar assumptions that the country possessed vast stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and had reconstituted its nuclear-arms program.

To read the rest of Lobe's analysis, see Asia Times

7:42 PM

Hard Times for Hard News A Clinical Look at U.S. Foreign Coverage

John F. Stacks
Volume XX, No 4, Winter 2003/04

(Blog editor's note: The author of this report provides one of the most recent surveys of Americans use of news media. Stacks gives plenty of ammunition to those who subscribe to the "unwashed masses" explanation of why Americans don't seem to be much interested in foreign news, but fails to explore the distinction between conditioned preference and authentic choice. He also fails to consider the possibility that citizens living in a hyperpower are not encouraged either by political elites or the cultural apparatus (including both the popular press and formal education) to look outwards. Finally, he dismisses far too easily the possibility the nationalism and corporatism combine in extremely convenient fashion to keep many Americans in an ethnocentric cocoon. Metaphorically speaking, we are encouraged to occupy a pre-Gallileo world, one in which we assume we are the center of the universe, and it's the responsibility of others to learn about us, not the reverse.)

In a popular song written after September 11 but before the war in Iraq, country and western singer Alan Jackson caught the combination of sadness and confusion that envelops much of America in the Age of Terrorism. In a key verse, Jackson obliquely blames the news media for his bewilderment:

I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN but I’m not sure I could
Tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran.†

Of course telling the difference is easier now. Iraq is the one the United States occupied, and the other is the one that may actually be building nuclear weapons.

But assuming that Alan Jackson really did watch CNN, he would be in a fairly select group of his fellow citizens who pay much attention to news of any kind. According to the last biennial news consumption survey from the Pew Center for the People and the Press (June 2002), only about a third of the population watched any cable news, and about a third (with doubtless overlap) watched the broadcast news shows. Only four in ten bothered to read a daily newspaper (down from six in ten a decade earlier).

For the rest of this analysis of foreign news usage, see World Policy Journal

10:31 AM

The Sky is Falling! Say Hollywood and, Yes, the Pentagon

The New York Times
February 29, 2004

Blog editor's note: An article on the Pentagon's climate change study (see earlier post from last week) finally surfaced in the New York Times yesterday, although in decidedly odd fashion. It was rolled in with discussion of a new science fiction film, which may in some eyes tend to minimize its import. This blog remains curious about why the Pentagon would commission a $100,000 study if it didn't take the threat seriously.

AFTER nearly two decades in which global warming seemed about as exciting as the national debt, the subject is getting noticed again - even by Hollywood and the Pentagon.

Since the late 1990's, there has been growing interest in one particularly catastrophic climatic event. It envisions an abrupt fall in global temperatures, caused by incremental warming from rising emissions of heat-trapping gases. What better fodder for movie makers or military strategists?

In the coming movie "The Day After Tomorrow," directed by Roland Emmerich, who last threatened Earth with alien warships in "Independence Day," "super storms" destroy Western Europe, and Manhattan is covered in a sheet of ice.

"An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security," on the other hand, was written recently by two consultants for Andrew W. Marshall, the Pentagon's legendary guru of long-term threat assessment.

To read the rest of the article, see New York Times

To read the Pentagon study iteself, see Environmental Media Services

8:48 AM

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