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
Monday, June 20, 2005  
MIA: News of Prison Toll

The Nation
[from the July 4, 2005 issue]

The Bush Administration misses no opportunity to smack the mainstream media around for undermining the otherwise stellar reputation of the United States (Newsweek triggered riots in Afghanistan!). But these same media could plausibly be charged--at least some of the time--with burnishing the Administration's facade.

Although militant jihadists need no particular pretext to justify their anti-American outbursts, surely no feature of the American occupation of Iraq has angered more friends, ex-friends and half-friends abroad--not to mention at home--than the torture and often arbitrary imprisonment of suspects in the chain of prison camps stretching from Cuba's Guantánamo to Iraq's Abu Ghraib to Afghanistan's Bagram. Yet to an astonishing degree, the major news media have given a pass to one egregious feature of these American camps, arguably more egregious than torture, sexual titillation, the use of dogs or the desecration of the Koran: the number of detainees who have died in US custody.

It was left to an opinion columnist, the New York Times's Thomas Friedman, not a news reporter, to declare on May 27 that "the abuse at Guantánamo and within the whole U.S. military prison system dealing with terrorism is out of control. Tell me, how is it that over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody so far? Heart attacks?"

To read the full text, see The

1:42 PM

A View From Inside: A Working Journalist's Perspective
on the Press and Downing Street Memo

June 20, 2005

(Blog editor's note: Another, slightly different take on the press and the Downing Street Memo(s) as discussed in the previous blog entry was offered me by a foreign correspondent of long experience for a major newspaper. His perspective from the inside, I would argue, compliments the one offered by Danner).

"Well, as for the journalism of it...The defense of 'nothing new' is less convincing that the reality from the inside, a weariness that many reporters don't know how to make a difference. Editors are sunken into worries about circulation losses, and the Washington political monolith has them running scared. Inside the newsroom, there was no order not to cover the original memo, nothing of the kind. Just lazy journalism, followed by pretending that story they missed would go away.

"Malaise, lack of courage, and fear about sinking finances -- the main points in the newspaper business these days.

"Look at Mike Isikoff and the Abu Ghraib Koran flap. Not only was it obvious that the story was true, but that it was equally probable that someone had arm-twisted Isikoff's original source to back off. And yet Newsweek apologized, even though the word of peeing on the Koran had been in the Washington Post two years ago. The White House pretends it won the point on a technicality, even two weeks later after the Pentagon admitted that the Koran and been misused, but the charge remains against Newsweek...

Newspapers are running scared for various reasons."

1:36 PM

Mark Danner on Smoking Signposts to Nowhere:
The Downing Street Memo and the Press

Blog editor's note: The paragraphs below were written by Tom Engelehardt, who produces the invaluable TomDispatch, to introduce a timely analysis by the equally invaluable Mark Danner of how the press has responded to criticism of its tepid, muted, practically non-existent coverage of the Downing Street Memos.

Imagine that the Pentagon Papers or the Watergate scandal had broken out all over the press -- no, not in the New York Times or the Washington Post, but in newspapers in Australia or Canada. And that, facing their own terrible record of reportage, of years of being cowed by the Nixon administration, major American papers had decided that this was not a story worthy of being covered. Imagine that, initially, they dismissed the revelatory documents and information that came out of the heart of administration policy-making; then almost willfully misread them, insisting that evidence of Pentagon planning for escalation in Vietnam or of Nixon administration planning to destroy its opponents was at best ambiguous or even nonexistent; finally, when they found that the documents wouldn't go away, they acknowledged them more formally with a tired ho-hum, a knowing nod on editorial pages or in news stories. Actually, they claimed, these documents didn't add up to much because they had run stories just like this back then themselves. Yawn.

This is, of course, something like the crude pattern that coverage in the American press has followed on the Downing Street memo, then memos. As of late last week, four of our five major papers (the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and USA Today) hadn't even commented on them in their editorial pages. In my hometown paper, the New York Times, complete lack of interest was followed last Monday by a page 11 David Sanger piece (Prewar British Memo Says War Decision Wasn't Made) that focused on the second of the Downing Street memos, a briefing paper for Tony Blair's "inner circle," and began: "A memorandum written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet office in late July 2002 explicitly states that the Bush administration had made ‘no political decisions' to invade Iraq, but that American military planning for the possibility was advanced."

To read the full text, see

7:24 AM

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