by Michael Burns
In times of war, it's even more important to pay attention to the media than it is in peace-time, specifically because these days news stories shape our perception of life and death issues. The local and national news of this war has been appallingly bad for several reasons that tell us a lot about the culture we live in.
First, the news outlets worship power. From CNN to Fox to NPR to our local stations, summarizing what the Pentagon or Centcom officials just said at a press conference passes for news. The possibility that US government statements deserve to be questioned given past cases of false claims is not mentioned. Context is thrown out the window. Iraqi officials' statements are ridiculed or disclaimed, as they rightly should be, while our own are slavishly repeated. Worshiping power means that spokespersons are not asked tough questions or asked to account for litanies of false claims and contradictions that put the very purpose of this war in question.
Second, Western news outlets have largely ignored Iraqi casualties. In addition to just repeating US government claims on the number of Iraqis soldiers killed, the reporting has failed to shine light on the horror of war. Arab TV stations are bombed (illegally under international law- so much for that) for daring to show charred bodies and what war is really about. Instead, American audiences are told of "surgical" strikes and other antiseptically termed maneuvers. The peak of this disgusting valuing of one type of human life over another for me was when CNN reported the story of Lori Ann Piestewa, "the first female to be killed in battle," fives weeks into the war. Only one small word missing in that CNN line. "American" should have come before female. Hundreds of Iraqi women have died in urban shelling. Wording like this subconsciously reinforces the idea that Iraqis are not human, not worthy of our attention, the media's attention. Perhaps there are some people who believe that some lives count and others really don't, but not me. No race's life is of lesser importance, especially when I'm paying for the ending of it.
Third, anti-war protest has largely been ignored by the media. When it is covered because there's no possible way to ignore say 500,000 Americans in the streets of New York City, an accompanying news story will highlight a pro-war demonstration of a dozen people. If the media took the time to cover anti-war events on a regular basis because of the important events they are, they would find that many demonstrators like myself are pro-troops, valuing the lives and service of our military, knowing the need for a defense in a hostile world, but also convinced that this is an illegal and reckless use of executive power by the President. Chants at demonstrations echo this sentiment and put pay to the lie that only "pro-war" advocates have the right to be "pro-troops."
But these are points of view we don't hear in the media. Instead of hard questions about how and why our tax funds are being spent, ex-generals tell us how satellite guided bombs work. Instead of seeing just what our weapons can do to a human body, we get the Pentagon's sanitized version of conflict.
And instead of merely entertaining questions raised by those who love this country but are profoundly disturbed with unnecessary loss of life, we get a so-called independent press gravitating toward and fawning over power. Media is not just a factor in shaping how we see the world, it is the primary (and for many of us the solitary) factor. Both its current power and unprofessionalism should not be underestimated.
Michael Burns, Greater Tolland County Chapter, CT GP