The Faustian bargain hundreds of embedded journalists struck with the military involved capitulating to an elaborate set of limits and conditions. Embeds, for instance, were supervised by the military in the same way Saddam once assigned minders to accompany Western journalists. Even so, American TV networks have gone beyond the call of duty in giving unquestioning credence to the home team.
As farsighted as Washington has been in controlling and shaping the emerging information, not least through the embed program, the degree to which the networks have morphed into shills for the administration must exceed its wildest expectations. (Come to think of it, the dearth of hard-edged questions from the press in general at the Pentagon briefings would have done any dictator proud.)
The monolithic quality of the reporting-cheerleading coming from the networks is proof of the slutty sell-out. Practically all network embeds focused exclusively on the Pentagon’s version of who did what, when and how. Logistics usurped real issues – spectacle replaced substance as the viewer was subjected to a perspective as monochromatic as the green of night-vision optics.
In their coverage, the networks also evinced a thorough assimilation of the Pentagon’s power words. With the deployment of bluster like, “Breaking Baghdad,” “Decapitation,” and “Shock and Awe,” a morally repugnant zeal was the order of the day.
Journalistically, the word “embedded” has bad connotations. Still, reporters who slept with their sources were treated as paragons of truth, while those who refused such cohabitation, and didn’t join the embed program, were labeled “unilaterals.” The more independent perspective was thus tagged as one-sided. The networks were complicit in this linguistic co-optation.
The stories that should have been told and weren’t?
There was a compelling tale in the obscene power discrepancy between the dilapidated Iraqi military and the American military might. Instead, when network reporters obliged viewers with proof of “huge caches of Iraqi weapons,” their cameras would invariably zero in on ancient AK-47s and rusty tubs of bullets.
Jarring disagreement between verbal description and image was par for the course in the coverage.
I learned about 12-year-old Ali Ismail Abbas from the Canadian Broadcaster. Most of my information about Iraqi civilian casualties comes from the CBC. Abbas lost both his arms when an American missile smashed into his home, killing both his parents. His doctors say he is dying – the burns that cover 60 percent of his body have turned septic. The director at Saddam General Hospital says there are hundreds like him, killed, orphaned or maimed. Their faces are nowhere to be seen on American networks.
Reporting hearsay as truth and failing to verify stories has also been part of the networks’ war effort. A Geiger counter that went off in the inexpert hands of a Marine was broadcast as possible evidence of weapons-grade plutonium. Every bottle of Cipro tablets became a likely precursor to an anthrax factory. Anchormen and women somberly seconded these “finds,” never bothering to issue retractions for misinforming the viewing public.
As the CBC reported, “So far, soldiers have found gas masks, chemical suits and some white powder. None of it has turned out to be the biological or chemical weapons they are looking for.”
Knowing what we know about Saddam Hussein, it’s probably safe to say that if he had an arsenal, he would have used it. Since he didn’t use his lethal stash in the face of “decapitation,” it’s reasonable to conclude that, either he didn’t have WMD or, if he had them, he was an extremely responsible tyrant. Both conclusions incriminate Bush.
In the unlikely event that it will fail to convincingly coordinate the planting of evidence of WMD in Iraq, the Pentagon, with the help of the Associated Press, has begun to prime the American audiences (no other population would swallow the bait) with a new twist: The looters removed the evidence. Better still: The Syrians spirited the weapons away. Even better: Onward to Syria!
William Pfaff’s words, in the International Herald tribune, are immutably true: “Traditional morality says that war is justified in legitimate defense. Totalitarian morality justifies war to make people or societies better.”
Whatever we say about neocon “warniks,” they abide religiously by a totalitarian “morality;” their messianic savagery is unwavering. Leftists, however, are revealing their situational “ethics.” When the press and the powers say the war is going well, some leftists begin to waver: Perhaps this is a just war, after all?
True principles endure across situations. Leaving aside arguments about the long-term moral, economic and political consequences of this manifestly barbaric intervention, this war is and will always be unjust. Shouldered by the American people’s toil, the armed forces exist to defend them and only them. The American military is not George Bush’s imperial army, nor is it the hired gun of any other liberation-seeking nation.