NBC reporter Ashleigh Banfield slammed her colleagues in television news over coverage of the war in Iraq yesterday, saying the realities of the conflict never reached American viewers.
According to a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Banfield, in a speech at Kansas State University, lashed out at “cable news operators who wrap themselves in the American flag and go after a certain target demographic.”
The dig was a veiled swipe at Fox News Channel, whose war coverage included a patriotic tinge. Canadian-born Banfield hosts “MSNBC Investigates” on the No. 3 cable news network, MSNBC. While MSNBC’s ratings improved during the war, the network still came up short in the ratings game behind No. 1 Fox and CNN.
The bitter rivalry between the two networks was made clear last month when Fox’s Geraldo Rivera hammered MSNBC on the air shortly after rumors began spreading that the Pentagon had removed him from Iraq after he allegedly compromised the security of U.S. forces.
“It sounds like some rats at my former network, NBC, are spreading some lies about me,” Rivera told Fox anchor David Asman from inside Iraq. “They can’t compete fair and square on the battlefield, so they try to stab me in the back. It’s not the first time.”
Geraldo then took aim at NBC’s cable news network: “MSNBC is so pathetic a cable news network that they have to do whatever they can to attract attention, but you can rest assured that anything they are saying is a pack of lies.”
While Rivera at the time was still in the country, he was ordered back to Kuwait shortly thereafter at the request of U.S. officials.
Banfield says TV should have shown the gruesome results of coalition force.
“We didn’t see what happen when Marines fired M-16s,” Banfield said during her speech. “We didn’t see what happened after mortars landed, only the puff of smoke. There were horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism? Or was this coverage?”
Banfield’s address, according to the report, suggested some cable TV networks skewed their coverage to please advertisers.
“It was a grand and glorious picture that had a lot of people watching,” Banfield said, “and a lot of advertisers excited about cable TV news. But it wasn’t journalism, because I’m not sure Americans are hesitant to do this again – to fight another war, because it looked to them like a courageous and terrific endeavor.”
The reporter also had some criticism for President Bush and what she sees as inconsistencies in the stated reason for going to war, saying it switched from routing out weapons of mass destruction to freeing the citizens of Iraq.
“Conveniently, in the week or two we were in there, it became a message of ‘freeing the Iraqi people,’” Banfield said. “That should have been the message early on, in fact, six to eight months preceding this campaign, if we were trying to win over the hearts of the Arab world.”
According to the Capital-Journal report, Banfield pointed out what she thinks is the basis for Arab mistrust of the U.S.: what she sees as an unwillingness for the Bush administration to deal with the Israelis and Palestinians on an equal footing.
“As a journalist, I have been ostracized just from going on television and saying, ‘Here’s what the leaders of Hezbollah, a radical Muslim group, are telling me about what is needed to bring peace to Israel,’” she said. “And, ‘Here’s what the Lebanese are saying.’ Like it or lump it, don’t shoot the messenger, but that’s what they do.”
Banfield’s comments were echoed yesterday by Greg Dyke, director general of the British Broadcasting Corporation, who was “shocked while in the United States by how unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war,” reports the London Independent.
He claims American networks had “wrapped themselves in the American flag and swapped impartiality for patriotism.”