The major media did not report the realities of the Iraq war. The major media wrote fictional stories that portrayed events in a sensational manner. The approach had one intention - capture reader attention.
Examples of the media's fictional approach to the Iraq war were abundant.
The Headlines Report a War
Washington Post April 1
Army Has First Close Clashes With Republican Guard Units
Iraqi Divisions Shifted South to Defend Capital
Washington Post April 2
Forces Resume Baghdad Advance As Army Takes on Key Defenders
..units from the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division were engaged in a "knock-down, drag-out" battle with elements of the Republican Guard's Medina Division..
The facts that emerged after Baghdad fell:
- In the last 150 miles of the U.S. advance to Baghdad some American troops were killed by local militia and by friendly fire. No American soldier was killed by organized army units in a battle. No "knock-down, drag-out" battles occured.
- The Republican Guard made no presence. The organized force evaporated.
- No Iraq divisions were shifted from North to South. These divisions did not exist.
- The Nebuchadnezzar, Medina and Adnan Divisions of the Republican Guard, mentioned daily in the press as fighting units, did not appear on any battlefield.
- Iraq had no effective army. Only small groups fought against the invasion.
The phrase embedded journalists made it seem the military had allowed journalists to follow the troops and report the war these journalists observed. Embedded meant just that - embedded among the mass of military soldiers and vehicles, too far from the front lines to know exactly what happened. Embedded journalist's often relied on military briefings and sent reports to their home offices that incorporated the military information.
- When ABC Nightline program director Ted Koppel reported live on his observations of the the U.S. military entry into Baghdad, Koppel had a desert as a background. Koppel admitted he wasn't in Baghdad, but the studio tried to pretend he was on the scene.
- A video, described as Iraqi military firing a long range gun at U.S. troops, must have deliberately erred. The same video had been shown earlier. In that presentation, it was described as an archived video of an Iraqi demonstration of a long range weapon.
- Christine Amanpour reported often, and with insufficient confirmation, that: "Iraqis are traumatized, fearful. They don't know if Saddam is dead or alive," What did this mean? Could a totally defeated Saddam Hussein sudenly return and threaten everyone? In contrast to Ms. Amanpour's remarks, administration spokespersons repeatedly stated that: "Saddam's life is irrelevant."
- The capture and rescue of the female soldier, Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch, rightfully captured national attention and deserved extensive coverage. However, both the reported facts of her capture and rescue were "made for Hollywood" stories. Pfc. Lynch was not wounded by fire arms, as stated by journalists who could not have witnessed her capture. The vehicle, in which she was riding, turned over, and she suffered broken bones after being thrown from the vehicle. Her rescue did not involve any fighting, as described in dramatic reports. The Iraq military had retreated from the hospital and the Marines walked into the hospital and moved her out without hindrance.
Opinions Rather than News
The television networks and major stations had few dissenting viewpoints or opposition reporters. Opinions were passed off as news:
- A commentator on MSNBC, a business news station, emotionally stated that Pfc. Lynch's condition of having broken arms and legs show that she was tortured. Many of those listening probably accepted this distorted opinion as news. Fifteen minutes later, MSNBC news reported - "There is no evidence that Pfc. Lynch was tortured."
- A former CIA analyst, who is presently a research director at a "think-tank," became a chosen media expert on the war. He appeared on several TV stations and was quoted in many newspapers. The Washington Post quoted him as stating:
There's nothing that I'm seeing in terms of the broad movement of Iraqi forces that indicates to me there's been a significant degradation of their command and control.
From Day One of the war, the Iraqi military didn't display any operational command and control systems.
In a commentary on MSNBC, March 26, the same analyst criticized the British forces for not assisting a Shiite "uprising" in Basra. He equated British negligence with an incident in World War II.
When the Warsaw Ghetto rose up against the Nazis the Russian army stopped at the Vistula and let the Germans kill those in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The former CIA analyst substituted stories for historical facts:
(1) On Public Broadcasting station WETA, April 17, Michael Sullivan, who had been in Basra, reported there had not been any uprising in Basra. His statement has been verified by other reporters.
(2) The Russians stopped at the Vistula during the Warsaw uprising of the Polish Home army that started on August 1, 1944, and not during the Ghetto uprising that occurred during April and May of 1943. The latter uprising occurred more than one year before the Russians arrived at the Vistula.
(3) Documents have not historically proved that the Russians stopped at the Vistula to specifically let the Germans kill the Poles in their uprising. The uprising failed because it had insufficient arms and meager assistance from all the allies. What army permits its strategy to be dictated by the unilateral and poorly coordinated actions of a rebel group?
(4) Was the analyst actually accusing the British of deliberately trying to get the population of Basra to be massacred?
- An April 17 a report of the discovery of "mass graves" in Northern Iraq energized a commentator to broadcast:
In the mass grave there may be 2000 killed by Saddam Hussein during his war against the Kurds. An eye witness claims he saw Iraqi intelligence agents make coffins for dozens, if not hundreds of dead persons.
Note the following contradictions in a made for television story:
(1) The number of coffins increased from dozens to hundreds and still didn't match the original number of 2000.
(2) In a mass grave bodies are thrown together into one grave. Individual coffins aren't used in mass graves.
(3) Who is this eye witness, speaking ten years after the event, and how did he know the people making coffins were Iraqi intelligence agents?
Columnists in the Print Media, usually considered fair-minded, also presented opinions as facts. From the Washington Post, which was pro-war:
David Ignatius, Washington Post, "The Baath operatives fight so hard because they have nothing to lose. They believe they will be slaughtered by revenge-minded Iraqis after the war."
Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, April 14:
An electrical engineer named Majid Mohammed, 47, proclaimed his joy at Hussein's fall--and was promptly contradicted by his 12 year old daughter. 'I'm sad' she told the Post's Anthony Shadid. And, referring to the Americans soldiers, she added: 'They stole our freedom.' Mohammed, pained at his daughter's remark, tried to explain. 'Until now I haven't been able to speak any feelings about him.'
Fred Hiatt continued:
Until now, that is, he dared not reveal what he thought--who he was--even in the most intimate privacy of his home.
And no wonder: What greater fear could there be for a parent in a state such as Hussein's, a state where children were tortured in front of their parents and parents in front of their children, then a child inadvertently blurting a suspicious truth at school?
Richard Cohen, Washington Post, April 8: "From some of what was said from the left, you would think that the current war is really about oil or imperialism or revenge - and not for a moment about the sort of regime Hussein runs."
The fall of Baghdad was the finest moment for the media. It wasn't clear if it was the finest moment for the Iraqis.
Celebrations exhilarate people and make entertaining programs. The media took advantage of celebrations to portray them as a display of the collective will of the Iraq people and as deciding moments of history. It's not unique that inhabitants of a city are curious at the entry of an invading force and many of them celebrate a regime's downfall.
The TV coverage of celebrations focused only on close-ups of small crowds, sometimes of the same people - such as the men who helped topple Saddam Husseins' statue p who were the same men taht paraded the head of the statue through Baghdad streets. The images didn't reveal if there were tens of thousands of ardent and joyous people or only hundreds of curious celebrants.
The Italia Independent Media Center proposed that some joyous moments were staged. They presented photos of the toppling of the Saddam statue in Baghdad and indicated that the event might have been a planned hoax.
Note: The time of the photos are not clarified and it isn't possible to know if the photo shows the crowd after the statue had been toppled.
The Italia Independent Media Center's complete and interesting story on the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue can be read at:
Was statue toppling staged?
The Canadian Globe and Mail, Apr. 16, 2003, ran a column by Russell Smith that severely criticized the media coverage of the war. In an article titled: Facts fall victim to war jargon, Russell Smith summarized his feelings on the media coverage.
The media coverage of this war has been disgusting. North American media, and in particular the U.S. television stations, have been cravenly submissive to the Pentagon and the White House; they rolled over and gave up even before Saddam Hussein did.
The worst culprit was also the one with the most embedded reporters and the most exciting live footage, and so it was, sadly, the one that I watched all the time: CNN, the voice of Centcom. CNN was more irritating than the gleefully patriotic Fox News channel because CNN has a pretense of objectivity. It pretends to be run by journalists. And yet it dutifully uses all the language chosen by the special forces of media relations at the Pentagon: It describes newly occupied portions of Iraq as being "liberated"; it describes anti-Saddam rebels as "freedom fighters" (whereas the guerrillas fighting the invading forces using classic partisan tactics engaged in "terrorism"); it describes the exploding of Iraqi soldiers in their bunkers as "softening up"; it describes slaughtered Iraqi units as being "degraded"; some announcers have even repeated the egregious Pentagon neologism "attrited" (to mean "we are slowly killing as many of them as we can"). I don't know if I'm more offended by the insidiousness of this euphemism or by the absurdity of its grammar.
Russell Smith's article appears at: Facts fall victim to war jargon
The celebrations were limited and strangely short, only a few hours. The looting quickly followed celebrations and lasted a long time. The exact reasons for the looting were never determined and only speculated. The speculation refrained from including the possibility that many Iraqis were fearful that their city was going to be slowly looted by invading forces or its subsequent government. Although American forces had definitely not shown any tendency to loot, or was there any reason to believe they would, an invasion can make citizens uneasy and paranoid. Iraqis my have guided themselves by fear, seized the initiative and took what they could.
The media emphasized the sensational and exaggerated the events if they didn't meet the criteria for sensationalism. The media never supplied definitive answers to the many questions on American minds:
- Why did the U.S. attack Iraq?
- Did Iraq have any military capability that any nation could fear?
- Did Iraqis actively rebel against Saddam Hussein?
- Did Iraqis welcome the allied forces as liberators?
- How many casualties did the Iraqi military and populace suffer?
- How well developed is Iraq?
- What are the dimensions of the problems facing the Iraq people in the post-war situation?
It will be a long time before we know if Operation Iraqi Freedom has brought freedom to the Iraqi people. We already know it is denying freedom to Americans. The lapses in coverage of the war emphasizes an American media lack of freedom. The accurate history of the war will be unknown to future generations.
april 17, 2003
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