Bloodthirsty Pundits Enter All-Spin Zone
by Doug Ireland
March 22, 2003
War as entertainment came to America's TV screens this week -- but, despite the networks' lavish preparations and some 500 "embedded" correspondents on the front lines, in the beginning the war just wouldn't cooperate with the plans of the ratings-hungry TV execs.
After George Bush's grimly delivered four-minute speech announcing that hostilities had begun, the Big Three broadcast networks went back to their regular programming. The White House had done such a good job in convincing our prescient newsreaders the war would not begin before Friday that the nets were caught unprepared to go to air. And, with no "boom-boom" footage (as they say in the news biz) -- except for the endlessly-repeated far-away shots of explosions from the first "decapitation" strike against Saddam Hussein's person -- on the first night of war those tuning in were given a diet of uninformative and uncritical blather.
Swept up by the belligerance of Bush's surprise announcement, when they got to the mics the anchors and commentators wasted no energy dissecting its untruths. To mention just two: Bush's fraudulent assertion that "the world agrees" with the White House's assessment of the danger posed by Iraq -- an absurdity to any breathing news consumer -- went unchallenged. And when Bush claimed the war was being waged to prevent terrorism "in our streets" -- an implicit repetition of the administration's big lie that Saddam, whose bloodthirsty character no one in his right mind would contest, had something to do with 9/11 -- no one bothered to mention that all the evidence Bush & Co. had so far presented to support it was, on scrutiny, either empty or fabricated.
The Pentagon, with the networks' consent, has imposed the tightest restrictions on information yet seen in a modern military action. The first major evidence came at 2:15 on Thursday morning, when CNN's Frank Buckley, reporting from the U.S.S. Constellation, finally revealed that the previous 24 hours had already seen 24 bombing sorties in southern Iraq. The war had begun well before we were told, yet the TV news divisions either didn't know, or chose not to tell us.
Bereft of explosions to photograph, the little screen's first 24 hours were marked by a stream of celebratory gush about U.S. weaponry. CNN had expensive, snazzily animated graphics to help vaunt the destructive powers of, say, the latest generation of Tomahawk cruise missiles or the Nighthawk stealth bomber. And deprived of real information to relate, the anchors fell all over themselves to fill dead air time with these nonstop free commercials for the military-industrial complex's sophisticated products. Burbled Fox anchor Brit Hume: "The precision of our precision-guided missiles is getting more precise." Oh.
There'll soon be enough boom-boom, and enough piles of corpses, to sate all the networks.
The armchair warriors on Fox were at first palpably gleeful that the war for which they had so ardently campaigned on air had finally begun. But, by Thursday night, the postponement of the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad was beginning to frustrate Rupert Murdoch's network. As when, for example, one of Fox's retired generals -- a particularly bloodthirsty type named McNerney -- snarled impatiently, "It's time for America to get back to our shock-and-awe game plan!"
Having been skillfully enrolled by Rumsfeld's spin controllers to celebrate America's unchallengeable military might, the tube's bosses broadcast almost no information that suggested most of the planet opposes this war. "Millions in Europe Mobilize in Marches and Strikes," was the headline on Thursday morning's Le Monde, the respected French daily. Yet if your only news source was U.S. telly, you wouldn't have known it. As for the European leaders' acrimonious summit meeting in Belgium -- which confirmed the isolation of Britain's Blair and Spain's Aznar, Bush's pro-war allies, within the European Union -- it was a nonevent for Peter and Dan and Tom. Not until the wee hours of Friday morning, after the arrest of over 1,000 antiwar civil disobedients in San Francisco, did our domestic broadcasters deign to give a smidgin of airtime to those witnessing against war.
As I write at dawn on Friday, we've been treated to the first pictures of surrendering Iraqi soldiers. One can only hope the white flags will continue to be raised swiftly by masses of deserters. For if the collapse of the Ba'ath dictatorship is speedy enough, it just might allow the hapless Iraqi people -- already victimized for two decades by the horrors of Saddam's rule -- to be spared the tech-incinerations of "shock and awe." Otherwise, there'll soon be enough "boom-boom," and enough piles of corpses, to sate all the networks.
My advice: If you're lucky enough to get BBC America on your cable, or to live within reach of one of the PBS stations carrying the British network's sober, coherent and modulated coverage, switch away from the U.S. TV industry's babble; you might actually learn something.
Now, where's that remote control...
Doug Ireland is a New York-based media critic and commentator. This article first appeared in Tom Paine.com (www.tompaine.com)