Television reporters embedded with the U.S. forces that invaded Iraq "didn't actually report" the news but provided "color commentary" instead, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent says.
Even though some 650 journalists were embedded with U.S. troops, "we actually learned less because there was less reporting and because these people, in essence, saw their role as providing color commentary," says Christopher Hedges, formerly a war correspondent for The New York Times.
"They said, 'Okay, we see that tank going over there. Oh, look, there's a puff of smoke,'" is how Hedges described their role. They "did precisely the same thing that (sports) commentators do when they broadcast a football game."
Hedges said that he is not against using embeds but "when you rely exclusively on embeds for your vision of the war, you see, as we have in Iraq, the occupation exclusively through the lens of the occupier, and this gives a very distorted vision of the conflict."
The war correspondent's remarks appear in the just issued "News Media In Crisis," (Doukathsan) from the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. The work is the ver batim transcript of a conference held there last March on the changing profession of journalism.
Hedges went on to say that he does not allow himself to cover wars as an embed because "if you cannot report from among the vast majority of the powerless in a war zone (civilians) you end up unwittingly becoming a tool, however critical you may try and be of the occupation."
This happens, Hedges went on to say, "Because you humanize the occupiers and because you don't have any contact with those being occupied, you invariably stereotype or dehumanize those who are bearing the brunt of the violence."
Hedges said in the days preceding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, French intelligence experts tried unsuccessfully to get the New York Times to publish their findings "that there were no weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein was not reconstituting a nuclear weapons program, and that he had no links with Al-Qaeda."
The views of John Louis Brugier of French intelligence and Mohamed El-Baradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations, "were dismissed because they were not Americans," Hedges said, adding that at the time he was "intimately involved" with his paper's coverage of Iraq.
"Even in the newsroom of the New York Times, "when I would come back from Paris"people would make jokes about the French, about their identity, their culture," Hedges said. "I think the New York Times was particularly susceptible to this because (the paper) looks at itself as a quasi-official organization, one which because of its power and influence, has been given the mandate to articulate the views of the elite."
Robert Rosenthal, director of Project Censored, and managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle in the days preceding the Iraq invasion, said he did not believe the articles on Iraq written by reporter Judith Miller of The New York Times because "many of them were single-sourced, and it was just too carefully being put together." Miller, essentially, reflected the Bush administration's views about the military menace Hussein allegedly posed to the U.S.
Conference attendees in general agreed that the Knight Ridder Washington bureau---which was skeptical of the government's charges---did the best job of reporting on Iraq.
The Massachusetts School of Law at Andover is a 21-year-old law school whose pioneering mission is to inexpensively provide rigorous legal education, a pathway into the legal profession, and social mobility to members of the working class, minorities, people in midlife, and immigrants.
Through its television shows, videotaped conferences, an intellectual magazine, and internet postings, MSL - - uniquely for a law school - - also seeks to provide the public with information about crucial legal and non legal subjects facing the country.The Massachusetts School of Law is an independent, non-profit law school purposefully dedicated to the education of minority students and those from low-income and immigrant backgrounds who would otherwise not be able to afford a legal education.
(Sherwood Ross is a media consultant to Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)