The television networks have been feeding the American public a “sanitized version” of the Iraq war that is literally “infotainment,” a noted communications authority says.
“The American people did not see the bodies of dead American soldiers, and few Iraqi casualties were aired,” asserts Michelle Pulaski, professor of communications art at Pace University, Pleasantville, N.Y.
“The dead bodies of Saddam (Hussein’s) sons, however, were later broadcast widely in an effort to boost pro-war sentiments,” she said. “In terms of media bias, it seemed as if reporters were afraid to cover anything viewed as unpatriotic. Anti-war protests were shown, but often in a negative light.”
Instead, the public got a “reality TV feeling,” as “Tank Cams, grainy night vision cameras, and animated maps gave the war coverage a video game feel,” Pulaski said.
The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting(FAIR), Pulaski said, showed that televised views from opponents of the war “were greatly underrepresented” during the period of study from March 20, 2003, to April 9, 2003. Monitoring ABC World News Tonight, Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume, and PBS‘s New Hour With Jim Lehrer, among others, “only 10% of sources shown on programs were opposed to the war” and “criticism of military planning was rare.”
Writing in “The Long Term View,” a publication of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Pulaski said, “Audience-driven coverage included a…sanitized version of the war with little blood---especially American.” She said the networks were “constantly trying to determine whether or not coverage would offend their audience and if so, whether or not the people would stop watching. It was all about the audience.”
Pulaski branded the Pentagon as “a true propaganda machine” during the Iraq War, “feeding the news media stories with a spin.” “American news producers always had the audience in mind when determining what to air and how much detail to include.” “Worries over offending viewers with gore,” Pulaski continued, “and in turn upsetting advertisers were a major concern throughout the war. Anything that influences the bottom line is seriously scrutinized.”
The communications expert went on to say that European and pan-Arab TV viewers got a more realistic picture of the Iraq fighting than their American counterparts. “Foreign news bureaus showed far more blood and gore than American stations showed. The foreign media were delivering audiences the true face of the war,” Pulaski wrote.
BBC Television and American stations coverage of the same events was often starkly different. For example, when on April 7, 2003, a “friendly fire” incident took place, BBC broadcast live from the scene with a detailed report of the horror, including the blood-stained road, mangled vehicles, and reported the number of U.S. casualties. By contrast, Pulaski said, several hours later CNN only mentioned the “friendly fire” incident and gave no word on the number of casualties.
Pulaski went on to criticize the use of “embedded” reporters, many “with flags on their lapels and stars and stripes waving in the background.” This loss of objectivity was compounded as reporters were “heavily censored” by the government. Many front-line reports were “heavily scripted” and subject to approval of field commanders before they could even be covered.
“These stories then needed the approval of the Department of Defense before they were sent out to the public” and embedded reporters “would recount inaccurate information that was broadcast and misleading to the public,” Pulaski charged. Her article appeared in Volume 6, No. 2, of “The Long Term View.”
The Massachusetts School of Law was founded to provide affordable, practical and quality legal education to minorities, immigrants, and students of low- and middle-income backgrounds that could not otherwise attend law school. # (Further information, contact: Jeff Demers 978- 681-0800 or Sherwood Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ross is a media consultant to the Massachusetts School of Law.)