Jewish World Review April 15, 2003 / 13 Sivan, 5763
One byproduct of war is often a major
change in media and news reporting. In the Civil War,
photography was born. In World War II, Edward R.
Murrow brought radio into its own with his dramatic
reports of the Nazi blitz on London. In Vietnam, television
became pivotal as images of bloodshed soured American
backing for the war. The Gulf War saw the growth of
CNN as all-news television became essential.
In the Iraq War, the public may well have learned not to
trust the broadcast networks or the establishment
Never before have Americans had the chance to watch the
establishment media while also seeing events unfold for
themselves, live, on television. Our collective understanding
of the dissonance between the two is breeding a distrust of
the major news organs that will likely long outlast this war.
Those in professional politics take the media's distortions
for granted, and even learn to play them through what has
come to be called "spin." We know what's happening in
Washington, the White House and Congress; each
morning, when we read the version the media give to the
public, we can't but help notice the difference.
But the average American rarely, if ever, gets that
opportunity. In this war, they did - and their reaction to
media news is likely never to be quite the same.
Each morning, we sat reading our copy of The New York
Times, The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times and
ruminated on their prophecies of doom and quagmire. Then
we looked up to see, on television, correspondents actually
embedded with our troops reporting quick advances,
one-sided firefights, melting opposition and, finally,
Then the TV would cut back to the anchors and military
analysts far from the battlefield. There, with their pointers
and maps, we heard all about how we had too few troops
in Iraq and the war plan had misfired and that Bush's failure
to enlist Turkish cooperation was likely to prove disastrous.
For months before the war started, we had read articles in
the establishment media about how house-to-house fighting
in Baghdad would consume our troops like a meat grinder.
We heard dire TV predictions of poison gas, missile
attacks on Israel and burning oil wells. None of it
Then, as the war unfolded, it was obvious that minor
mishaps would dominate the network and newspaper
coverage. Friendly-fire casualties, accidental journalist
deaths, temporary supply shortages, unavoidable killing of
civilians - all were played with the same or greater gusto
than was the news of the actual war itself.
Who can forget juxtapositions like this one: A joyous mob
hauls down Saddam Hussein's 40-foot statue in a scene
reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall - while ABC's
Peter Jennings belittles the Iraqis as a "small crowd"?
The disjuncture between the reality and the reporting
became obvious to anyone who had eyes and ears.
A few news organs, including this newspaper, featured
reports that the established media felt were cheerleading in
their optimism. But reality proved the "cheerleaders" right
and the pessimists wrong.
The result has been a major shift in American media/news
habits. While CBS viewership dropped 15 percent from
pre-war totals, ABC fell 6 percent and NBC gained an
anemic 3 percent, the Fox News Channel audience rose
236 percent while CNN and MSNBC (with smaller
audiences) recorded similarly impressive gains.
On morning TV, the cable show Fox and Friends actually
drew 2.9 million viewers, more than CBS' 2.8 million on its
Early Show - the first time a cable news station has beaten
a network news program in ratings (but not the last).
Among younger viewers (18-34), CBS Evening News fell
16 percent while Fox News Channel gained fivefold.
But the biggest loser was The New York Times, formerly
the newspaper of record, but now reduced - in full public
view - to a newspaper of the political opposition. Its
readers got to see, in plain view, the paper's pessimism and
bias against the Bush administration.
This has been a rough war for tyrants and those who try to
control the thoughts of their people. In Baghdad - but also
in Manhattan, at the headquarters of the Times, NBC,
CBS and ABC.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Dick Morris