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Jewish World Review April 15, 2003 / 13 Sivan, 5763

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Media meltdown


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | 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 newspapers.

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, welcoming crowds.

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 happened.

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.

Up

04/10/03: Giving government a good name
04/03/03: Polls' message to Bush: Relax and win the war
03/31/03: Bomb as you need
03/28/03: The strong grow weak through inhibition
03/26/03: Carping pessimism of TV anchors and interviewers fails to give Americans a sense of defeatism
03/17/03: Poll: Get on with it
03/13/03: It's time for U.S. to play hardball at U.N.
03/10/03: The whole (Hispanic) world is watching
03/07/03: Anti-war errors
03/05/03: Domino theory II: Toppling Mideast despots
03/03/03: Europe's triangulators: Chirac and Blair
02/27/03: Invasion? More like a coup
02/21/03: The first casualty of Iraq war: Liberal credibility
02/19/03: Old Europe's last hurrah
02/14/03: Corzine throws down gauntlet on Wall St. fraud
02/12/03: An exile deal for Saddam
02/07/03: The Dems give up the House
02/05/03: France: Saddam's ally
02/03/03: War critics will suffer
02/30/03: Even by Clinton standards, it's sheer chutzpah
01/24/03: Rebirth of the balanced budget Republican
01/22/03: Next to Bubba, Dubya's got it good
01/16/03: End racism in affirmative action
01/13/03: The new swing voter
01/10/03: Political e-mailing comes of age
01/07/03: In Dem race: Home field no advantage
12/31/02: Hey, Hillary: Want to appear like a stateswomyn? Stay silent
12/19/02: Kerry in the lead
12/19/02: Lieberman the frontrunner
12/17/02: In defense of Lott
12/02/02: An issue for Bush: Drugs
11/27/02: Women gone wobbly?
11/25/02: The U.N. over a barrel
11/15/02: Gore's suicide
11/15/02 One-party control is an illusion
11/13/02 The House of Extremes
11/08/02 I have egg on my face
11/01/02 Is Bush losing control over events?
10/25/02What is causing Bush's free fall?
10/25/02: Anybody sense a trend?
10/23/02: A deadline for Iraq
10/18/02: Only sure bet of 2002 elections is voter angst
10/16/02: Endangered incumbents
10/11/02: Why multilateralism doesn't work
10/09/02: Hey, Dems: Believe NYTimes polling at your own risk
10/03/02: Dem suicide: Let's count the ways
09/30/02: The Dems just can't stop themselves
09/26/02: The perils of polling
09/19/02: W. boxed in the U.N.
09/19/02: Welfare reform: Keep on keeping on
09/12/02: Are Dems insane on Iraq?
09/09/02: Twin shadows of Election '02
09/05/02: GOP should triangulate
08/28/02: Trust the military
08/22/02: It's not the economy, stupid
08/09/02: As America unites, Gore goes divisive
08/01/02: Bush must focus on big picture
07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems
07/19/02: Rudy for SEC tough cop
07/17/02: The investor strike
07/15/02: Door open for drug testing students --- go for it, GOP!
07/12/02: Dubya looking out for No. 1?
07/03/02: The DNA war for Bush's soul
06/21/02: Why are conservatives winning?
06/19/02: Learning to love the feds
06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2002, Dick Morris