Antiwar Groups Target Flawed Corporate Media
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
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for release March 21, 2006
Antiwar Groups Target Flawed Corporate Media Coverage of Iraq War
Interview with Danny Schechter, founder, MediaChannel.org, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio:
As the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was remembered, protests were held in hundreds of cities across America and around the world. The U.S. occupation of Iraq has been extremely costly for Iraqis and the military occupation forces. A resilient insurgency, government death squads and growing sectarian violence have contributed to the sentiment that day-by-day things only get worse in Iraq.
A March CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Americans surveyed say things are going “poorly” in Iraq, with 57 percent saying that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Fifty one percent of those polled believed the administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. President Bush's job approval rating at 36 percent, is the lowest for any president in his second term since Richard Nixon.
Many who opposed the Iraq war from the start, blame the U.S. corporate media for being an uncritical conduit of misinformation to the American people, helping the Bush administration gain support for its March 2003 invasion. On the third anniversary of the war, peace activists are targeting the media for what they maintain has been deeply flawed coverage of the conflict. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with journalist and author Danny Schechter, founder of Media Channel.org, who discusses press reporting on Iraq and the campaign he's coordinating with the anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice, to hold the media accountable.
DANNY SCHECHTER: The anti-war movement, the United for Peace and Justice coalition, has agreed that media is part of the problem here, that we need to protest against the media coverage of the war. The media helped sell the war, helped promote it, basically misinformed and deceived the American public about what was happening in Iraq -- whether we needed to go to war in the first place and what's happened in the war ever since then.
And so protesting against the media, making the media an issue is something that United for Peace and Justice is calling for. The media industry has done more jingoism than journalism, it's done more selling than telling. We can do better and people have to get involved.
Everybody reads a newspaper, they watch a TV show, they listen to the radio and they're upset with what we're seeing and we're hearing. I mean, this is obvious. In every single survey, people are saying the same thing, "the media has fallen down on the job." So, let’s push them a little bit to try to do a better job. We can all do that in one way or another with a phone call, with an e-mail, with a letter, with a protest -- and I hope that your listeners will be responsive to this.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Danny, lay out for us what were the major flaws of the corporate media coverage of the Iraq war at its outset, and then take us to the present moment.
DANNY SCHECHTER: First of all, they accepted uncritically the idea that war was the only answer, that we had to attack Saddam Hussein. Why? Because he was about to attack us. The implication was somehow that Saddam Hussein was tied to 9/11. Sixty-five percent of the troops, when asked just a few weeks ago why they're in Iraq -- they say, "We're there to avenge 9/11."
So, deception and misinformation is part of the whole mission over there. People don't know why they're there, what the real strategy of the United States government is, and the various big companies that are profiting, like Halliburton -- billions of dollars in no-bid- contracts on this war. So that's one thing.
The pre-war, the run-up to the war -- 800 experts on the air, 800, OK -- on all the channels from the run up to the war through the statues coming down in Baghdad, only 6 opposed the war, OK?
One thousand six hundred and eighteen on-air sources, 71 percent pro-war, 3 percent critical of the war. Sixty-three former and present government officials being interviewed again and again and again -- and critics of the war, anti-war voices basically not being heard from at all. So, you create an environment where one set of ideas prevails and other sets of ideas are excluded. So that's the first thing.
Then the war starts, and we don't really cover what's happening. We basically have journalists "embedded" with the troops and they're giving a glowing story of what's actually happening in Iraq. They're giving a one sided, pro-U.S. story about what's happening; all the progress that's being made, and Iraqi voices aren't really heard from very much. And this has been consistent.
Civilian casualties downplayed. The invasion of towns like Falluja and the wiping-out of whole communities, downplayed. The costs of the war, some 250,000 Iraqis dead, a half a million casualties not really reported.
The American casualties: We've heard about the 2,000+ American soldiers that have been killed; we haven't really heard about the wounded. And not only the wounded who were physically maimed, but mentally maimed, who have come back and are not getting the treatment they deserve and not getting the attention they need. So we need information. We're not getting information from our major media, unfortunately. BETWEEN THE LINES: What can citizens do to effectively demand a change in coverage? What really matters to the big TV networks? What really matters to the major newspapers?
DANNY SCHECHTER: Their image matters to them, their credibility matters to them. They don't like to be thought of as people who are just going along with what the government says. They don't think of themselves as hacks, as propagandists, OK -- and I don't either. I know there's a lot of good people in the media, I'm not tarring everybody with one brush.
But, I'm saying if you look at the performance of the American media, the coverage of the war in Iraq, you can ask yourself this question: How would a state-run media system have done it any differently, OK? Let's say we had the old Soviet style (media,) how would they have done it any differently? They wouldn't have done it as well!
In other words, we had -- no matter when you flipped on the dial -- the same point of view, the same "experts" on-the-air over and over again, saying the same thing, and then finding out later they were all wrong.
There were no weapons of mass destruction over there, Saddam had destroyed them for his own reasons, of course. He's not a good guy, I don't like him. He's evil in many ways; however, so was our government, people who basically told the American people a big fat lie about all of this as the grounds for going to war. Explain this, if you can, to the families who have lost their children in Iraq -- and ask themselves a question: Was it worth it, what did we gain?
The problem is that we have to convince ourselves that we're not alone in raising these issues, that there are many millions of people who agree with us and we need to do something about it.
Danny Schechter, founder of MediaChannel.org and Globalvision's latest film, "Weapons of Mass Deception," examines the media's coverage of the Iraq War. Learn more about his group's media campaign by visiting the www.mediachannel.org website.
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending March 24, 2006. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.