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 TV Bites With Neena Louise

All War, All the Time

by Neena Louise


I have to admit it: when the war in Iraq began, I was riveted to the television, watching the invasion with rapt attention (and the accompanying mix of awe and horror). Since then, however, the fascination has turned to disgust. Once again, the media just can't seem to control themselves in their zeal for exploitive (hence, ratings-grabbing) footage.

I was stunned with CNN who, when the first American POWs were taken, stated that they had decided not to show the video the Iraqis had broadcast on the Al-Jazeera network out of respect to the families, deeming the images "too disturbing". I was relieved - and surprised - that they made the decision not to give the enemy what they wanted by airing the footage. The VERY NEXT DAY, however, that stupid little twit Paula Zahn (what's she doing on so much anyway?) stated just as forcefully that CNN had decided to air portions of the video because it was "important to see" how the POWs were being treated. Oh, bull! They aired it because in this Internet and satellite age, everyone who wanted to see the video was turning off CNN and going to their computers to download it and CNN didn't want to miss out on the ratings - respect for the families be damned. Truly disgusting. Since this flip-flopping debacle, CNN has gone the other way and has been very selective of the images we are allowed to see - too selective.

This is the first major U.S. conflict since the proliferation of the Internet and satellite television, and there's just no hiding the truth. I suspect the networks (not to mention the military) were not prepared for this. Information can no longer be doled out in carefully selected parcels (nor skewed to one side or the other) since most people have easy access to the Internet and international broadcasts. Watching international broadcasts of war coverage is quite fascinating. Not only are the images they air completely different, so too are the commentaries. They are not only less exploitative and more objective than American television news (which is to be expected), but they also offer a glimpse into a world we are not seeing. I, of course, have no desire to see dead people on live television, but that's not what the international news is covering, despite what the U.S. news media have led us to believe. I saw no images of the POWs that had appeared on Al-Jazeera, but I did see images of bombed out buildings and fleeing civilians. American television seems to focus on big explosions that look hauntingly like a big budget movie, rather than foootage of the actual people that are involved in the conflict. Why is that? Because it will make the war seem too "real" and sway public opinion? Oh, puh-leeze. It is, of course, understandable to want to show the U.S. in the best possible light, but the public is already very opinionated - we need to see the truth. How are we to make objective decisions when we do not see objective news reporting? Though they say "the first casualty in war is the truth," I, for one, am glad to have access to international broadcasts and the Internet. Though no one is really telling the whole truth (not anywhere in the world), at least I can piece together something a little closer to reality than what I see on cable news and the Big Four networks.

And do we really need "all war, all the time" on television? As many politicians have pointed out when the media hounds them for a "timetable" of the war, all the relentless coverage does is make the war appear to have been going on for months and months. This hadn't even occurred to me until Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out to the media that, though it seemed like the war had been going on for weeks and that the U.S. was losing ground, the war had actually started "Friday at 1 pm" (this was on the following Monday). I stopped watching so much coverage after that.

I WANT to know what's going on, however. I want to know how our men and women are faring (especially since I have relatives in the military), but television's coverage is getting disturbingly close to exploitive propagandist entertainment and it's making me very uneasy. Case in point: On the first day of the "shock and awe" campaign, CNN simply showed the Baghdad skyline being bombed with no commentary at all. I was, indeed, "shocked and awed". When the shelling eased, however, Wolf Blitzer came on and started an analysis with a member of the military. Moments in, he cut off the analyst and said that he had to interrupt so the viewers could "take in this latest blast". I was totally disgusted. Not only do the networks (especially Fox and CNN) just never stop with the coverage whether or not anything important is happening, they seem to package and present their coverage as entertainment. This is not entertainment. This is real life with REAL LIVES being risked and lost. Are we so desensitized that we don't realize this? I don't think we are, and shame on television for making it appear that way.

I hope American television coverage improves as the war go on. We owe it to ourselves and the thousands of our citizens that are risking their lives for us. And that's just it: there are thousands of American (and British and Australian) citizens over there right now, risking their lives. Whether you agree that they should be there or not; whether you support the war or not; the fact remains that our servicemen and women are there right now and they deserve our support.

To all our members of the military - and particularly my cousins - THANK YOU. I hope you come home safe. And soon.  
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