Shock and Awe: How to Combat Awful War Coverage

Susan J. Douglas

Now that Team Bush has gotten its way and unilaterally launched an invasion of Iraq, those of us who oppose this immoral madness are sick at heart. It’s easy to feel impotent and, worst of all, like exiles in our own country. That is certainly one of the top goals of the Bush Board of Directors: to convince us that we are a tiny, marginal, unrepresentative minority.

This is false. While more Americans support this war than many of us would like, 52 percent of those polled by CBS from March 7 to 9 wanted to give the arms inspectors more time, and 42 percent disapproved of how Bush was handling the situation in Iraq. (51 percent approved.) This is hardly a mandate for an unprovoked war. But if you run the country like a CEO of a privately held company, then you don’t need the support of anyone, not even the stockholders. Team Bush to U.S. citizens: Screw you.

But one group Team Bush has sought to cultivate has been the press, with some success. CNN for months has cast the war as inevitable. Rather than keep the press away from the war, a mistake that daddy made, Team Bush has developed embedding,” in which journalists are treated like Moonies. They live, eat and breathe with the troops and see, hear and report only what commanding officers want them to. Now that war has begun, most of us will see the war through the eyes of U.S. commanders and hired military experts unless we get Canadian news on cable or go online to read the international press.

But in this hour of darkness, I’d like to suggest some things we can do to combat the media’s erasure of the dissent of tens of millions of Americans who love their country, who support the troops sent needlessly into harm’s way, and who think that Team Bush consists of a bunch of arrogant, megalomaniac quasi-fascists. In addition to the demonstrations and vigils, the petitions and the e‑mails to Congress, we really need to become much bigger pests to the mindless flag-wavers in the media, and more vocal supporters of those like Paul Krugman of the New York Times, whose unflagging criticism of Team Bush mendacity has been a godsend. Here are some beginning proposals.

First, contact CNN and insist that right-winger Lou Dobbs’ Moneyline—which has morphed from a financial tip sheet into a major prime-time news program — be removed from its 6 p.m time slot. Dobbs is not a national affairs journalist, he knows nothing about covering the world or a war, and he is a pugnacious ideologue who does not disguise his views. By June 2002, he was calling for a war against Islamists.” At 6 p.m., when many viewers are getting home and turning on their TVs to get a wrap-up of the day’s events, they deserve at least the pretense of objectivity. But with Dobbs they get rants against France and Germany, wishful thinking presented as fact about international support for the war, ceaseless baiting of Democrats, and diatribes against those who criticize Team Bush. CNN should find the show embarrassing and unprofessional. It belongs on FOX.

Second, watch The Daily Show on Comedy Central, the only TV show I know that has relentlessly exposed the lunacy and cynicism of Team Bush policies. Just a few nights before the war, host Jon Stewart showed an excerpt from Bush’s March 17 ultimatum speech, in which he warned Saddam Hussein and his military not to destroy Iraqi oil fields because they belong to the Iraqi people.” Stewart then, to the great delight of the studio audience, cut to a shot of Cheney with a plumed turban on his head, and said he added, Iraqi people like Da-eek Cheney of Al-Aburton.’ “ Who knows if Jon Stewart will keep it up as the war progresses, but the show’s irreverent response to Team Bush’s pomposity has been a real bright spot in an often dispiriting media landscape.

Third, keep pestering news outlets about coverage of the humanitarian disaster that is certain to ensue. We already know from the last Gulf War that there will be too many stories that position viewers as armchair generals, asking us to identify with the brass instead of innocent civilians, many of whom will be children, or even with our own troops. 

Finally, get together with friends whenever you can to watch the news and take notes about what you find outrageous. Post these on the comment section below this column. And send them, in droves, to the corporate media. They are hearing way too much from administration officials, retired generals and right-wing cranks. They need to hear a lot more from us. 

Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and a senior editor at In These Times. Her forthcoming book is In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead..
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