I think I’ve mentioned before that right after 9/11 I stopped watching television news. In fact, it was right around then that I turned to the web as an alternative means of getting news I felt I could trust more than what I was seeing on CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, etc. That became even more true as the drumbeat for war in Iraq started up, and the media seemed to support going to war almost without question or challenge. So I guess you could say I agree with Michael Moore on media complicity in Iraq.
“Had ABC News, NBC News, CBS News been more aggressive in confronting the government with what they were telling us back in 2003 about Iraq, you might have prevented this war,” Moore said. “3500 soldiers that are dead today may not have had to die had our news media done its job. … The media didn’t ask the questions. The media got embedded and went on board for a little thrill ride.”
“It’s not a thrill ride,” objected host Chris Cuomo. “Those men and women put themselves in danger. … To say the media is complicit in the death of soldiers –”
“This media is complicit,” insisted Moore. “The media didn’t ask the questions that should have been asked.”
Think he’s wrong? Remember Ashleigh Banfield?
Banfield was a rising star on MSNBC for a while there. I was reminded of her, and particularly of Digby’s post concerning Banfield, when I read Moore’s comments. This is a woman who was reporting from Manhattan when the WTC towers collapsed, who rescued a policeman in the aftermath, went on to broadcast her own show from Afghanistan and Pakistan, interviewing Taliban prisoners of war, visiting hospitals in Kabul, during which she darkened hair to blend in with locals and gain better access.
Then came “the speech”; April 24, 2003, Kansas State University. Banfield did something almost no journalist had the temerity to do post 0/11; she told the truth.
I think we all were very excited about the beginnings of this conflict in terms of what we could see for the first time on television. The embedded process, which I’ll get into a little bit more in a few moments, was something that we’ve never experienced before, neither as reporters nor as viewers. The kinds of pictures that we were able to see from the front lines in real time on a video phone, and sometimes by a real satellite link-up, was something we’d never seen before and were witness to for the first time.
And there are all sorts of good things that come from that, and there are all sorts of terrible things that come from that. The good things are the obvious. This is one more perspective that we all got when it comes to warfare, how it’s fought and how tough these soldiers are, what the conditions are like and what it really looks like when they’re firing those M-16s rapidly across a river, or across a bridge, or into a building.
There were a lot of journalists who were skeptical of this embedding process before we all embarked on this kind of news coverage before this campaign. Many thought that this was just another element of propaganda from the American government. I suppose you could look at it that way. It certainly did show the American side of things, because that’s where we were shooting from. But it also showed what can go wrong.
…That said, what didn’t you see? You didn’t see where those bullets landed. You didn’t see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism or was this coverage-? There is a grand difference between journalism and coverage, and getting access does not mean you’re getting the story, it just means you’re getting one more arm or leg of the story. And that’s what we got, and it was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn’t journalism, because I’m not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful terrific endeavor, and we got rid oaf horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn’t see what it took to do that.
I can’t tell you how bad the civilian casualties were. I saw a couple of pictures. I saw French television pictures, I saw a few things here and there, but to truly understand what war is all about you’ve got to be on both sides. You’ve got to be a unilateral, someone who’s able to cover from outside of both front lines, which, by the way, is the most dangerous way to cover a war, which is the way most of us covered Afghanistan. There were no front lines, they were all over the place. They were caves, they were mountains, they were cobbled, they were everything. But we really don’t know from this latest adventure from the American military what this thing looked like and why perhaps we should never do it again. The other thing is that so many voices were silent in this war. We all know what happened to Susan Sarandon for speaking out, and her husband, and we all know that this is not the way Americans truly want to be. Free speech is a wonderful thing, it’s what we fight for, but the minute it’s unpalatable we fight against it for some reason.
…That just seems to be a trend of late, and l am worried that it may be a reflection of what the news was and how the news coverage was coming across. This was a success, it was a charge it took only three weeks. We did wonderful things and we freed the Iraqi people, many of them by the way, who are quite thankless about this. There’s got to be a reason for that. And the reason for it is because we don’t have a very good image right now overseas, and a lot of Americans aren’t quite sure why, given the fact that we sacrificed over a hundred soldiers to give them freedom.
Well, the message before we went in was actually weapons of mass destruction and eliminating the weapons of mass destruction from this regime and eliminating this regime. Conveniently in the week or two that we were in there it became very strongly a message of freeing the Iraqi people. That should have been the message early on, in fact, in the six to eight months preceding this campaign, if we were trying to win over the hearts of the Arab world.
That is a very difficult endeavor and from my travels to the Arab world, we’re not doing a very good job of it. What you read in the newspapers and what you see on cable news and what you see on the broadcast news networks is nothing like they see over there, especially in a place like Iraq, where all they have access to is a newspaper called Babble, if you can believe it. It’s really called Babble. And it was owned by well, owned and operated by Uday, who you know now is the crazier of Saddam’s sons. And this is the kind of material that they have access to, and it paints us as the great Satan regularly, or at least it used to. I’m sure it’s not in production right now. And it’s not unlike many of the other newspapers in the Arab world either. You can’t blame these poor sorts for not liking us. All they know is that we’re crusaders. All they know is that we’re imperialists. All they know is that we want their oil. They don’t know otherwise. And I’ll tell you, a lot of the people I spoke with in Afghanistan had never heard of the Twin Towers and most of them couldn’t recognize a picture of George Bush.
… And that’s some of the problems we have in dealing in this war in terror. As a journalist I’m often ostracized just for saying these messages, just for going on television and saying, “Here’s what the leaders of Hezbullah are telling me and here’s what the Lebanese are telling me and here’s what the Syrians have said about Hezbullah. Here’s what they have to say about the Golan Heights.” Like it or lump it, don’t shoot the messenger, but invariably the messenger gets shot.
We hired somebody on MSNBC recently named Michael Savage. Some of you may know his name already from his radio program. He was so taken aback by my dare to speak with Al -Aqsa Martyrs Brigade about why they do what they do, why they’re prepared to sacrifice themselves for what they call a freedom fight and we call terrorism. He was so taken aback that he chose to label me as a slut on the air. And that’s not all, as a porn star. And that’s not all, as an accomplice to the murder of Jewish children. So these are the ramifications for simply being the messenger in the Arab world.
How can you discuss, how can you solve anything when attacks from a mere radio flak is what America hears on a regular basis, let alone at the government level? I mean, if this kind of attitude is prevailing, forget discussion, forget diplomacy, diplomacy is becoming a bad word.
… I think there were a lot of dissenting voices before this war about the horrors of war, but I’m very concerned about this three-week TV show and how it may have changed people’s opinions. It was very sanitized.
It had a very brief respite from the sanitation when Terry Lloyd was killed, the ITN, and when David Bloom was killed and when Michael Kelley was killed. We all sort of sat back for a moment and realized, “God, this is ugly. This is hitting us at home now. This is hitting the noncombatants.” But that went away quickly too.
This TV show that we just gave you was extraordinarily entertaining, and I really hope that the legacy that it leaves behind is not one that shows war as glorious, because there’s nothing more dangerous than a democracy that thinks this is a glorious thing to do.
War is ugly and it’s dangerous, and in this world the way we are discussed on the Arab street, it feeds and fuels their hatred and their desire to kill themselves to take out Americans. It’s a dangerous thing to propagate.
And that glorious coverage from Iraq? When Banfield gave her speech she said we’d just sacrificed “over one hundred soldiers” to “liberate” Iraq. Today over 3,500 have died, as well as tens of thousands of Iraqis we’ve never bothered to count. So, how right was Banfield then? and how right is Moore now?