“In the days before 24-hour news, wire services would send out early news flashes that would prove wrong and follow up with corrections. No one saw them except editors who made decisions about when things felt true enough to transmit. That duty now falls to the viewer. Switch between multiple news channels; don’t believe anything until a credible source verifies it, if then; look at the blogger sites and, yes, print media; follow up on anything you think is important, because the facts are bound to change. And remember, it’s only been a few days fighting. Even if the war gets worse, the reporting might yet get better.”
—Jim Ledbetter, from a March 31, 2003 Time column, “Two Cheers for Embedding: War coverage has been high tech and low calorie, but don’t blame the messengers.”
“What is lacking in so much of the instantaneous coverage is verification and historical context, the things that turn coverage into reporting. By my reckoning, coalition casualties (while always tragic) were rather light during the first week of fighting compared with similar invasions in most previous modern wars. They were, for example, light compared with the weekly toll during most of the Vietnam War. But the first Gulf war reset popular expectations of what war constitutes. … In the absence of context, the story of the war that reaches us seems less the story of battle than of a political campaign: the manipulation of expectation and images by all sides; the speculation on how these created expectations and images will affect the course of battle, as if it were an election.”
—Jack Fuller, president of Tribune Publishing Co., writing in the Chicago Tribune on March 31, 2003.
“This war was the first live war. That means that everything is speeded up. There is no time to think, no time to reflect, and the reporter is there to give you fast sound bites and glimpses of reality.”
—Marvin Kalb, former CBS and NBC diplomatic correspondent, quoted in an April 13, 2003 article in The (Baltimore) Sun, “Media in Iraq Dances Uneasily on Ever-Shifting Sands of Battle: In Fast-paced World of Instant Coverage, Analyses Are Left to Blow in the Wind.”
“It’s classic for TV reporting to gravitate toward iconic images. Images are more appealing than an interview with a man on the street. When we hear words, we are skeptical and situate ourselves against them as we decide what we agree with and what we don’t. Images are simple and memorable. They work in ways that don’t engage the intellect. … We are able to come to the core of the event much more readily with images than we can with words. Indeed, a few miles away from yesterday’s fallen statue, the message was more complex and less happy. Gunfire still rang out elsewhere in Baghdad, a clear indication the statue revelers were only a part of the picture. And what media and government officials were calling ‘jubilation’ in Firdos Square looked an awful lot like the looting taking place nearby. Footage of both activities showed gatherings verging on anarchy.”
—Barbie Zelizer, author of “Journalism After September 11,” quoted in a Boston Globe article on April 10, 2003, “Snap Judgments—Did Iconic Images from Baghdad Reveal More About the Media Than Iraq?” by Matthew Gilbert and Suzanne C. Ryan.
“No one is suggesting that the networks, newspapers and cable channels commit to 24-7 coverage of developments in Iraq. Inevitably, a different story will come along to command the time, attention and resources of the nation’s journalistic community. One always does. However, it also is true that, at the moment, interest in international affairs is high, and a recent Pew Center report shows eight of 10 Americans think the press has done a good job covering the war. Those results are a change from a few months ago, and all journalists should try to maintain that confidence level. A dramatic rollback in reporting from the Middle East would signal to the nation that the ‘story’ was over, and that Americans could, once again, return to a position of benign neglect regarding world affairs. That outcome would be a shame, for it would leave unresolved a coherent explanation of the conditions that led us to war in the first place.”
—Wendell Cochran, director of Journalism Department Division, School of Communication, American University, in his April 16, 2003 article in The American Observer, “The Press: Beyond Morgues and Mosques.”
“That the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox sanctioned this domination by military types was a further assault on what the public deserves: independent, balanced and impartial journalism. The tube turned into a parade ground for military men—all well-groomed white males—saluting the ethic that war is rational, that bombing and shooting are the way to win peace, and that their uniformed pals in Iraq were there to free people, not slaughter them. Perspective vanished, as if caught in a sandstorm of hype and war-whooping. If the U.S. military embedded journalists to report the war from Iraq, journalists back in network studios embedded militarists to explain it. Either way, it was one-version news.”
—Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post olumnist who now directs the Center for Teaching Peace, in his April 19, 2003 Washington Post op-ed, “TV’s Military ‘Embeds.’”
“Why are all the network experts retired military and oil men assessing the success of firefights or assuring us we can cap the burning wells? There must be other categories of knowledge that would be useful to their viewers. … Give me a talking head who can assess the impact on the children who hear the screams of bombs …. Tell me about the collateral damage to their minds. How does a three- or five-year-old comprehend a hundred Dresdens? Let’s have a few charts and graphs with laser pointers to objectify their healing process.”
—Lester Sloan, a Los Angeles-based photographer, in a message sent to Nieman Reports on March 25, 2003.
“The coverage of this war is as close to the truth of this war as reality TV is to real life. At a moment like this, the media should be an irritant—shocking us, shaking us, making sure that we’re as alert and uncomfortable as possible in the comfort of our living rooms.”
—Joe Klein, from an April 7, 2003 Time essay, “The PG-Rated War.”