In This Issue
The Big Red Baghdad; NewsBites: No-Fault Press; Revolving Door: Surrender in the Desert; Time Writers Rant As C-SPAN Cameras Roll; Reporters Predicted Long, Bloody War; Arnett Bites; Janet Cooke Award: Palestinian Whitewash
The Big Red Baghdad
"There are lots of things that you can't report. If you do, you are asked to leave the country and I don't think we want to do that. I think you do a very valuable service reporting no matter what you are allowed to report." -- Baghdad-based reporter Betsy Aaron on CBS This Morning, February 20.
Aaron's damn-the-content attitude best represented network reporters' reaction to criticism of Baghdad coverage: What they said from Baghdad didn't matter, so long as they were there to say it. CNN's Peter Arnett drew most of the criticism, but to determine the quality of journalism viewers received from the three broadcast networks, MediaWatch analysts viewed every ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News news story originating from Baghdad from February 1 to February 27, the day the Allies ceased offensive action.
After analyzing all 45 stories, MediaWatch determined: 1) The correspondents reported on Iraqi opinion without once suggesting the possibility of opposition to Saddam Hussein. 2) In one-third of the stories, reporters described, without challenge, Iraqi battle claims. 3) The reporters spent more time dismissing concerns about Iraqi censorship than explaining how it might impair the flow of accurate information.
Iraqi Opinion. Reporting on public opinion in a country where disagreement is a crime is tricky business, to say the least. But much like the networks' inaccurate reporting from Eastern Europe and Nicaragua, no reporter ever suggested that Iraqis didn't support Saddam. Out of 34 talking heads, 31 of them (totaling 4 minutes and 16 seconds) struck a defiant pose in support of Saddam and against the Allies. Only three talking heads on ABC, which totaled 17 seconds, were somewhat ambiguous. Instead, they usually offered phrases beginning with "Everyone here told us..." Witness the BBC's Jeremy Bowen, reporting for NBC on February 16: "The people we met blamed the Americans for continuing the war." The people we met? A more honest description would be "the people they allowed us to interview." Bowen went on to claim: "The air war itself, as it goes on, has shown no sign of diminishing Saddam Hussein's support here."
Anti-Saddam sentiment was not a secret. In the February 11 New Republic, journalist Michael Kelly recalled how ABC cameraman Fabrice Moussus was told by a minder from the Ministry of Information: "We do not like this government. I am afraid Iraqis will be killed, but we hope [the allied forces] will hit the government areas and help us get rid of the government."
Only twice did reporters add that Iraqis were receiving limited information, when ABC and CBS reported that Iraqis didn't know the details of the Soviet peace plan. Strangely, that didn't stop repeated reports on CBS and NBC about how Iraqis couldn't understand why Bush continued the bombing when Saddam had accepted the Soviet plan. On February 27, Betsy Aaron described the Iraqis' faith in their leader: "With their city in ruins, what is left on the street is pride...The average citizen is confused by the politics swirling around him. He thinks the Iraqi government has made every concession that it can make for a peace with honor. He believes Iraq is due at least that, and tonight, this [bombing] is what the allies have to say to the Iraqis."
Iraqi Claims. Network reporters forwarded Iraqi claims about civilian or military targets without challenge in 15 reports, or a third of the time. By contrast, reporters challenged Iraqi claims only twice. True to their censors, reporters only aired claims of civilian damage. Only ABC's Bill Blakemore, on February 19, explained the Iraqis wouldn't allow him to see or discuss military targets.
NBC reporters were responsible for ten of the 15 unchallenged reports, or in more than half of their 19 stories. In his first dispatch from Iraq since January, NBC's Tom Aspell reported from a village where the Iraqi government had taken him: "The people [here]...say as many s 80 civilians may have died when the town's main bridge was attacked by Allied war planes last week....The people say there are no military sites in the area....There are some here who think that civilian targets are being bombed simply because the Allied air forces have run out of military targets." On February 18, Aspell presented Iraq's claims as true, and the American claims as dubious: "This morning they showed what's left of the milk factory bombed here weeks ago. The U.S. is still insisting it's a biological weapons plant."
Aspell took over from the BBC's Jeremy Bowen, whose reports were even worse. In reporting the Allied bombing of an "air raid shelter," Bowen repeatedly changed the subject from whether the "shelter" had a military function to the most graphic images of the tragedy. When Tom Brokaw asked about possible military use, Bowen replied: "No, Tom, the only statement I am picking up about that came from Washington. I was down at the bunker again today. I saw more bodies being taken out and more bodies of women and children, lots of small corpses."
Censorship. Reporters downplayed official censorship (six times) more than they mentioned its effect on their reporting (twice). At the site of the "shelter" bombing, NBC's Jeremy Bowen claimed: "We were allowed complete freedom of movement in the dormitory. There were no restrictions," and "None of this was set up for our cameras." At the end of one report, Bowen even claimed "They let us film what we wanted. I've a lot more access there than I might have expected at a similar human tragedy in the West." On February 11, Bill Blakemore reported: "The script process is very normal for war time....there's not been any kind of heavy censorship in my experience so far. It's a fairly easy working understanding we have."
No one offered a better refutation of the networks' Baghdad reporters than the reporters themselves after they were forced to leave on March 6. "The one thing people have to know is that this man, privately, Saddam Hussin, is a hated man," Betsy Aaron told Dan Rather on March 7. On NBC News at Sunrise the next morning, Jeremy Bowen conceded: "The message that came from them very strongly in Baghdad was that they're pretty sick of Saddam Hussein. They don't like the man, they don't like what he's done to their country, and they'd like to be rid of him."
Now that it's over, the networks should wonder: what value did their Baghdad reports have? In retrospect, the information that came out was often one-sided, incorrect, and only furthered misunderstanding. Those who championed the people's right to know mostly provided the people with the opportunity to be misled.
Some of the networks were also sloppy about warning viewers what was censored. While CBS never lacked some kind of warning, ABC and NBC put on seven reports without censorship warnings. An additional 14 stories came without anchor warnings, notifying the viewers only on the screen.
NewsBites: No-Fault Press
NO-FAULT PRESS. Time devoted a three-page story to the public's disgust with media coverage of the Persian Gulf War. But Senior Writer Richard Zoglin's February 25 piece arrogantly blamed the public for not understanding the media's role. "It is not surprising that resentment toward the press has surfaced during a war that enjoys widespread popular support. The public wants to believe things are going well. Any report that tends to contradict optimistic U.S. pronouncements, or support Iraqi claims, casts the press in the role of unwanted messenger."
Since both liberals and conservatives have complained, Zoglin declared his profession vindicated: "The attacks from both sides probably mean that the press is situated just about where it usually is: in the even-handed middle ground."
Maybe Zoglin should consider one reason almost everyone is upset with the media: Even when polls show 80 percent plus believe reporters are doing a bad job, Time refuses to concede any fault lies with reporting.
SCHIEFFER SCUDS. The success of the Patriot missiles against Iraqi Scuds spurred calls for further investment in the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). That prompted Bob Schieffer to launch a Scud of his own, with about as much accuracy as the Iraqis. "The problem with all this is that the Patriot system has very little in common with the Star Wars concept," he said during the February 2 CBS Evening News. Actually, the Patriots and SDI share the same mission, which is to use weaponry to strike down incoming missiles.
Schieffer retreated to the realm of the ridiculous, arguing: "To be effective against nuclear weapons, a Star Wars defense would have to be perfect." In fact, SDI was never intended to be perfect, but rather to save millions who might die in the absence of strategic defense. Schieffer's main experts were two members of the (not identified as liberal) Union of Concerned Scientists. "Critics of Star Wars say that as good as the Patriots have proven to be, what they have really shown is that no such system guarantees total security," Schieffer concluded.
GUMBEL GRUMBLES OVER REAGAN. Today co-host Bryant Gumbel refuses to give Ronald Reagan credit for anything. "Americans have been dazzled by TV reports of a wide range of computer and laser guided weaponry being used successfully against Saddam Hussein," Gumbel announced on January 28. But, he cautioned, "a lot of folks have been simplistically crediting Ronald Reagan, whose expensive procurements dominated government spending in the '80s."
After reporter Henry Champ explained how Jimmy Carter deserved more credit than Reagan for the air war's success, Gumbel interviewed former Reagan defense official Frank Gaffney and Rep. Pat Schroeder. Gaffney pointed out Reagan's greatest accomplishment: sticking by high-tech weapons despite constant congressional naysaying and funding cuts. "If you look at the Carter staples," Gumbel countered, "the Carter staples were the cruise missiles and the Stealth, two weapons that have played a large part in this conflict. The Reagan legacy is the B1 and Star Wars, which have not."
Despite their obvious effectiveness, Gumbel asked Schroeder whether the war "has exposed the need for basic armaments as opposed to high-tech, very expensive toys?"
PACIFIST PUFF PIECES. Reporters looking for pacifists against the Gulf War wrongly identified far-left Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Berkeley) as one of them. The March 11 New Republic documented Dellums' support for gun-toting dictators Fidel Castro and the late Maurice Bishop. Papers captured in Grenada included a letter that Dellums' top aide, Carlottia Scott, had written to Bishop: "[Dellums] really admires you as a person and even more so as a leader....Believe me, he doesn't make that statement often about anyone. The only other person that I know of that he expresses such admiration for is Fidel."
Undeterred, USA Today reporter Richard Wolf, who has lionized Dellums before, wrote on January 18: "For two decades in the House, Dellums, now 55, has practiced what his constituents sent him to Congress to preach: pacifist politics."
The Washington Post concurred on February 20 in a long "Style" section profile headlined "Ron Dellums, Waging Peace." Post reporter Lois Romano pointed out that "now he is also so mainstream that his wife feels the need to explain how difficult it was for her husband to file a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the President from declaring war." Romano should know better than to use this dodge: Dellums' personal feelings have never stopped him from supporting America's enemies.
INCORRECT FREE EXPRESSION. First Amendment rights are always a favorite issue with the media, but the Gulf War allowed some reporters to take free expression whining to new heights. NBC News correspondent Stan Bernard reported the war inspired "unbridled patriotism," but his February 13 story focused on how "Americans are also showing little tolerance for the minority who oppose the war."
Bernard's examples of intolerance? First, "The Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans last weekend...Woody Harrelson, the naive bartender on one of America's favorite TV sitcoms, was to be the Grand Marshal. His invitation was withdrawn after he participated in this anti-war demonstration in California." Second, "At Madison Square Garden in New York City, Seton Hall player Marco Lokar refused to wear an American flag on his uniform. The other players did. Lokar was booed."
These incidents led Bernard to a ridiculous conclusion: "With Americans risking their lives in the Gulf, the right of free expression, a right Americans take for granted, is taking a beating here at home." Not inviting goofball actors to the Mardi Gras parade is now an offense against the First Amendment? It looks like freedom of expression should be reserved only for war critics, not for those who oppose them.
OUT OF ENERGY. Bush's energy policy has a fatal flaw in the eyes of NBC News reporters: it does not force conservation through tax hikes or by mandating smaller cars. On NBC's Today reporter Henry Champ began: "The President wants to rebuild America's roads, bridges and airports, but he doesn't want to raise your taxes. His plan forces the states to do it." His model: Europe, "where drivers pay a $1.87 gas tax for clean and safe roads and good mass transit." Champ cited repair needs, such as in New York City where "the city's East River bridges are crumbling." Champ's February 13 story failed to explain how, if taxes are the solution, the region already with one of the nation's highest tax burdens on motorists could have so many bad bridges.
On the February 21 Today, substitute co-host Katherine Couric snootily remarked: "With a former oil man in the White House, it should come as no surprise that the Bush Administration's new energy policy is long on production and short on conservation." Deputy Energy Secretary Henson Moore explained how Bush's plan would reduce energy consumption more than it would increase production.
Couric ignored the point, concluding: "Well, it remains to be seen if we will ever have a national energy policy." So, no new massive government regulation means no plan.
PACT FACTS. On February 12, ABC left the war for a moment to announce the end of an era. Peter Jennings declared: "Another vestige of the Cold War is about to be buried. The Kremlin announced today that the Warsaw Pact military alliance will be formally disbanded on the first of April. There's really not much to disband. When communism folded up in Eastern Europe the alliance just sort of faded away."
Tell that to the Poles and the Germans. On the same day, Soviet charge d'affaires Lev Klepatski told the Polish government that it would not finish removing its 50,000 troops from Poland before mid-1994. The situation is even worse for Germany, where the removal of 380,000 Soviet troops will not be finished until 1994.
HOGGING HEADLINES. NASA global-warming guru James Hansen's annual study of land temperatures designated 1990 as the hottest year on record. Roy Spencer of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, calculated temperatures by satellite and classified 1990 as only the fourth highest year in the last ten. Who got more news copy? Guess.
The New York Times, the newspaper of record, mentioned the Spencer study in a January 10 story erroneously headlined "Separate Studies Rank '90 as World's Warmest Year." Reporter William K. Stevens gave four sentences to Spencer, but more than nine paragraphs to Hansen, dwelling on his quotes and data.
The February 3 New York Times Magazine also ran a long Hansen profile that featured the subheadline: "In 1988 Jim Hansen testified that the world was getting hotter. But how hot? And how fast?" Spencer, who's skeptical of detecting global warming from just ten years of data, doesn't have the alarmist skills necessary to score with reporters.
GUILT BY ASSOCIATION PRESS. On the night of February 16 Enrique Bermudez, a long-time commander of the Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters, was shot in the head and killed. Associated Press correspondent Filadelfo Aleman didn't have much nice to say about the man who left the security of Miami last year for the dangers of Managua.
Aleman charged that Bermudez "had close ties to the late dictator Anastasio Somoza," noting he was Nicaragua's military attache in Washington when Somoza fell. But as Council for Inter-American Security fellow Michael Waller pointed out in The Washington Times, "the post is less of a perk and more of an exile to keep potentially troublesome officers out of domestic politics." Even the Carter Administration considered Bermudez an acceptable post- Somoza military leader.
The AP story also devoted three paragraphs to detailing allegations Bermudez ordered the 1987 death of Benjamin Linder, a U.S. activist the Contras reported was wearing a Sandinista uniform when killed in a firefight. Aleman acknowledged "a federal judge in Miami threw out the suit in September 1987." So why impugn his memory with the allegation?
TAKING LIBERTIES. "The ACLU takes pride in its consistency, defending virtually every line in its 582-page policy manual from attacks from both the right and the left," Senior Editor Ted Gest asserted in his February 18 U.S. News & World Report profile of the American Civil Liberties Union. "In that respect, 'we're the most conservative organization in America,' maintains its Florida director, Robyn Blumner," added Gest, before he lauded the ACLU's broad client list: "For all the flak the ACLU takes over unpopular stands like backing war protestors and gay soldiers, it is applauded by those it helps, regardless of ideology." Gest cited the ACLU's defense of Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger, concluding, "With everyone from Nofziger to Nazis endorsing its cause, the ACLU's prominence as the self-appointed protector of Americans' basic rights in only likely to grow."
Tell that to pro-lifers. In a November 5 article in the same magazine, columnist John Leo explained how the ACLU refused to intervene on behalf of demonstrators charged under anti- racketeering laws: "It seems clear that the influx of single- issue pro-choice money and members is bending the ACLU out of shape, making it more a part of the pro-choice movement and less committed to a civil-liberties agenda."
GARTNER'S GREAT GUNS. NBC News President Michael Gartner believes in an expansive reading of the First Amendment, but not of the Second. In a January 10 Wall Street Journal column, "Tell Me a Good Reason for Handguns," Gartner called for Congress to pass "a strong gun control law." Gartner simplistically argued: "I'm especially against handguns. I'm against them because they are used to threaten, to maim, to kill. I'm against them because today, if it is typical, 10 children will be killed by handguns ....I can't think of any reason to be for handguns."
The January/February issue of The Quill reprinted Gartner's address to the Society of Professional Journalists in which he called for broadened First Amendment protections as championed by liberal Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. Gartner recalled sitting next to him at a dinner: "It was a pretty big dinner, and people kept coming up to him and saying, 'How are you feeling, Mr. Justice?' and he'd reply, 'I can make it two more years.' Finally, he leaned over to me, and he said: 'You know, that's what they really want to know. They don't care how I'm feeling. They just want to know if I can outlive the Reagan Administration.' Well, he did, and we're all the happier -- and freer -- because of that." Gartner later referred to the retired Justice as "my hero."
BUDGET DEFICIT ABC'S. Last November, a MediaWatch study found that the networks never reported that federal budget "cuts" were actually just reductions in projected increases. Now one reporter, ABC's John Stossel, has corrected his colleagues. In a February 15 report on 20/20, Stossel explained the deal between Bush and Congress: "They announced a $500 billion plan of tax increases and spending cuts. But the numbers tell a different story. The numbers show the budget was reduced from one trillion, 197 billion dollars to one trillion, 477 billion. That's how they count in Washington: 280 billion dollars more is actually less... These are people who just can't say no."
Stossel cited U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) as an example of congressional pork-barreling. Murtha got $10 million to build a drug intelligence center his district, though one exists in Texas. When Murtha defended himself by suggesting his state was losing clout in Congress, Stossel replied: "I as a taxpayer say so what? I don't care if you lose political power in Pennsylvania ....Isn't it kind of like stealing from the public to pay your friends?" Stossel decided: "When you think that there are 535 in Congress, you can see why we're in debt."
GIANT BIAS. Proving that the inability to separate opinion from reporting extends throughout the Time-Warner empire, an item in Sports Illustrated targeted a pro-life video put out by a football team." Champions for Life, a 10-minute-long piece of antiabortion propaganda that first appeared 14 months ago, became the subject of controversy last week when the New York Giants made it to the Super Bowl," began the February 4 item. "No matter how one feels about abortion, it's hard not to be repulsed by the video's inflammatory language." What did SI find particularly repulsive? "Jimmy Burt Jr., the nine-year-old son of Jim Burt, a former Giant now with the 49ers, looks into the camera from atop his father's shoulders and says, 'It's great to be alive.'"
SI ended its critique: "Apart from questions of taste, there's one further objection. As columnist Anna Quindlen noted in The New York Times, no women are heard from in the video." Possibly Time-Warner feels that women are better served by Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.
Revolving Door: Surrender in the Desert
Surrender in the Desert. One member of MediaWatch's Revolving Door list got a closer look at the collapsing Iraqi army than she ever could have expected. As Elizabeth Colton, Editor of the weekly Loudoun Times-Mirror of Leesburg, Virginia, trailed Allied troops heading to Kuwait City, eleven Iraqi soldiers surrendered to her. The white-flag-waving Iraqis approached Colton, the Press Secretary to Jesse Jackson during his 1988 presidential campaign, by shouting in Arabic: "No water, no eat. We want peace. George Bush good. Saddam Hussein bad." Colton, who speaks Arabic, pointed them toward a POW collection camp. During the 1980s, Colton covered the Middle East for ABC News, Newsweek and National Public Radio.
Knight on the Right. In late January the conservative Heritage Foundation issued an analysis criticizing the National Endowment for the Arts for an institutional bias against religion and "traditional forms of arts and traditional values in general." The report's author: Robert Knight, a former "View" and "Calendar" features sections editor for the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times. First hired as a copy editor in 1982, Knight was responsible for design and layout when he left in 1989. After a year with California's conservative Hoover Institution, last fall Heritage named him its Senior Fellow for cultural policy studies.
Jersey Journalists. Richard Klein, a reporter with U.S. News & World Report during 1988 and 1989, has joined the staff of Senator Frank Lautenberg. He now holds the title of Special Assistant to the liberal New Jersey Democrat....On the House side, Robert Maitlin has become Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee, Congressman Robert Roe. Maitlin held the same position at the Science, Space and Technology Committee which Roe had chaired the past four years. Until becoming Press Secretary to the Democratic Congressman in 1979, Maitlinserved as Washington Bureau Chief for the Newark Star-Ledger.
NBC's Cable Connector. NBC Cable, operator of the Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC), bought the bankrupt Financial News Network (FNN) from Infotechnology in early March. NBC plans to merge the two services into one headed by NBC Cable President Thomas Rogers, Senior Counsel from 1981-1986 to the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance chaired by then Congressman Tim Wirth, a liberal Democrat.
Bush Workers. Two media veterans have joined the White House team. Dorrance Smith, Executive Producer of ABC's Nightline since late 1989 and of This Week with David Brinkley for most of the 1980s, has come aboard as Assistant to the President for Public Affairs. Smith will coordinate relations with reporters outside Washington. During the Ford Administration, Smith worked in the White House advance office....Washington Times Editorial Page Editor Tony Snow was named chief speechwriter in late February. Before jumping to the Times in 1987, Snow served as Deputy Editorial Page Editor of The Detroit News.
Time Writers Rant As C-SPAN Cameras Roll
STANLEY VS. THE "SUPERPATRIOTS"
Time magazine editors and reporters sit in meetings trashing conservative politicians and their concerns. Sound like the paranoid dream of overworked MediaWatch editors? No, that's just what C-SPAN documented when the cable channel aired a week-long look "Inside Time."
During the February 8 meeting of Time's Washington staff, Bureau Chief Stanley Cloud dismissed complaints about reporting by CNN's Peter Arnett from Baghdad. "I don't want to focus on...whether he is or is not an honest reporter. I don't think that's the issue." To Cloud, the issue was not Arnett's reporting, which has out-raged millions of Americans (not just conservatives): "It's a story about superpatriots and how they act in time of war." In Time's subsequent February 18 issue, Cloud wrote "In recent weeks, the halls of Congress have been fouled by superpatriotic blasts from a small band of conservative legislators."
Arnett's reports have been "valid and interesting and have shed some light," Cloud asserted during the meeting. He explained away Arnett's censored reporting by summarizing a dinner conversation he had with two U.S. Senators: "They said he's just a conduit for Iraqi information. I said that's all we are too, pal. Nobody out there is getting anything but what the Pentagon wants us to have." Cloud complained that the "demagogues" attacked Arnett using "inflamed rhetoric." In the February 11 Washington Post, Cloud used inflamed rhetoric himself, comparing the Pentagon's press restrictions to a "smoothly functioning dictatorship."
As to the charges that Arnett was sympathetic to the Viet Cong when he reported the Vietnam War for Associated Press, Cloud insisted: "By the way, this is not a war with the Viet Cong. As far as I know, the Viet Cong is supported by the Soviet Union, which supports the U.S. in this war. So it's absurd." That's like arguing that because Germany is currently our ally, the Nazis weren't our enemy.
Speaking of Nazis, Cloud's Washington bureau underlings competed to outdo the boss by comparing Vietnam POW and war hero Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to Hitler's thugs. Congressional correspondent Hays Gorey remarked: "Well, McCain has got this ad hoc group of superpatriots he's organizing." NASA reporter Jerome Cramer retorted: "They wear brown shirts and march around. Small potatoes."
Cloud later admitted to a C-SPAN interviewer: "We may have been a little less outspoken....I think perhaps there were a few others who pulled their punches a little bit, were a little less outspoken than they might have been." One can only imagine what goes on when the cameras are not rolling.
Reporters Predicted Long, Bloody War
SADDAM'S "CAPABLE MILITARY MIND"
Thanks to the combination of superior weapons and brilliant strategy, the predicted bloody, drawn-out ground war became a hundred hour rout. While just about every "expert" was proven wrong about it and the air campaign in which allied planes went nearly unscathed, the media deserve special focus. As ABC's Judd Rose explained on the January 24 Prime Time Live, reporters "are really the conveyors of truth in a very critical time and people need to know that truth."
On the January 4 CBS Evening News reporter Richard Threlkeld discussed war prospects: "Certainly a lot of Americans would die, an estimated 2,500 of them in just the first ten days of battle. American troops would do most of the fighting and thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of them would be casualties along with countless thousands of Iraqis, soldiers and civilians."
A week before the war began, on the January 11 NBC Nightly News, economics correspondent Mike Jensen warned: "Sometimes war is good for the economy. But war in the Persian Gulf would send oil prices shooting up and set off a wave of inflation worldwide and that would be terrible for the economy."
Two days later Washington Post reporters Molly Moore and Barton Gellman offered this erroneous analysis: "Navy war planes returning from bombing raids may face withering fire from allied war ships that mistake the planes for enemy craft; retreating and advancing allied ground forces may end up confused and firing on each other."
After describing the U.S. war plan, Newsweek reporter Charles Lane cautioned: "Some A-10 pilots worry that the fast-flying F-15E and the Army's gadget-laden Apache helicopter will be of little use against Iraqi tank columns -- and the Iraqis may be able to mount an effective low-tech air defense using concentrated machine gun fire and thick smoke from burning Kuwaiti crude."
During a January 27 NBC special, reporter Arthur Kent asserted: "Saddam Hussein is a cunning man and no where does he show that more clearly than on a battlefield when he's under attack." Anchor Faith Daniels responded: "And that, Arthur, really seems to be this Administration's greatest miscalculation." Kent agreed: "That's right, Faith. He is ruthless, but more than ruthless. In the past 11 days, he's surprised us. He's shown us a capable military mind and he still seems to know exactly what he's doing."
As the ground war approached, Newsweek Senior Editor Russell Watson ominously predicted in the February 11 edition: "Saddam Hussein's soldiers are not known for their skill on attack, but on defense they are among the world's best, and they have had six months to prepare for this battle. They can be expected to fight stubbornly, protected by a daunting array of minefields, antitank ditches and hardened fortifications -- daring their enemies to engage in the kind of brutal trench warfare that went out of military fashion after the ghastly slaughter of World War I."
The same week, Time's Bruce Nelan asserted: "[Hussein] can only hope that the allied troops will come to him in a frontal assault on his fixed positions. If that occurs, his troops would almost certainly let fly with shells loaded with chemical weapons -- mustard gas that sears and blisters, nerve agents that cause death in minutes, or even biological killers like anthrax and botulism."
"Remember all that chatter about a short war? Well, forget it," began a February 4 Time story by George J. Church headlined "A Long Siege Ahead."
Peter Arnett's defenders insist he's a veteran war reporter, able to distinguish between truth and propaganda. How would they explain these incidents?
Live on CNN the morning of February 1, Arnett reported on his trip to see alleged civilian damage caused by the Allies: "While we were there, a distraught woman shouted insults at the press and vented anger at the West." The woman shouted in English: "Mea culpa! Mea culpa! All of you are responsible, all of you! Bombing the people for the sake of oil! Hunted as if we are Iranian! We are human beings! Who made this area like this? The flames in the area, it's the West! Mea culpa, the blood, she is on your head!"
CNN aired the video of the "distraught" woman 12 more times over the next two days. Eight days later, on February 8, CNN conceded it had been duped, but the correction only aired four times. As anchor Bobbie Batista announced: "The woman is said to be the assistant to Iraq's Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs." One footnote: Newsweek reported the woman "also showed up on French TV wailing in French."
In a February 6 CNN report Arnett detailed his visit to a hospital full of wounded, including "a Bedouin youth who said he was tending his sheep when a low-flying aircraft chased him across the field and wounded him in the arms and legs with gunfire."
"Preposterous," former Reagan defense official Sven Kramer told MediaWatch. "If it was a soldier with a Sidewinder missile, perhaps a pilot would have cause to take after an individual. But if it's a shepherd standing in a field among his animals, I can't imagine that the pilot would waste the ordnance."
Janet Cooke Award: Palestinian Whitewash
Most Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, and as The Boston Globe reported, "They cheered from their rooftops when Iraqi missiles fell on Israel." That violent hatred was only one factor ignored by NBC's Dennis Murphy when he retraced the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a February 20 Today report.
Instead of providing a full history of the region, Murphy presented the Palestinians' historical view as the only view. He could have at least noted the decades of Palestinian terrorism and its many innocent victims, but he never mentioned the PLO or uncomfortable facts like Palestinians killing Palestinians. For this unbalanced reporting, Murphy earned the March Janet Cooke Award.
Today host Bryant Gumbel set the tone, announcing: "Foreign editor Dennis Murphy is in Amman, Jordan this morning with the sad story of a much-abused people....Too few Americans even understand the plight of the Palestinians, who lost their home-land after refusing to accept its forced division by the United Nations." Murphy continued with the 'divided homeland' theme, declaring, "After the horror of Europe in the Second World War, the idea of a Jewish state sounded like simple justice. The slogan was 'a land without people for a people without a land.' But sadly it wasn't a land without a people, people had lived there for a thousand years, and they called themselves Palestinians."
It's ironic to speak of 1,000 years of Palestinian history and ignore 3,700 years of Jewish culture and civilization based in Israel. The UN's "forced division" of Palestine came in 1947, when the UN Special Commission on Palestine suggested the division of the area into two homelands, one for the Palestinians, one for the Jews. But the Palestinians have never accepted a homeland for the Jews, apparently preferring "homeless" status to a peaceful solution for both peoples.
For Murphy, Israel's creation in 1948 equaled the oppression of the Palestinians: "One people moved in, and another moved out -- 725,000 Palestinians fled to crude refugee camps. Jewish terrorists had massacred entire families in the civil war. A mostly peasant culture was overwhelmed."
Once again, the real history wasn't so simple. First of all, there had been efforts since the 19th century to reestablish a Jewish state and many Jews had moved into Palestine long before the establishment of Israel. According to the Near East Report, 375,000 Jews moved to Palestine between World War I and World War II. Second, Murphy's emphasis on Jewish terrorists was bizarrely one-sided: he never mentioned that six Arab nations launched what Arab League Secretary General Azzam Pasha called "a war of extermination" in 1948. To call this a "civil war" and dwell on the death of Palestinians and not Israelis isn't dealing in history, it's dealing in advocacy.
Murphy told the story of one Palestinian who "has tried to get home to Jerusalem and his family seven times. During the war, the Israelis are letting in only a handful of Palestinians every day, even though the occupied territories of Israel is where they live." Again, Murphy told one side of the story without any context: the Israelis are slow to admit Palestinians at least in part because of their terrorist activities.
Murphy cast the Palestinians as ignored: "The Palestinians have been asking the world to listen to their story for four decades now." With a PLO seat at the UN and international media attention focused on the intifada, the Palestinians have gotten more publicity than any other group protesting occupation. Unfortunately, the Palestinians' perverse way of drawing attention through violence worked. Nations oppressed under the gun for decades without a voice, like the Baltic nations, may never catch up.
To complete his portrait, Murphy visited the home of a Palestinian family, the Sroujis, noting their children "watch the Gulf War along with the cartoons on Israeli TV." Their mother said in broken English: "From now they are starting thinking about the West and about the Americans and how bad they are and how they are killing Arabs and how they are killing children. This thing is in them from now." Murphy didn't mention what their parents might not be putting "in them": a respect for democracy, for innocent civilians attacked by the PLO on buses or planes, or for the right to disagree with other Palestinians without being killed.
MediaWatch asked Today for the name of someone to discuss the piece and for a phone number for Murphy in Amman. Our requests went unanswered. Today spokesperson Lynn Applebaum would not discuss the specifics of the story, saying only that "NBC News covers all aspects of the issue, and has a reputation for covering everything fairly."
In the middle of a war, few reporters are ever given the time to put breaking events into a historical context. Murphy had the chance, but he blew it.