Thirdly, the growing up-to-the-minute exposure of the journalists to the physicality of the war detracted from the big picture and instead exaggerated the importance of singular happenings and specific events.
It is in the loss of the big picture that the Bush regime is most able to capitalize on its military's control of the press. While in the 1990s, the President's father struggled with "pooled" journalists and the lack of coherent and stable eye witness accounts, the current President instead embedded an army of over 700 journalists inside the United State's military campaign as they waged war on the unsuspecting Iraqis.
There is a pretty fine line between being embedded and being entombed," observed Dan Rather in response to the Gulf War of the 1990s.
With the American journalists and those internationally desiring the protection of the winning force fully embedded with the American soldiers at war, the military operation lost its relevance as a list of casualties on both sides, themes of struggle, and reasons for action; at the expense of the big picture, the American media, through little fault of its own, transposed the war into a story of American heroes and lost, young, patriotic souls at the hands of masked enemies, trigger-happy and armed.
CNN.com, easily the most un-slanted of the American-based media outlets covering the war, has a "Special Report" section on its website dedicated to the War in Iraq. Here, it separates its coverage into several different categories: War Tracker, Forces, U.S. And Coalition, Iraq, Weapons, Maps, on the Scene, Sights and Sounds, Impact, Heroes of War, Struggle for Iraq. In the Heroes of War section, the children who have died as innocents in their own country, the women who have huddled in their homes and found food while markets were being blasted by international sources from above and insurgents on the ground, and the men who stood in line to vote against the forceful urgings of their own neighbors are not the people depicted.
Instead, an ever-growing list of American forces shows pictures of smiling twenty-four-year-olds, killed by roadside bombs, and twenty-seven-year-old fathers of two, killed in street combat, limn what this supposedly unbiased source calls "heroes." This is not what the UN tries to protect - a spread of fact - but is, instead, the dissemination of opinion; the opinion of someone who, despite employment as a journalist, has spent the last few months trekking through unknown land at all risk and danger without any arms, totally at the protection, will, and mercy of a soldier, who just graphically lost his life in front of a camera.
The Bush administration capitalized on this crucial truth: press reports are stories, and if the facts that go into those stories can be slanted in one particular way, the story will lean that way too. Graber, in analysis of the current state of embedded journalists and the war in Iraq, convicts the media of narrowcasting, which the Bush administration furthered with tight regulation. By supporting embedded journalism, in fact demanding it, and making sure the Patriot Act created strong loopholes requiring that, for the sake of "responsible journalism," reporters are in fact locked into military combat, the Bush administration wrote its own success story before the first bombs even began liberating Iraq, or "setting Baghdad ablaze," as reported by Al-Jazeera the morning after the invasion.
If the reporters that are embedded with the military, then, are nearly-guaranteed for a particular sentimental slant, and if all else are then limited by force to the daily regurgitation of sequential events at the loss of the full story, then what is the value of so-called facts transmitted from the ground with the troops? Journalist Robert Fisk asserts that the United States government is urging embedding reporters under the guise of journalistic integrity to not only show the gruesome killing of American boys, but to further remind Americans that this war has been launched against a fearsome dictator who could, as Hussein ordered on the American fighting on his turf, tear limb-from-limb the bodies of Americans here at home; essentially, Fisk accuses Bush of selling the journalists out to the policies of fear. He affirms his position by arguing that embedded journalists can be "rushed to the scene to prove that the killings were the dastardly work of the Beast of Baghdad rather than the 'collateral damage'... Of fine young men who are trying to destroy the true pillar of the 'axis of evil." Hampton Sides, for the New Yorker, supports this claim, arguing that Bush planned his use of embedded journalists for just this reason; "the world's not going to believe the U.S. Army, but they'll believe you [the media]."
If the media is, then, at the side of the U.S. Army, and experiencing the war in the same way, the story that is reported is that not of both sides of the war - as the tenants of not only basic journalistic integrity set out, but also as outlined by the United Nations for coverage of the Iraq war - but that of the United States Army anyway. By embedding journalists, Bush did not even need to spin the war; he just needed to play on what his own reporters - those for the American news networks embedded with his military - were reporting. When is the line crossed from fact to propaganda, and how, when the American soldiers are in Iraq supposedly to provide it with a new epoch of democracy and self-reign, is the freedom press that is at the fundamental heart of a successful democracy, being infringed upon by its own liberators?
In the last two years, the embedded journalists have provided the American media with an iconoclastic image to feed the public: young soldiers, eyes sparkling, defending polling booths as elections take place; children, who, according to the photos disseminated in the western periodicals, must have never skipped before in their lives, leap with joy through their city streets, playing games for, again, what must be the first time ever. CNN.com, in its special report section on the war, perpetuates the nationalistic image of the American liberator. One of the many new facets of coverage of this war is the importance of the on-demand visual image and according commentary, both in the blogs with which Graber deals and the very websites the news networks not only use to reach the public through daily emails, but even show on their own programs. The "forces" section of the website deals with weapons, commanders, Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Special Operations Forces, and the Coalition (with its ever-decreasing numbers now down to a very bite-sized British, Australian, and Polish subsections). Each section of the page is decorated with a corresponding image; powerful guns, sleek and modern, shooting strong clouds of after-smoke; brilliant stars to represent the military leaders; a G.I. Joe-like marine, expertly positioned to shoot his rifle at oncoming danger; a Special Ops officer who looks like G.I. Joe in a cowboy hat; and, most strikingly, for the Coalition section, a little image of the world, outsized by several massive jets flying to the sides of the Americans. From the website's careful imagery, one could think the whole world is on the American side.
But what side is the American side? The Iraqi section of the Forces subdivision on CNN.com shows gawky, large, and out-moded weapons and leaders; the images of their army and security forces play on the popular images of the communist leaders of the Cold War still actively imprinted in the American national consciousness. Is this how Iraqis actually look, or is this just a representation of the facts that fit the story the American media is reporting?
Not all American media outlets are reporting the same military-game style of warfare that CNN.com presents; in fact, FOX News and FOX News Radio each interrupt their stories and websites with ads for a company that sends care packages to those great American heroes overseas, the treatsfortroops.com company. The commercials and ads remind Americans of how lucky they are to not be living in that old age of rations, and to instead gift a soldier abroad with some of the luxury of home. The company website features its clips that aired on Fox News Channel, and the same happy birthday!, lemonade, gorp, nuts, and Foster-a-Soldier products that were advertised before the 04/28 installments of Hannity & Colmes and the Alan Colmes' radio show.
While FOX News, which proffers "Fair&Balanced" as its trademark, but is popularly known for its fairly right-wing balance, the NBC networks and National Public Radio hold firm to the left-wing of American media reporting. They do not advertise treats for soldiers; their reports involve numbers and bloodshed. "Iraq funeral attack caps bloody weekend," reports the up-to-the-minute Every Fifteen just before midnight on May First. National Public Radio's All Things Considered reported on April 19 the familiar voice of Melissa Block narrating the release of Pentagon-censored photos of military…