Term Paper: Media and Politics the War in Iraq

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Media and Politics - the War in Iraq

While political relations between government and media have always been rife with corruption, disagreement, and discontent, never are these ties more tenuous nor crucial during times of war. War, like the one in which the United States and its allies are currently engaged in Iraq, brings to a critical height the importance of media, its freedom, and its control as relating to its government. "I hate newspapermen," General William Sherman announced nearly a century and a half ago. "They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast."

If Sherman were to attempt that politically heroic feat today, he would not have to wait for breakfast to hear from Hell; it would already be online. In the modern world, the digital connectivity of technological advancement allows for the immediate dissemination of facts, but whether or not that factual wave spreads to the public is in the hands of two groups: the media, and the government that controls it, or rather, the government, and the media that controls it. The current U.S.-led Iraq war highlights this issue; the dynamics between the government and the media, both at home and abroad, are further catapulted into an abyss of the complex by election season politics, the nationalistic idea of "spreading democracy," and current religious tensions worldwide.

At its most basic, the issue of government policy and media in the war can be viewed on a nominal level alone: what war is this? In the United States, it is referred to as the War in Iraq (all networks; in print - Times, Post, Globe, Journal, on air - NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ABC, NPR). In Iraq, it is called the War on Iraq (Al Jazeera, Iraqi Press Monitor, the Sikh Times). International sources, dancing around the name in the limbo of inconclusiveness and political debate that characterize the issue, name the war a variety of things, most commonly as the Struggle for Iraq (BBC, PRI) or another popular choice, the Conflict in Iraq. The controversy in even naming the war in an age of such international news service reflects the key issues at the heart of the political struggle.

The United States launched war on Iraq in 2002, in what was deemed a preventative act against a country with credible evidence of weapons mass destruction, and more fearfully, a leader seemingly unafraid of using them. But it was the politics of fear that emanated from the White House press office and those at other federal departments like the Department of Defense and the Pentagon that galvanized the U.S. media force into action for war.

How quickly we forget: A democratic Iraq was never the reason [Bush] forced us into this war. Iraq's fledgling democracy is a pleasant side effect, a PR move, a heartstring-tugging and patriotic patina of bogus humanitarianism BushCo is now trying to slather over one of the most disastrous and inept military efforts in recent history. It makes for terrific photo ops. It makes for miserable and debilitating foreign policy." (San Francisco Chronicle, 2005.)

Chronicling the events that incited the current war could be attributed to either these weapons of mass destruction as of yet unfound, a key flaw in evidentiary support on behalf of the Federal government, a familial vendetta against the Hussein family a la House of Bush, House of Saud, the energy and gas crises currently heading the worldwide economy, or the rising Christian: Arab tensions engulfing the powerfully well-resourced Middle East - but the reason for war is different depending on not only which side of the struggle you ask, but all of those reporting on it. From this the political surveyor and astute citizen can glean one key truth in the purpose of this war: America has launched a war on a leader, a country, an idea, and an area based on a wide variety of reasons, sometimes all conflicting, but none without key, moneyed, and powerful supporters.

The Iraq war is filled with a wide variety of actors on all sides; the scope of this paper will deal with those in elected and appointed offices in the American government, the U.S. based affiliates of international businesses, the United Nations, and Iraq. The war, catapulted onto the mainframe after the 9/11 attacks and under the auspice of the Bush White House, was captained at the helm by a variety of Bush officials, including the classic powers of the Cheney, Bush senior, and old advisory group, erudite, deeply inbred in Washington politics and blue-blooded to the bone, as well as the publicly popular newer breed of officials, whose names and skin tones appealed to the larger community, like Colin Powell and Condaleeza Rice.

Yet, the business community in America, arguably a force as powerful and present in Washington as elected officials themselves, seemingly stood in favor of the war as well. Their complicity is revealed, however, not in business reports or press releases, but instead in the commercials airing on the networks they support and by continued funding of the lobby and election groups partially responsible for the reelection of Bush. Additionally, the remnants of the last Persian war and struggle for oil control in the Middle East makes the allegiances of energy conglomerates with money on American soil implicit; B.P, Sonoco, Shell, et al. remain staunchly in the Republican camp in the crusade to bring down the Hussein government.

The United Nations, which is indirectly supporting the war by not bringing Bush to trial in the Hague for war crimes - a judicial move with actual viability after the Abu Grab scandal and Guantanamo captives - remains on the "unbiased" side of the war. It does not support the Bush government in its efforts to control the area (or resupplement it with leaders who do not contradict American diplomatic and fiscal philosophy), nor does it support the ousted leaders who were invaded, hunted, arrested, and imprisoned. It does, however, aim to secure not only human rights for the citizens of Iraq, but also to protect the freedom of the press covering the war - on all sides.

In Iraq, the approach to the war is entirely different. Iraq is home to the ousted tyrant and human rights abuser Saddam Hussein, whose capture by American troops during the course of the war has now been drowned out by the noise of victory and democratic elections - quite possibly the greatest media spin in history. But to examine how that spin occurred, it is critical to understand where it originated: in the White House Press room.

The United States government has long faced wars in which the media played a decisive role, as Sherman experienced in brief and would come to define the war in Vietnam a hundred years later. A key to the success - as defined by the lack of international censure of the campaign and reelection of the Bush regime - is history of war coverage by American media. It is popularly held that the war in Vietnam was not lost on the front line, but instead here at home. In the Australian Parliamentary briefing on Reporting Conflict in Iraq, it details not only the loss of American popular support by way of the media coverage at home, but also the lessons learned from the strong hand of the British military during their struggle with Argentina in 1982.

In 1982, the United Kingdom went to war with Argentina over the tiny, largely inaccessible group of Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. Because of their locale and the difficulty in getting there, the war was almost impossible to cover from the perspective of the eager British media; accordingly, the government was able to exert complete control over their coverage without necessarily impeding their rights to free press. Because they could only access the islands on the boats of the military, and at that point only continue to cover the story by remaining "embedded" in their ranks, fed by their provisions, and protected by their fighters, the Navy held total control over its press.

The control created by the distance of the war, the desired proximity of the journalists to the action, and their reliance upon the Navy for transmission of their reports created a three-tiered legacy that has defined the Bush Administration's control of coverage of the current Iraq war. First, it created an "esprit de corps" between the military and journalists, who found that they were unable to detangle their own stories (and version of facts) from their slanted exposure to war by the Navy. "It was not just a question of sharing the moods of the troops through shared experience, but of actively beginning to identify them with being part of the whole exercise," noted historians Morrison and Tumber. Secondly, the duality of the relationship allowed for military… [END OF PREVIEW]

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