Thesis: War in Iraq and the Media

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Iraq War

The war in Iraq was undertaken on the basis of questionable intelligence, and the degree to which it should have been accepted remains controversial. Another issue that has been raised is how complicit the news media was in the lead-up to the war, with some charging that the news media did not do their job and that journalists did not raise enough questions or challenge the Bush Administration on the claims it was making. Elements in the media indeed became cheerleaders for the war in its early phase, and many to this day may not have done enough to set the record straight or to make up for failing to show more doubt about the rationale for the war.

Of course, whatever the role of the news media might be, that role was shaped by the events of 9-11 and by the general public acceptance of the war in Afghanistan as a response to the terrorist attacks. Much of the attitude created then simply carried over to the new target, especially given the claims by the Bush Administration that this was not really a new initiative but only a continuation against the same enemy in a different form. So strong were these claims that to this day there are many Americans who believe that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were behind the 9-11 attacks, when in fact there is no evidence Iraq had anything to do with that attack at all.

The White House in 2006 described the enemy as "a transnational movement fueled by a radical ideology of hatred, oppression, and murder." The new and widespread use of the term Homeland for American soil elevates all things American to symbols of house and home and so of all virtues celebrated by the people of the country. The White House states directly that one goal is to "Advance effective democracies as the long-term antidote to the ideology of terrorism." Michael J. Lyons notes his own need to bring out the evidence from World War II to show its role "in achieving the eventual Allied victory" (Lyons xiv). The sort of attitude expressed by leaders in each of these conflicts might also be seen as leading in time to victory, and there may be a need to see the enemy in such stark terms as just plain different in order to keep up the fervor for victory that is required. In any case, the enemy is viewed as so different that accommodation is not possible and only total victory will do.

James Boylan notes the failure of the press and "the inability of the press to debunk the fabricated rationales for war in Iraq" as "a press constitutionally commissioned to serve as the government's watchdog becomes instead its conduit" (Boylan 59). The news media was used by the Administration as a way of reaching the people, as is always the case, but this does not mean that the media should not question what is being said and raise issues that would be important to the people if they know more about them. This particular war started at a time when the most prominent news media consisted of cable news channels, channels with a 24-hour space to fill, usually achieved by repeating the same story over and over again. As one analyst notes, "At the start of the war with Iraq, we were fed almost nothing but news and commentary, with other items either ignored or pushed into the background. Despite the importance of the war and what it signified, many of us could not take the incessant drone of that theme" (Kreyche 82). The writer also notes that "the major news networks all seemed to present the same material and you could almost switch from one to the other without recognizing the difference" (Kreyche 82).

Christiane Amanpour is an internationally known journalist for CNN who recently stated in an interview that American journalists "partially enabled the war" by not asking hard questions before Congress authorized President Bush to invade Iraq. She says that the news media along with much of the public was caught up in what she calls "the tidal wave" moving toward war: "I think by not enough rigorous holding to account, I would say this profession partially enabled the war" (Smith para. 4). Norman Solomon states that "Even many reporters, editors and commentators who fueled the drive to war in 2002 and early 2003 now acknowledge that major media routinely tossed real journalism out the window in favor of boosting war" (Solomon para. 1) he further finds that the news media since has largely continued to follow this trend and to avoid confronting the administration to closely about a number of related issues, perhaps out of fear of being labeled antagonistic toward the troops. Supporters of the war tend not to make any differentiation between the war and the men and women fighting the war because that serves their purpose of cowing critics. Solomon says the acquiescence the news media showed about the start of the war now extends to discussions about ending it: "The anti-pullout spin is in sync with official sources and other establishment-sanctified experts, named and unnamed" (Solomon para. 6).

What has become clear in the years since the start of the war is that the rationale given for the war was largely false. The main claim was that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq based on an earlier nuclear program, and there were not. Proof was offered on the basis of a supposed purchase of yellow cake uranium from Africa, but there was no such purchase. Aluminum tubes were cited as proof of a missile program, though it has since been shown that these tubes had a different purpose and could never have been part of a missile at all. From the first, it was implied that this war was part of the war on terrorism, though there were no organized terrorists in Iraq until after the war attracted them to fight against the American forces. Most of these issues could have been explored by the news media but were not as the media instead deferred to the Bush Administration and accepted what the Administration said. That changed eventually as the veracity of many of these claims was tested and found wanting.

Douglas Kellner examines the news media and its actions after 9-11 and notes how the television networks in the U.S. started immediately bringing out an array of national security state intellectuals, most from the right wing of the political structure, and they shaped the discourse from that time forward, using the idea of a clash between the West and Islam as a basis for their views. The Bush Administration adopted the same sort of rhetoric to suggest that this was a war with evil. Kellner says that this attitude helped whip up war hysteria, militarism, and extremist rhetoric. The war trope was also adopted by the television networks as they presented discussion on the issue and day after day repeated the idea of a war against terrorism, amorphous as that term often was. Kellner says the Bush Administration used this rhetoric to express a new doctrine of "preemptive" and "preventive war" that would be used to justify the war in Iraq later. As Kellner notes, the process of acquiescence therefore started as the news media approved of the retaliation for the 9-11 attacks: "While the media are supposed to discuss issues of public importance and present a wide range of views, during the epoch of Terror War they have largely privileged Bush administration and Pentagon positions" (Kellner para. 29). As the country moved toward the war in Iraq, the media continued to accept what the Administration said about the issue and accepted the idea that this move was just another part of the war on terror.

Kenneth Payne indeed talks about the media as an instrument of war, meaning an instrument that the government can use to foster agreement with a war policy. Payne and many others point out the way the media was used by the government after the war started so as to keep the public in support of the war and to avoid reporting on certain issues the government wanted to keep out of the public eye. In this war, one approach taken was the practice of embedding reporters, meaning that those reporters allowed into the field were escorted by the units into which they were embedded and were not allowed to roam around on their own. This might have been presented as a safety issue, but it was seen by many as a way of controlling what was reported and of keeping the reporters from doing more than the military wanted. As Payne notes, such a policy can never really control the message as thoroughly as the military might want: "Members of the media remain entitled to express their opinions, whether or not they are billeted with U.S. forces. In an era in which the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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