Media coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was different in certain ways to that of the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

"Embedded" reportersEdit

Around 600 journalists were "embedded" with military units, 80% being British or American. The Pentagon established the policy of "embedding" reporters with military units.

Robert Entman, professor of communication at North Carolina State University and critic of mainstream media for decades, indicated it was a very wise tactic from the Pentagon. He mentioned there were more chances for the journalists to make favorable reports whilst in Iraq with British and American soldiers than if they had been asking questions in Washington. Entman indicated there is a natural cultural bias of American journalists in favor of military troops of their own country and that journalists do like to satisfy the government upon which they rely for information, as well as the public on whom they depend commercially. Entman also mentioned the high number of retired generals making comments on TV, pointing out these could not be considered independent experts as they were still paid by the government. He claims the British Broadcasting Corporation was much more neutral and informative on cultural and historical background than most American television reports.

The Ministry of Defense explained "maintaining morale as well as information dominance will rank as important as physical protection". An MoD-commissioned commercial analysis of the print output produced by embeds shows that 90% of their reporting was either "positive or neutral". [1]

U.S. mainstream media war coverageEdit

Fox News Channel Iraq war coverage
Fox News simulcasts Sky News reporter David Bowden's interview with a U.S. Army sergeant following a firefight near Umm Qasr (March 23, 2003, 09:35 UTC).

CNN Iraq war coverage
CNN broadcasts a live press conference by Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf while keeping an eye on Umm Qasr (March 23, 2003, 08:27 UTC).

MSNBC Iraq war coverage
MSNBC discusses the various appearances of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on television and speculates on his fate (March 24, 2003, 08:41 UTC).

The most popular cable network in the United States for news on the war was Fox News, some of whose commentators and anchors made pro-war comments or disparaged detractors of the war, such as calling them "the great unwashed". Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a strong supporter of the war. On-screen during all live war coverage by Fox News was a waving flag animation in the upper left corner and the headline "Operation Iraqi Freedom" along the bottom. The network has shown the American flag animation in the upper-left corner since the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. Fox News' pro-war commentary stood in contrast to many U.S. newspapers' editorial pages, which were much more hesitant about going to war.

On the other hand, Fox, like other western media outlets, did have a number of regular commentators and anchors that were against the war. Western networks, including Fox, also gave some coverage to anti-war protests and rallies, anti-U.S. protests in Iraq, and celebrities and politicians that were against the war. Anti-war celebrities appearing frequently on these news networks included actors Tim Robbins, Mike Farrell, Janeane Garofalo, Martin Sheen, Susan Sarandon and director Michael Moore. Most of these celebrities were able to make anti-war comments in the media and receive little public criticism. However, in a widely publicized story, the country music band Dixie Chicks ignited boycotts and record burnings in the U.S. for their negative remarks about President Bush in a concert in London. [2]

MSNBC also brought the American flag back on screen and regularly ran a tribute called "America's Bravest" which showed photographs sent by family members of troops deployed in Iraq. MSNBC also fired liberal Phil Donahue, a critic of Bush's Iraq policy, a month before the invasion began and replaced his show with Iraq war coverage hosted by Keith Olbermann. Shortly after Donahue's firing, MSNBC hired Michael Savage, a controversial conservative radio talk show host for a Saturday afternoon show. Although Donahue's show had lower ratings than several shows on other networks, and most reports on its cancellation blamed poor ratings, it was the highest-rated program on MSNBC's struggling primetime lineup at the time of its cancellation. During February "sweeps", Donahue's show averaged 446,000 viewers, compared to rival Connie Chung's 985,000 on CNN and Bill O'Reilly's 2.7 million on Fox News, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Comparing viewership from prewar to post war, MSNBC saw a 357 percent jump in ratings, while CNN went up 305 percent, and Fox News climbed 239 percent, according to Nielsen numbers. In overall numbers, Fox News was number one, followed by CNN, and then MSNBC. It was a major success for Fox News, as many had believed CNN would reclaim the top spot, since it established itself with coverage from the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

In separate incidents, at least three different Western reporters were fired or disciplined due to their actions in covering the war. Peter Arnett, an NBC and National Geographic correspondent, was fired for giving an interview with Iraqi officials in which he questioned the United States' role and saying the "first war plan had failed." Brian Walski of the Los Angeles Times was fired on March 31 for altering a photo of a U.S. soldier warning Iraqi civilians to take cover from an Iraqi aerial bombing. Geraldo Rivera left Iraq after drawing a crude map in the sand during a live broadcast on Fox News, which raised concerns at the Pentagon that he was possibly revealing vital troop movements on air.

Coverage by independent (from corporations and government) mediaEdit

The Media Workers Against the War [3] and the Indymedia [4] network, among many other independent networks including many journalists from the invading countries, provided reports in a way difficult to control by any government, corporation or political party. In the United States Democracy Now, hosted by Amy Goodman has been critical of the reasons for the 2003 invasion and the alleged crimes committed by the US authorities in Iraq.

Australian war artist George Gittoes collected independent interviews with soldiers while producing his documentary Soundtrack To War.

The war in Iraq provided the first time in history that military on the front lines were able to provide direct, uncensored reportage themselves, thanks to blogging software and the reach of the internet. Dozens of such reporting sites, known as soldier blogs or milblogs, were started during the war.

Symbolic coverageEdit

A large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdus Square, directly in front of the Palestine Hotel where the world's journalists had been quartered, was toppled by a U.S. tank surrounded by dozens of celebrating Iraqis, who had been attempting to pull down the statue earlier. Iraqi citizens then decapitated the head of the statue and dragged it through the streets of the city hitting it with their shoes. The destruction of the statue was shown live on cable news networks as it happened and made the front pages of newspapers and covers of magazines all over the world - symbolizing the fall of the Hussein government. The images of the statue falling came as a shock to many Arab viewers, who had been led to believe that Iraq was winning the war. [5]

Some pointed out that the flag placed over the face was one flown over the Pentagon on September 11th and appeared indicative of a staged event [6], and one picture from the event was allegedly doctored to make the crowd appear larger [7]. A report by the Los Angeles Times suggested it to be a carefully staged propaganda event for the media. The article stated it was an unnamed Marine colonel, not Iraqi civilians who had decided to topple the statue; and that an Army psychological operations team then used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist and made it all appear spontaneous and Iraqi-inspired. [8] According to Tim Brown at "It wasn't completely stage-managed from Washington, DC but it wasn't exactly a spontaneous Iraqi operation." [9] The degree to which the army helped, and the LA Times article's accuracy, are both in dispute. [10] In the 2004 documentary Control Room this incident is dealt with in depth and the overall impression given by the Al-Jazeera reporters is that it was staged.

Video was beamed around the world showing jubilant Iraqis defacing murals and posters of Saddam Hussein, setting many on fire, and dragging broken statues through the street.

Casualty milestonesEdit

On September 7, 2004 the US recorded its 1,000th casualty of the war, when four servicemen died that day (three in one incident, one in another), bringing the total that day to 1,002. Presidential candidate John Kerry called it a "tragic milestone" [11]. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued the 1000th milestone was passed long ago in the War on Terrorism, with the loss of life on September 11, 2001 being in the thousands, and going on the offensive against terrorism "has its cost".

Template:Wikinews On October 25, 2005 the Department of Defense announced the 2,000th U.S. death from the war as Staff Sergeant George T. Alexander Jr., who was killed when a roadside bomb detonated near his M2 Bradley in the city of Samarra. The United States media noted this death above many others, as it was the 2,000th since the start of active combat, a number many considered as significant.[12] In contrast, the Pentagon downplayed the death — Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, told the Associated Press that "the 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."

Alexander's death sparked Senators and Congressmen to debate the merits of the war again, something that had not been done in months, with Senators such as Dick Durbin making statements on the war. Peace activists cast the 2,000th combat death as a milestone in what they believe to be an unnecessary and unwinnable war, although the number is historically low for a war. Immediately following the report of his death, six hundred anti-war protests and candlelight vigils were held in the United States on October 26, 2005. [13]

Non-U.S. coverageEdit

Non-U.S. coverage sometimes differed strongly in tone and content.

In some countries television journalists behavior differed significantly during the conflict compared to Gulf War conflicts. Jean-Marie Charon said most journalists were more precautious, using conditional form very often, and citing sources.

The crew of the HMS Ark Royal, Britain's flagship naval vessel, demanded that the BBC be turned off on the ship because of what they saw as a clear anti-Coalition or "pro-Iraq" bias. One BBC correspondent had been embedded on the ship, but the crew said they had no complaints of his reporting specifically. The sailors on board the ship claimed that the BBC gave more credit to Iraqi reports than information coming from British or Allied sources, often questioning and refusing to believe reports coming from Coalition sources while reporting Iraqi claims of civilian casualties without independent verification. The ship's news feed was replaced with Sky News. [14] Ironically, it later emerged from a study conducted by Professor Justin Lewis of the School of Journalism at Cardiff University that the BBC was the most pro-war of British networks, [15]a finding confirmed in a separate study by the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [16].

Arab media outfit Al Jazeera broadcast many scenes of civilian casualties, usually referring to them as "martyrs", press conferences with Iraqi officials claiming to be winning the war, and of American and British POWs which U.S. media refused to run. Most Arab networks also downplayed the scenes of Iraqi citizens cheering coalition forces entering their towns. Arab networks consistently referred to U.S. and British forces as "invading forces," while Western media referred to them as "coalition forces."

The war in Iraq saw Abu Dhabi TV mature into a credible Al-Jazeera rival. However, the war did not benefit Al-Arabiya, the newest of Arabic news networks. Created by the audio-visual group saoudien MBC to compete with Al-Jazeera (whose tone often displeases Arab leaders), Al-Arabiya was launched on February 19, 2003.

Criticism of US Media CoverageEdit

International initiatives [17] have protested against U.S. media for downplaying and misinterpreting protests as anti-Americanism, and have accused them of foul language. There was a personal, insulting tone to some of the pro-war commentary in the U.S. and Britain; examples include commentator Christopher Hitchens calling Jacques Chirac "A balding Joan of Arc in drag" [18], the New York Post referring to France, Germany and Russia as the "Axis of weasels" [19], and New York Times columnist William Safire stating that "Chirac and his poodle Putin have severely damaged the United Nations" [20]. The New York Times as well as many other US media later expressed deep concern about their uncritical reporting about the war. [21] Questions have also been raised about U.S. media coverage, given that in the U.S. a pre-war Washington Post poll showed that 69% of the population thought it "likely" or "very likely" that Iraq was involved in the planning of the 9/11 attacks, although no evidence of an Iraqi connection to the attack has ever been found. [22]

Critics of the war, especially those on the political left, argued that media organizations should attempt to be objective or neutral in presenting the facts of the invasion, and should not be deferential to claims made by the politicians or the military leaders of their country. In Europe in particular such critics have long argued that the American press and news media are generally uncritical of US government claims and "spin". Many foreign observers of the media and especially the television coverage in the USA felt that it was excessively partisan and in some cases "gung-ho." The fact that American news programs accepted the administration's war terminology like "Operation Iraqi Freedom" uncritically, and that many American reporters were "embedded" with American military units and wore US flags in their lapels, were seen as inappropriate behavior. European coverage was more critical of the invasion, and tended to put a greater emphasis on coalition setbacks, losses and deaths than the US media; [23] [24] including journalists, military allies to the US, and Iraqi civilians being killed by US forces. Supporters of the war, especially American conservatives, often characterized European media coverage as anti-American and "left-wing".

Al Jazeera bombing and attack upon the Palestine HotelEdit

On April 8, 2003, U.S. aircraft bombed the Baghdad bureau of Qatar satellite TV station Al Jazeera killing a journalist and wounding another despite the US being informed of the office's precise coordinates prior to the incident. An Al Jazeera correspondent said that very clear signs in yellow reading “Press” covered the building from all sides and on the roof. [25] US spokesmen said that the station inadvertent. [26] The U.S. government had repeatedly criticized Al Jazeera as "endangering the lives of American troops".

The attack had drawn particular criticism as the Kabul office of the same network had been bombed in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.[27]

On 2 April 2003, in a speech given in New York City, British Home Secretary David Blunkett commented on what he believed to be sympathetic and corrupt reporting of Iraq by Arab news sources. He told the audience that "It's hard to get the true facts if the reporters of Al Jazeera are actually linked into, and are only there because they are provided with facilities and support from, the régime." [28] His speech came only hours before Al Jazeera was ejected from Baghdad by the Iraqi government.

A top secret memo leaked by a British civil servant and a parliamentary researcher detailed a lengthy conversation on April 16, 2004 between Prime Minister Blair and President Bush, in which Bush according to British media allegedly proposed bombing the Qatar central office of Al Jazeera. [29] House press secretary, Scott McClellan, describing it as "outlandish" said, "Any such notion that we would engage in that kind of activity is just absurd." [30] A UK government official suggested that the Bush threat had been "humorous, not serious". Another source said Bush was "deadly serious". The UK government refuses to publish the memo and two civil servants have been charged with violating Britain's Official Secrets Act for allegedly disclosing the document.[31] For a fuller discussion, see: Al Jazeera bombing memo.

On the same day as the destruction of the Baghdad bureau of Al Jazeera, a U.S. tank fired a HEAT round at what the U.S. military later claimed was a suspected Iraqi forward artillery observer at the Palestine Hotel, where approximately 100 international reporters in Baghdad were based, killing two journalists, Taras Protsyuk of Reuters and Jose Cousa of the Spanish network Telecinco [32] and wounding three other correspondents. [33]

After interviewing "about a dozen reporters who were at the scene, including two embedded journalists who monitored the military radio traffic before and after the shelling occurred" the Committee to Protect Journalists said the facts suggested "that attack on the journalists, while not deliberate, was avoidable". The Committee to Protect Journalists went on to say that "Pentagon officials, as well as commanders on the ground in Baghdad, knew that the Palestine Hotel was full of international journalists and were intent on not hitting it". It is not clear that orders not to fire upon the hotel had actually made it to the tank level. [34] Reporters Without Borders demanded proof to Donald Rumsfeld that incidents "were not deliberate attempts to dissuade the media from reporting." Amnesty International demanded independent investigation.

see April 8, 2003 journalist deaths by U.S. fire for more detail on the section

Other reporters in harm's wayEdit

There have been a number of journalist casualties during the invasion, including fourteen deaths (some not directly war-related). Michael Kelly, an influential neoconservative reporter, columnist, and editor died in a Humvee accident on April 3. NBC's David Bloom died of a blood clot on April 6. Both Kelly and Bloom were embedded with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

Critical JournalistsEdit

Journalist Peter Arnett was fired by MSNBC and National Geographic after he declared in an interview with the Iraqi information ministry that he believed the U.S. strategy of "shock and awe" had failed. He also went on to tell Iraqi State TV that he had told "Americans about the determination of the Iraqi forces, the determination of the government, and the willingness to fight for their country," and that reports from Baghdad about civilian deaths had helped antiwar protesters undermine the Bush administration's strategy. The interview was given 10 days before the fall of Baghdad.

Bodies returning to DoverEdit

U.S. media coverage during the Vietnam War included photographs of the flag-draped coffins of American military personnel killed in action. During the invasion and occupation of Iraq, however, as in most other US wars, the Bush administration prohibited release of such photographs and, according to Senator Patrick Leahy, scheduled the return of wounded soldiers for after midnight so that the press would not see them. [35] A number of Dover photographs were eventually released in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by blogger Russ Kick. The practice of transporting wounded soldiers to the US at night was documented by both the Drudge Report and [36] This ban was instituted in 2000 by the Clinton administration, and mirrors a similar ban put in place during the Gulf War [37], though it appears not to have been enforced as tightly during previous military operations.

The role of the Iraqi National CongressEdit

During the buildup to the war, the sources for many stories (most prominently including the stories of Judith Miller of the New York Times) were members of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. The Iraqi National Congress not only repeated their "information" to members of congress, but to numerous media outlets; the organization claimed to be the sources for 108 original articles [38], which were each carried by many newspapers.

The allegations included, but were not limited to:

  • Navy commander Michael Speicher was seen alive in Baghdad in 1998.
  • Iraq held 80 Kuwaitis prisoner after the war in a secret underground prison.
  • Iraq trained Islamic extremists in the techniques used in September 11th, and collaborated with bin Laden on the attack.
  • Iraq disguised mobile labs as milk and yogurt trucks, and hid weapons beneath hospitals, mosques, and in reinforced wells.
  • Iraq had chemical weaponry-armed missiles
  • Iraq was actively working on a nuclear weapons program, and had even tested a nuclear weapon.
  • Members of Saddam's family would murder people for fun by throwing them in wood chippers or into vats of acid.

None of the allegations have had any evidence found to support them, and most of them have been completely disproved since the invasion. Ahmed Chalabi has since become a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, and stated "As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important.". He has taken credit for misleading the US, but considers the ends justified by the means, claiming "We are heroes in error" [39].

Media critics have referred to the US media before the war as having been an "echo chamber" for false reports - similar to allegations made about the CIA, congress, and the Bush administration.

External links and referencesEdit

Credit and categoriesEdit

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