ere in Belgrade, along just about every street,
satellite dishes sprout. Many residents are watching and comparing
American and British coverage of the Iraq war, as are untold
millions around the world. And so am I. From my position, embedded
in the Third Couch Division, I see news organizations placing
themselves on a spectrum of objectivity, from a great deal to
absolutely none at all.
Click. BBC: "Shells are falling within two kilometers of a port
where ships arrived with humanitarian aid...the port was believed
secure."... "[Citizens of Basra] are not really welcoming them.
They're more weary than anything. [Coalition troops] are still men
with guns in a foreign country." Click. Fox News: "What should
people be thinking about as we head into the weekend?" the anchor
asks a Fox military consultant, who replies: "That, aside from what
the media says, the American people--people in the
heartland--support our troops--except for a few nuts." Anchor
(laughing in agreement): "Thanks. Always a pleasure to talk to you."
In general, for the Brits, war coverage offers an opportunity to
corral facts and to ask tough questions about hugely consequential
events. For the Americans, it is a chance to present an "exciting"
story within narrow limits. Compared with the BBC's studied
neutrality, Fox (broadcasting globally its original stateside
programming, complete with Brit Hume, Mort Kondracke et al.) comes
across as a kind of Gong Show of propaganda. The result is a myopic
vision of war that proves alternatively nerve-racking, boring or
uplifting, but in the aggregate effectively sanitizes events and
numbs the audience. Watching Fox, Serbs see a striking similarity to
something in their own recent past: "Why, it's just like TV here
The privately owned Fox is actually more gung-ho in its support
of the war than US government entities like Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty, which has filed many balanced dispatches. Fox anchors
report everything Arabs do with an audible sneer, while treating
every official US pronouncement, no matter how self-serving, as
It is said that 90 percent of viewer perceptions are based on
visual stimuli, not actual content, and Fox certainly grasps this.
When carrying the daily briefing from Centcom, Fox divides its
screen. Only a small video window with sound is devoted to the
briefing. In a larger window, context-less military activity
unfolds, tanks fire and vehicles roll. In the upper left corner is
Fox's omnipresent American flag, and at the bottom the news ticker,
which further distracts from serious concentration or analysis.
Outside the United States, viewers are deprived of CNN's star
studio personas, Aaron Brown, Bobbie Batista, et al. The CNN
International crew, beaming from London and other locales, is
generally more balanced and professional than their stateside
compatriots. But CNN International still does poorly in conveying
the horror of war or providing a persuasive sampling of world
There's also a huge skepticism gap. The American outfits bother
little or not at all to frame the conflict in terms of the stated
rationale: alleged weapons of mass destruction and terrorist ties.
On CNN, newsbar items scroll by announcing the discovery of possible
weapons of mass destruction, only to unceremoniously cancel the
The British networks air far more footage of the situation inside
places that coalition forces are attacking, providing a much better
sense of what it is like to be a civilian caught up in the terror of
the moment. SkyNews, like Fox, is owned by the jingoistic Rupert
Murdoch, and like Fox, it exhibits unabashed support for the British
troops it accompanies--although without the embarrassingly
aggressive, egregiously hostile tone of Fox.
Fox, and CNN to a lesser extent, seem in a hurry to brush off
stories about problems, miscalculations, consequences: friendly
fire, civilian casualties and the exposure of Iraqi civilians to
Saddamite reprisals, all subjects extensively treated by the
Europeans. By comparison, when the bodies of the first British
casualties arrived back in England, Sky ran the caption, "None of 10
who returned were killed by enemy."
Generally, the fellows with the "credentials" on CNN and Fox,
especially the "military experts," alternate between belaboring the
yawningly obvious and exhibiting partisanship. "The goal of that
bombing was to 'degrade' those targets," said one presumably
well-paid former officer. BBC in particular, and SkyNews to a lesser
extent, seem to encourage on-air anchors to ask reasonably tough
questions and give time to smart, savvy, blunt civilian analysts.
Click. SkyNews: Voiceover commentary from a London-based Iraqi
dissident who, while eager to see Saddam Hussein vanquished, is
deeply disturbed by the carnage being unleashed: "You cannot put in
place a democratic government," he says. "That's an oxymoron. A
democracy has to be built up gradually according to the culture of a
When it comes to presenting the "Arab" side of the conflict, US
networks favor footage of Iraqi officials looking ridiculous and
making clearly incredible statements. On the BBC, an Arab affairs
specialist comments on shifting perceptions in the greater Arab
world, how he is seeing anti-Saddam moderates suddenly rooting for
the dictator and what this might portend for the United States in
the long run. This is followed by a brief, informative history of
the Kurds. The BBC even does a better job of airing the views of
thoughtful American critics of the war, including a Washington-based
human rights advocate worried about the effects of cluster bombs on
Of all the news channels available here, my personal favorite is
the multilingual, pan-European independent news channel, Euronews.
Its coverage of the war in Iraq has no marketing-department spin; it
is simply labeled "The War in Iraq." We see no correspondents or
anchors. We don't even know the names of those who offer the
rigorously neutral narration over the raw-edged footage. Euronews
also runs a feature called "No Comment," in which footage from
inside and outside Iraq, collected from a wide variety of sources,
airs without any narration or commentary at all. Guess which news
show consistently provides the best insight and emotional
comprehension of unfolding events? No comment.