The U.S. news media covered the war in Iraq the same way they cover the Olympics-with red, white, and blue trappings, human interest stories, bombastic theme music, and an almost total focus on American accomplishments at the expense of any international context. Around the clock coverage gave the illusion of telling and showing everything and made us forget how little we actually knew.From watching television, few in the United States could, for example, tell you why the French opposed military action in the Middle East (other than because they are French) or discuss intelligently the political disagreements among the Arab states or tell you whether the number of civilian casualties in this war is greater or less than the number of civilians killed on September 11. In the last Gulf War, researchers at University of Massachusetts found that the more television news people watched, the less likely they were to be able to answer basic questions about the war.
We should not be surprised that the news media has taken an overwhelmingly pro-war stance. The media have historically embraced governmental goals during wartime and asked questions after the fact-if at all. The prevailing trend on the news networks-following the success of Fox News-has been toward an openly partisan approach. The most heavily viewed public affairs shows today are not newscasts but crossfire discussion programs which-whether from the right (mostly), the center (rarely), or the left (hardly ever)-seem exempt from traditional journalistic standards.
What is remarkable about the present moment isn’t the nationalistic bias of media coverage but rather the degree to which opposition to this war has remained firm in the face of that coverage. At the start of the war, most polling indicated that somewhere around sixty percent of Americans opposed U.S. action in Iraq in the absence of United Nations approval. Bush won over about half of those initially opposed to the war-for the most part, those who would have supported the war if the UN had signed off on it. By late April, Gallup polls were showing that roughly 70 percent of Americans supported the war, but we can compare that to the 90 percent support Bush’s father gained by the end of the First Gulf War. Those who continue to oppose the war tend to fall into predictable categories-African-Americans, liberals, independent voters, the working poor, and people aged 18-29. Yet, in all of these demographics, Gallup found, a significantly higher portion had rallied behind the First Gulf War than embraced the second.
Given the overwhelmingly pro-war nature of the mainstream news coverage, one has to wonder: what are the information sources that have fueled this skepticism about the war effort? I see three principal sources.