January 30, 1991 GREENPEACE +quot;PUNDIT WATCH+quot; #1 +quot;A quarter-ton of concentrate
January 30, 1991
GREENPEACE "PUNDIT WATCH" #1
"A quarter-ton of concentrated hatred," declared CNN's Richard Blystone as
a lone SCUD hit Tel Aviv Tuesday. Due to wartime restrictions, the Pentagon
offered no comment on the "hatred" content of thousands of tons of Allied
ordnance dropped on Iraq. In the first week of warfare, the strengths and
weaknesses of the U.S. media were more in display than the war itself. We
saw the press unskeptically relaying Pentagon reports of "decimation" of the
Iraqi military. But by week's end, a deep resentment of wartime censorship
emerged among mainstream journalists.
We saw the extraordinary technical prowess of the media and the courage of
behind-the-lines reporters emerge as their own news stories. We saw American
viewers turn into voyeurs as each obsolete missile was lobbed into Saudi
Arabia or Israel -- while night after night the bombing of Baghdad, some of
the most lethal bombing in history, slipped into the background.
Welcome to Pundit Watch. In this weekly report, we'll offer analysis of
U.S. media coverage of the Persian Gulf War. This first issue focuses on
the rise to stardom of the Patriot missile and the pressing issues of war
censorship -- as formally imposed by the U.S., Iraqi, and Israeli military,
and the more insidious selfcensorship imposed by news organizations. In the
coming weeks, we'll analyze trends and fads in war reporting; unreported
stories of the war and its opposition; we'll monitor the diversity -- or
lack -- of opinion included on public affairs shows. But first, a list of
dates to remember:
PREDICTED DATES OF THE WAR'S END, The McLaughlin Group, taped Jan. 18: Pat
Buchanan, Jan. 30 ("No more than two weeks from day one."); Fred Barnes,
Jan. 29 ("Eleven days from now"); Jack Germond, Feb. 6 ("I suspect it's
gonna take a little longer than that. Three weeks."); Morton Kondracke, Jan.
31 ("Thirteen days."). And John McLaughlin, Feb. 6 ("three weeks from day
one.") The testosterone count dropped considerably by Jan. 25's show, with
Buchanan predicting "less than a month;" Barnes, "maybe six weeks;" Germond,
"At least six weeks and probably longer;" Kondracke, "three weeks;" and
McLaughlin, "Sometime between April 1 and June 1." Mark your calendars.
PATRIOTS: THE LAST REFUGE FOR DEFENSE SPENDING?
Anointed as the war's first hero, the Patriot missile is basking in its
fifteen minutes of fame. "Patriot Hailed as Making a Difference" cried The
Washington Times (1/21). "War Hero Status Possible for the Computer Chip"
said a New York Times headline. CBS's "48 Hours" visited the US training
base for soldiers who repair and guard the missile (it fires automatically),
and USA Today (1/22) reported on heightened morale at the Andover, MA Donut
Master shop near Raytheon's Patriot assembly plant. The business section
(1/22) at Al Neuharth's pet paper gave the missile a centerfold description:
"Length: 17 feet, 5 inches; three inches longer than a Cadillac Sedan de
Ville." This week so much moralizing surrounded the missile that almost got
scratched by the Pentagon that the Patriot became the Little Missile that
How did this missile become a media darling? Mid-week's single minded
media focus on the Patriot may have taken place in part because control on
reporters' conduct simply left no other stories within reach. The Washington
Post (1/22) quoted an American reporter as saying "The whole structure is
inherently manipulative. We have no independent access. Technically, I can
be thrown out of this country for talking to an American serviceman and I
find that ludicrous." Between military censorship and daily deadline
pressure, journalists in Saudi Arabia needed a story. Voila - one exploded
right above reporters' heads and in camera range. War zone journalists may
have felt some personal reason to cheer for the Patriot. TV correspondents
seemed at times terrified at the prospect of incoming SCUD's. On the morning
of January 22, CNN's Charles Jaco dove for his gas mask during a live shot
from Saudi Arabia. Another unmasked reporter finished his report. It isn't
hard to salivate over a anti-missile missile that you think may have just
saved your life.
But only successful Patriots have been televised. An AP story (1/21)
quoted several sources in northern Saudi Arabia who witnessed Patriots being
fired, far away from probing TV cameras or reporters. As Rear Admiral Eugene
Carroll, (USN Ret.) of the Center for Defense Information, told the New York
Times (1/21) "all the news is coming through a filter. We see the hits but
not the misses. Management of the news has put an emphasis on the success of
our new weapons." Carroll's point was underscored later in the week, as
SCUD's apparently eluded Patriots and landed in Riyadh and Israel. The
Patriot hype dwindled.
As the star of the Patriot rose, so did the perceived threat of the
Sixties-era, Soviet-made SCUD. While described as "militarily insignificant"
by the Pentagon, the SCUD became a major strategic player in TV's war drama.
Lee Feinstein of the Arms Control Association, branded the Scud as
"inaccurate with a small payload -- the longer the flight, the lighter the
payload." General Norman Schwarzkopf, told the BBC (as reported in the 1/24
Washington Post) that he "would be more afraid of standing out in a
lightning storm in southern Georgia than I would standing out in the streets
of Riyadh when the Scuds are coming down." Raytheon`s stock, both literally
and figuratively, soared. At the New York Stock Exchange on January 21
Raytheon stock was up $4.50, to close at $74.625. That day, ABC's Sam
Donaldson had jokingly exhorted viewers to "Buy Raytheon."
On the same day, the Army stepped up production of the Patriot to re-arm
troops in the Gulf. (It is interesting to note that the military only
deployed about 60 Patriot systems in the Gulf region. According to a
Raytheon press release, the US military is in line to receive 869 more
missiles -- but not until January of 1993, and at a cost of $1.1 million
Defense contractors are smiling because the Patriot, with the press as a
guidance system, has scored another direct hit -- a few days' reported
success by a single missile system seems to have atoned for decades of
corruption and mismanagement in defense contracting. Members of Congress,
whose best information sources are the same censored news stories we've all
seen, have used the Patriot as a launching pad to revive the SDI and other
staggeringly expensive high-tech systems. Senate Armed Services Chair Sam
Nunn told CNN last Sunday, "I think every now and then we ought to praise
our defense industry out there. They get a lot of knocks, but they've
developed a tremendous amount of technology that's saving precious American
lives." Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) was paraphrased by the LA Times (1/21) as
saying "that televised display of 'smart' weapons at work would overcome
objections from critics that they were too high-priced and complicated." The
lesson in this is clear: Should the Patriot become the rallying cry for
another defense spending spree, its moments of fame will be the costliest
fifteen minutes in TV history.
EVERYBODY OUT OF THE POOL
Nobody likes bad press, least of all the Pentagon, but few have so much
power to control the press. Still smarting from its lesson in Vietnam when
there still was such as thing as an adversarial press, the Pentagon turned
its sights on the media. Honing its censorship techniques in Grenada and
Panama, the Pentagon has presented the American public with an antiseptic,
In Panama, the press attended with their "security reviewers" and gave us
such gritty journalism as the TV piece on the most requested song that the
grunts blasted at Noriega in Panama's Vatican compound: Bon Jovi's "Wanted
Dead or Alive." For the next several months, no one bothered to go back in
afterwards and get the real story. Malpractice during the "surgical" strikes
actually left hundreds of civilians dead.
The new Pentagon press regulations that were handed down on January 7
require that battlefield dispatches and photography clear military "security
review," an anachronism from the Korean War. Reporters can only travel in
predesignated pools, accompanied by a military escort at all times.
The Pentagon claims that detailed news coverage of everything from troop
movements to weather conditions can aid the enemy, but critics dismiss the
security argument as ludicrous.
"The press has never put American servicemen at risk," said Newsday's
Sydney Schanberg, an outspoken criticism of war censorship. "It's about a
political decision to keep the public from having a front row seat in this
Even Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams can only recall that no more than
five or six of more than 2,000 correspondents had their credentials lifted
during the 13-year Vietnam War.
"There are more breaches of security by military people than there ever
will be by press," Schanberg added.
The multi-tiered "security review" is part media enmity, part spin
control. Press reports often have to clear "public affairs" officers both
here and in the Gulf, causing delays long enough to either kill a story
completely or give the Pentagon first shot at breaking the news at their
"Security reviewers" in the Gulf helped the Pentagon scoop pool coverage
of initial F-117A stealth fighter bomb runs by sending them to their death
in the desert--the Nevada desert that is--for a secondary review by the U.S.
stealth base. (Philadelphia Inquirer 1/25)
In another instance, "a military censor wanted to change the word 'giddy'
to 'proud' in a (Detroit Free Press) story describing some pilots. That has
nothing to do with national security. That's spin control," said Jane
Kirtley of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (USA TODAY,
The mainstream press have finally begun to chafe at Pentagon restrictions.
Tensions have risen noticeably at Pentagon briefings. However, before the
war even began, one groups of journalists expressed the outrage that the
major media has only recently articulated.
Several small news organizations in filed suit in U.S. District Court in
New York City two weeks ago, challenging the Pentagon's rules. But the
Nation and Mother Jones magazines, Schanberg and E.L. Doctorow and their
nine co-plaintiffs drew no support -- and very little attention -- from
major national news organizations.
When asked why they didn't sign on to the suit NBC said they had joined
with the other major networks in sending a letter asking the Pentagon to
ease press restrictions. They said they would continue to work behind the
scenes to ease censorship.
So far the spin control seems to be working. To be sure, Pentagon
censorship played a role in narrowing the range of stories to a very
favorable few: The overhyped Scud/Patriot drama, the clearly abused US
POW's, the heroic Saudi pilot, and the massive oil spill. If the effort were
designed to obscure the destruction wrought by over 22,000 allied air
sorties beyond exaggerated reports of their success, it certainly succeeded.
The lack of access to hard information and their unwillingness to
aggressively challenge the rosy rhetoric converted the press into a conduit
for blatant misinformation. For TV newsmen, this war's first night was
clearly the best -- the Iraqi elite guard was "decimated," and sorties were
Number-crunching on the sorties played out throughout the week. Nightline
quoted General Schwarzkopf as saying on 1/18 that the numbers meant that
"more than 80 percent of all those sorties have successfully engaged their
targets." But by week's end, it was revealed that the "sorties" included all
refueling and reconnaissance flights -- about half the total -- and that the
"successful" engagements represented planes that had dropped their payload,
but not necessarily hit their targets.
The euphoria of the opening-night press reports added to the historic
tendency for Americans to jump on the war wagon early and often. US Rep. Bob
Dornan (R-CA) was widely quoted as predicting the war's end in "two days."
Col. David Hackworth (USA Ret.), blustering for Newsweek from Saudi Arabia,
declared that it would be a "six-minute war." A few nights later on the CNN
Larry King Show, Hackworth re-set his victory clock to "eleven days." His
1/28 Newsweek story had Iraqi troops "throwing down their guns and running."
So alarmingly rosy was the ringside rhetoric that even the White House
tried to put on the brakes. On Thursday, Marlin Fitzwater prepared Americans
for a long war, with plenty of American tragedy. With George Bush's approval
rating at a record high, the press helped put the war effort on a pedestal
so high that a fall was certain. The White House had apparently come to fear
that simmering resentment on military censorship might actually unleash some
of the dormant ideals of US journalism.
But the press has yet to confront its own self-censorship. War opponents
have largely been written off, and with little distinction made between
military family members and the handful of smash-the-state anarchists. The
universal message in the too sparse coverage of war opposition is that any
talk of peace is in bad taste until Saddam Hussein's ass is fully kicked.
Just as the White House and Pentagon fear the press, the press has come to
fear the public, whose current pro-Bush demographics has chilled reasonable
reporting on the growing number of war dissenters.
It is both easy and understandable that the networks place some reliance
on men with military backgrounds to discuss military tactics and weaponry.
But the near-total dominance in network situation rooms by men who have made
a living in the industry of war has no place in journalism. The press would
do well to accord substantially more credence and respect for those of us
who simply do not accept war. This quote from a previous war suggests that
the phenomenon is not new:
"Naturally the common people don't want war ... but after all it is the
leaders of a country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter
to drag the people along ... All you have to do is tell them they are being
attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the
country to danger." Hermann Goering, 1936
THREE WISE MEN: Appearing among the mainstream pundits this week were a
triad of convicted felons: Gen. Richard Secord (USAF, Ret.); providing
air-war expertise for CNN; Adm. John Poindexter (USN, Ret.), interviewed
1/22 by USA TODAY; and Lt. Col. Oliver L. North (USMC, Ret.), who wrote a
1/23 Wall St. Journal Op-Ed that parlayed the absence of hard information
on the war into a plea for more high-tech weaponry. None of the three made
mention of TOW missiles' strategic value in Gulf. SUPER QUOTES: "Journalists
often make analogies in headlines between football and war. But not in this
war." John Madden's CBS Super Bowl Preview, 1/26. "Patriots vs. Scuds: Iraqi
Touchdown is Averted." One of the many such headlines in this war, New York
JUST A THOUGHT: If peace demonstrations are routinely described as
"reminiscent of the Sixties," then why can't we say that about U.S. carpet
NEXT WEEK: Oil Spills/Oil Profits; US Coverage of Peace Activists
Written by Andrew Davis, Jeanne Whalen, and Peter Dykstra - Greenpeace
End of text from cdp:gp.press
from PeaceNet via The NY Transfer 718-448-2358 & 718-448-2683
[ This file has travelled through the Socialism OnLine! BBS
at +1-203-274-4639, 24 hours, 300-9600 bps HST/MNP/V42bis,
on its way to you, the reader of this file. Please share
any information you have about "big brother." Venceremos! ]
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank