January 30, 1991 GREENPEACE +quot;PUNDIT WATCH+quot; #1 +quot;A quarter-ton of concentrate

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

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 Could. 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 each.) 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, bloodless war. 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 war." 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 daily briefings. "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, 1/25). 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 80% successful. 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 Times, 1/27. 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 bombing raids? NEXT WEEK: Oil Spills/Oil Profits; US Coverage of Peace Activists Written by Andrew Davis, Jeanne Whalen, and Peter Dykstra - Greenpeace Media 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