Written 1135 pm Feb 19, 1991 by greenbase in cdpmideast.media GP PUNDIT WATCH #4 A Weekly
Written 11:35 pm Feb 19, 1991 by greenbase in cdp:mideast.media
GP PUNDIT WATCH #4
A Weekly Analysis of Persian Gulf News Coverage
"There is a risk, in this rush to judgment, of distortion,
misunderstanding, blunder, and confusion of values. The joke at NBC used to
be that if the network could only get a sponsor, the next war in the Middle
East would be 'brought to you live.'"
(Former NBC reporter Marvin Kalb, assessing TV coverage in the
introductionto the 1990 book "The Media and Foreign Policy [St. Martin's
Well, Mr. Kalb, the next war in the Middle East is being brought to us
live, but the sponsors are another matter. This week in Pundit Watch 4,
we'll examine the effect of the war on advertisers, and vice versa. We'll
also look at the Network's Civilian Pundits-in-Residence at the Pentagon,
and the war's acceleration of the disappearance of liberal commentators.
"People who watch Rambo movies, people who watch war on TV, some of these
fellows who have never owned a draft card but are these great military
analysts that we run into in our nation's capital who write columns
advocating war, they don't know what the hell they're talking about." Gen.
Norman Schwarzkopf (2/11 US News & World Report).
THIS WEEK IN THE PUNDIT TRENCHES The crinkling of paper could be heard all
over Washington Friday morning. After Iraq's strings-attached peace proposal
raised, then dashed hopes for peace, the five seers of the McLaughlin Group
tossed out their "I Knew It All Along" speeches prepared for that evening's
show.Pat Buchanan suggested that Saddam's peace ploy was an attempt to get
out of Kuwait "with honor." The former Nixon speechwriter and caddy did not
intend any Vietnam irony. Buchanan also flaunted his First Amendment wisdom,
offering a novel defense of CNN's Baghdad correspondent Peter Arnett. "It is
not the function of CNN to start pulling their guys out. If they're hurting
the war effort, the President should (pull them out)." Jack Germond, offered
a genuinely articulate defense of Arnett, but referred to his patriotism.
Like NBC's Garrick Utley on Meet the Press a week earlier, Germond forgot
that Arnett is a New Zealander.The intrepid Buchanan offered a prediction of
ground war "before next week." Germond predicted an Iraqi coup "within the
next two weeks." But the week's most enlightened comment came from Tom
Friedman on the PBS show "Washington Week in Review." Friedman, whose varied
resume includes a stint developing cultural sensitivity as a New York Times
Middle East correspondent, likened the war of words in the Middle East to
"arguing over a carpet."
SPONSORING THE WAR Some of the first stateside casualties of the Gulf war
were the ad revenues of the major news organizations. Each of the networks
has reported huge financial losses since the beginning of the conflict. The
networks are now scrambling to "sell" the war to advertisers. Promises to
compromise editorial integrity may be part of the sales pitch.
Gun-shy advertisers began pulling ads even before shots were fired, worried
that hawking Big Mac attacks might seem ghoulish juxtaposed against news
footage of Scud attacks. The networks delivered a 15% increase in viewers
the first week of the war, yet losses from advertising revenues combined
with the exceptional cost of covering the war could put losses as high as
$1-3 million per day. The travel industry and oil companies have led the
retreat. TWA put all advertising on hold with the outbreak of the war. Oil
companies have scaled advertising back considerably, perhaps not wanting to
seem overly gleeful about a war that's already boosted fourth quarter
profits for some upwards of 50% for some oil companies (See Pundit Watch II)
Paradoxically, CNN, which appeals to clients accustomed to advertising
during news programming, has attracted a surge in new advertisers, but is
still losing money. CNN was able to jack up ad rates for 30-second
commercials from between $4,000 to $5,000 before the war to $20,000 to
$60,000 today for new clients.
However, expanded war coverage has bumped more than 14,000 of CNN's
commercials prompting losses of up to $500,000 a week, according to
Advertising Age (2/4).
Since the first week of the war, networks have cut back on war updates that
pre-empted entertainment programming and dumped news specials about the war.
But even with these concessions and the dearth of actual combat images,
advertisers still aren't buying. Advertising Age (2/4) reported that
advertising giants like Procter & Gamble Co., General Motors Corp. and
McDonalds are exercising options that allow them to cancel up to 50% of
advanced advertising commitments 90days before the new quarter starts on
The networks have launched a counter-offensive to lure back sponsors
whichmay threaten both the extent and the editorial integrity of their war
coverage. Broadcasting (2/21) reported that CBS and NBC sent letters
similar to ABC's which assured clients that "no commercial breaks will be
scheduled immediately before or after scenes of actions."
"After a segment about a chemical attack that includes a shot of a
disfigured face, it might not be the best time to talk about Oil of Olay
skin care," Richard Dale, an ad executive with Deutsch Advertising, told the
New York Times (2/7). Ironically, as James Workman reported in the New
Republic (2/18) an ad for Vaseline Intensive Care "to reduce that itchy,
burning sensation" aired rightafter a CNN report on missile attacks in Tel
Aviv that included a demonstration on how to minimize skin damage from gas
CBS went a step further, hinting it would provide plenty of patriotic
coverage. Network execs assured advertisers that special programming could
be tailored so commercials could be inserted after segments "that were
specially produced with upbeat images or messages about the war, like
patriotic images from the home front," wrote Bill Carter in the New York
If in their desperation the networks are willing to play on patriotism in
special news programming, it seems only logical to assume that regular news
programming, which is losing money on a nightly basis, will also come under
pressure to produce more happy news. This might explain why television has
so thoroughly dismissed the peace movement, while playing up pro-war
demonstrations. And what about the score in the Scud-Patriot game? Aerial
duels continue over Israel,but television coverage of the attacks has
dropped off dramatically, despite the fact that the Scud attacks account for
what were until this week some of the only civilian bomb damage footage of
A Network executive at ABC told Pundit Watch that the Network's number 1
position protects news division programming. "We have the luxury of placing
programming on the air that we know won't be profitable." For example, prior
to theNovember elections ABC ran a special on the abortion issue that most
advertisers wouldn't touch.
Peter Lund, executive vice-president of CBS broadcasting group, in
explaining why CBS would produce less prime-time news specials despite good
ratings, revealed just how beholden his news division has become to
sponsors. "In fairness to our shareholders, we can't lose $1 million every
time we do one of them, and we are losing an easy million between what we
lose in ad revenue and the production costs." (NYT 2/7)
This corporate attitude completely contradicts the original mandate of
network news, Mike Schiffer of NYU's Center for War Peace and the News Media
told Pundit Watch. Network news divisions were originally established to
provide a public service in return for the broadcaster's right to use the
Traditionally it was expected that revenue from entertainment programming
would carry the news divisions.
"When people are pulling advertising out from news programs and networks
are saying that news programs have to carry themselves, it can have a
devastating effect," Schiffer said. "One would hope that at some point
somebody in there,whether Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings, would stand up and
say 'we have to get the news out even if we are losing a 1 million a day.' "
The Pentagon "Correspondents"
Wolf Blitzer of CNN may have become an instant household figure in the
waragainst Iraq, but Bob Zelnick of ABC, Dave Martin of CBS, and Fred
Francis of NBC are the regular troops deployed in Room 2E770 at the
Pentagon. Reinforced by second string stand-ins during the round-the-clock
vigil, these reporters get a few minutes nightly to provide military advice
to the network anchors, and to the American people.
Pentagon reporting is not the front lines -- there are no gas masks, no
on-location pictures of fighter aircraft or missiles, never an interview
with thefoot "soldiers" populating the Pentagon battlefield. It is what the
Pentagon correspondents have to say on the air, usually as talking heads,
that is valued.
The Pentagon jocks are also valued for their inside information; their
stories are always punctuated with talk of special "sources" and full of
obscure information. They shy away from the laudatory commentary on US
weaponry that befalls the anchors and the second string. Dan Rather
practically gushed on the first night of the war about the F-15 fighter:
"It's the best U.S. fighter. It's generally considered, on a worldwide
basis, to be the best in the world." Kate Couric, the Today Show's new
bright star and former short-timer in the Pentagon, reported on February 17
from the Pentagon that Operation Desert Storm "was virtually flawless." On
February 5, Tom Brokaw opened the Nightly News saying that "America's
weapons of war are performing with flying colors so far." Andrea Mitchell
then described the E-8 JSTARs ground surveillance plane, a system most
people nodoubt had never heard of, stating that it "has worked well in the
The Pentagon correspondents have stayed away from making too many
predictions -- Clever little environmental geeks might look back and see
what they said. Besides, that's what all the "consultants" are paid to do.
Nonetheless, they can't always resist, though they should. For example, Fred
Francis, on the firstnight of the war, said that the war plan was "evolving
a lot slower than we anticipated that it would." In all fairness, the most
accurate reporting has comefrom Dave Martin at CBS. He provided a
particularly sober assessment on 22 January that the air campaign would take
weeks before a ground offensive could be ordered:
"Pentagon officials say the major success so far has been
the small number of aircraft lost. But they acknowledge not
everything is going according to plan. In at least one
instance, the wrong building was hit. And there is
disappointment with the number of bridges destroyed. Also
this search for Iraq's SCUD missile launchers has turned
into what one source called a, quote, very serious
Bob Zelnick's Military "AWACs is certainly one," incorrectly referring to
the airborne radar plane as an electronic warfare plane, January 16.
"Pentagon officials privately say cluster bombs and cruise missiles have
rendered 80 percent of Iraq's combat aircraft useless,...," although a few
days later the Pentagon reported officially that only a handful of planes
had been destroyed, January 17.
"...the U.S. has a much better chance that the Israelis of finding them
[SCUD missiles] because the U.S. night-vision equipment is much better and
their ability to search armed by escorts is also superior to the Israelis',"
falsely reporting supposed US advantages over Israel (who had bombed an
Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 using US supplied weapons, the very same ones
in Saudi Arabia), January 18.
"[While the US] does have radar-imaging and infrared equipment not affected
by clouds, these systems are not as clear and take longer to interpret,"
explaining the effects of weather on the US assessment of the bombing, yet
wrong about both accuracy and timing, January 21. "Pentagon officials
say...the [Iraqi Republican Guards have been pinned down, preventing them
from launching an offensive before the U.S. is ready," launching an attack?,
"Now Iraq is operating from only five of its more than 50 air
facilities,"after the Pentagon reported that activity had been seen at five
airfields the day before, not that only five were operable, January 23.
"Pentagon officials privately express concern that the stock of advanced
Patriot missiles is dangerously low," (the Pentagon said phooey), January
"Pentagon sources say that military and intelligence officials disagree
about the need to extend the bombing campaign and delay the ground offensive
in order to reduce the fighting condition of Iraqi forces enough to lower
U.S. casualties substantially," (no such controversy exists), February 5.
Carpet Bombing Watch Brokaw: "Is it likely that we'll hear of some carpet
bombing before too long?..."
Francis: "That's part of the overall war plan, that they would be
carpet-bombed at some point. But I don't think that would happen in the
initial stages of combat." January 16.
"B-52s carrying 100,000 pounds of bombs apiece took buildings and
carpet-bombed Iraqi armored units in Kuwait..." Kate Couric contradicting
Fred on NBC, January 17 "the campaign to liberate Kuwait has entered a new
and bloodier phase, as the U.S. begins carpet-bombing Iraqi troops." Dave
Martin, January 19, first reporting carpet bombing.
"B-52s perform area carpet-bombing against troops and supply
concentrations, as well as refueling centers." Bob Zelnick, January 20, a
carpet bombing Johnny come lately.
"B-52s flew round-the-clock raids on Iraq's elite tank divisions today. One
source said carpet-bombing," explosives saturating several-square-mile
areas,was expected to be very effective." Fred Francis, January 22, finally
getting with the program.
"The Iraqi government was reported around midday today to be trying to move
chemical weapons within reach of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia." (It didn't)
Dan Rather, January 16.
"A senior Air Force commander here predicted that the air war, the
establishing (sic) superiority in the air would take the Air Force
approximately two days." (It didn't) Bob Simon, January 16.
"...you can't fly 2000 sorties when you begin the attack at 7:00 P.M.
Eastern Time. Three's just not enough hours in the black night to do that."
(We did)Fred Francis, January 16.
"military leaders tell NBC News tonight that Iraq may, may have been
preparing a backdoor attack against the U.S. fleet in the Persian Gulf with
Iran's complicity." (They didn't) Fred Francis, January 20.
"While the air war is expected to continue for at least another week, U.S.
troops, tens of thousands of them, moved closer to the Kuwaiti border,
poised for a ground attack." (Still waiting) Fred Francis, January 20.
"Pentagon officials say that Saddam may launch another ground attack into
Saudi Arabia sometime in the next 48 hours." (They didn't) Fred Francis, 31
Really Good Intelligence:
"...if one finds an important target that has a key communications node, a
key area where communications come together, and it happens to be in an area
where civilians live, it would still be important, I believe, for the United
States to take that out." Air Force General Michael Dugan, CBS Consultant,
Could you explain that again, Fred?
"...to be successful, they have to take out the leader of the country
because, especially in this case, this man's word is law. And if they have
to ask for surrender, they want to ask from this man. Or if he's not there,
they hope the country just sort of crumbles, the military leadership
crumbles around him." Fred Francis, January 16 (answering a question from
Brokaw on whether the US was targeting Saddam Hussein).
"...before a great and bloody land battle, U.S. forces are trying to talk
the Iraqis into surrendering." January 20.
"One Administration concern is that Libya might attack Israel, and in
thatway try to break apart the coalition. The [US aircraft carrier]
Forrestal could be in the way of that attack." January 20.
TALK FROM THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE RADIO DIAL Often referred to as one of
America's last truly democratic institutions, talk radio serves as a sort of
a national village green where political ideas from the left, right, and
center canbe exchanged. But for the last twenty years, there are increasing
indications that business and political pressures have surrounded the
village green with "Keep Right" signs.
That evidence came home to Columbus, OH talk show host Jim Bleikamp on
thewar's opening day. Bleikamp, a liberal weeknight talk host on WTVN Radio,
interviewed local Congressman John Kasich on Jan. 16. An early supporter of
continued sanctions against Iraq, Kasich switched to a pro-war stance before
the 16th.Bleikamp's questioning on the Congressman's switch prompted station
managementto suspend him for one day. Bleikamp resigned in protest,
admitting that he hadmade a "mildly sarcastic" remark to Kasich, but
insisted that he "acted accordingly."
Bleikamp's resignation-in-protest is at least the second war- related
lossof a liberal media voice. Columnist Warren Hinckle, whose discipline by
the SanFrancisco Examiner was reported in PW 3, has been ordered to take a
"vacation" by the paper. But Bleikamp noted that it's not likely that more
liberal commercial talkshow hosts will be lost. "There aren't many
left-of-center talkshow hosts left in the country," he said.
Indeed, liberal hosts like Mike Malloy of Atlanta's WSB and Gloria
Kennedyof WALE in Providence have disappeared in recent years, replaced
either by network programming or more politically neutral local hosts.
National talk radio's hottest commodity, Rush Limbaugh, is a conservative
whose bombastic style makes Morton Downey, Jr. look like Dick Cavett. Pat
Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network has also gotten into the act,
stringing together a struggling three-station network in Washington,
Charlotte, NC and Oklahoma City.
Jim Ackerman, a former radio talker in West Palm Beach, FL and St. Louis,
agreed that liberal talkshow hosts are a vanishing species. "A couple of
decadesago, you'd be hard pressed to find a conservative on talk radio, but
now it's reversed. I've been asked at various stations to better represent
the "common man's point of view."
Ackerman left talkshow hosting two years ago, and now works for Metro
Traffic Control in South Florida. Despite acknowledging strong political
pressure for his viewpoints, Ackerman said that his decision to leave was
his own. "At one station, shortly after the election of Reagan, I was
pointing out the shortcomings of Reagan Administration policy," said
Ackerman. "I was asked flat out by the Program Director "'Can't you say
something nice about the President?'"
"Most program directors are trying to balance a very tight line. It's
really hard to say (if the balance is changing).
It's hard to say how much is political, how much is from sponsors,"
continued Ackerman. "It's a line that moves a lot. A lot of talkshow hosts,
for political survival, take a more conservative position. I recall one host
saying, "'If I blurted out my real feelings, I'd be in trouble.'"
Pat Aufderheide, a writer and media expert with the Benton Foundation, said
that talk radio's conservative domination is merely a sign of the times.
"Talk radio works on opinion, not neutrality."
Both Ackerman and Bleikamp said that radio program directors are walking
atightrope between the commercial concerns of running a profitable radio
station and representing a wide range of opinions. "The commercial radio
industry tries very hard to mirror the public mood, and the country is
pretty conservative -- more so with the war," said Bleikamp.
But Bleikamp expressed discomfort with talk radio's blurred line between
journalism and commerce. "There is a very serious conservative bias in
American talk radio," he said. "People who are concerned about fairness in
journalism should be concerned about this."
A MERCENARY MAG AT THE FRONT: "Over the last three days the local tv
networks in Dhahran have discontinued the continual, around-the-clock news
coverageof the war and started playing reruns of old American sitcoms. CNN,
the prime source of news in this area, has been reduced to late night and
early morning coverage. This may be due to reports that local merchants are
having difficulty getting their employees to report to work. One Saudi firm
opted to imprison several employees who refused to come to work. But it also
may be that something isup." (Soldier of Fortune Magazine correspondent
Steve Elswick in Dhahran, 1/22.)
WITHHOLDING INFORMATION THAT WOULD DAMAGE SECURITY: "Q: Does General
Schwarzkopf ..... weigh 250 pounds? A: General Schwarzkopf is a big man, but
regulations prohibit the disclosure of his weight." (Walter Scott's
Personality Parade, Parade Mag., 2/10)
NEWSWEEK TAKES A DIFFERENT LOOK AT BLINKING: PW3 cited a Time Magazine
report suggesting that Saddam Hussein's rapid blinking during his CNN
interview (40 blinks per minute) was a sign of his imminent mental
breakdown. The 2/18 Newsweek replied with its own version of what
constitutes sanity. Newsweek cited a Boston College researcher who, while
watching the same CNN interview, clocked Saddam at a dizzying 113 blinks.
Newsweek also reported President Bush's top speed at 69 B/pM.
WE'RE NOT MAKING THIS UP: The BBC sent a memo to 37 local radio stations
suggesting "caution" in airing these and other songs during wartime: "Bang
Bang (My Baby Shot me Down) by Cher; "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine" by
John Lennon; "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins; "Atomic" by Blondie;
"Love is a Battlefield" by Pat Benatar; and the Bangles' "Walk Like an
Egyptian." (Entertainment Weekly, 2/8).
The controversy over Pentagon press restrictions is scheduled to move to
Capitol Hill on 2/20. The Senate Government Affairs Committee will hear from
witnesses including former Most Trusted Man in America Walter Cronkite;
Sydney Schanberg, a Pulitzer winner, columnist, and plaintiff in the suit
challenging Pentagon restrictions; Pentagon flack Pete Williams; veteran war
correspondent Malcolm Browne of the New York Times; war pundit Harry
Summers; and former Vietnam-era Saigon Embassy flack Barry Zorthian.
THEOLOGICAL OBSERVATION OF THE WEEK: Christopher Hitchens greeted his
CNN debate opponent Charlton Heston on 2/5 by declaring "It's not every day
one gets to debate the Middle East with Moses himself." (Washington Times,
NEXT WEEK: More Civilian Pundits; Pre-August Media views of Iraq. Writtenby
Andrew Davis, Jeanne Whalen, Bill Arkin, Peter Dykstra, and Julie Brenegar.
End of text from cdp:mideast.media
Source: Peacenet Via New York Transfer News 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