Written 313 am Mar 13, 1991 by webgreenbase in cdpmideast.media GREENPEACE PUNDIT WATCH #7
Written: 3:13 am Mar 13, 1991 by web:greenbase in cdp:mideast.media
GREENPEACE PUNDIT WATCH #7/1
PUNDIT WATCH #7, Final in a series of Weekly Analyses of Persian
Gulf War News Coverage From GP USA March 10, 1991 (GP)
In our final Pundit Watch, we'll examine the damage done to the press's
role as societal watchdog by public criticism and Pentagon pressure. We'll
also award medals and commendations to those Pundits who performed in
FRED BARNES DISCOVERS CURE FOR VIETNAM SYNDROME
Filling in for the absent Morton Kondracke as The McLaughlin Group's most
unctious member, Fred Barnes suggested this week that demolishing Iraq only
once just won't do. In the face of reports of brutal Republican Guard
repression of Iraqi dissidents, Barnes said that the US "may have to send
troops into Baghdad as a humane gesture." We weren't sure what Pat Buchanan
was suggesting when he gazed into President Bush's crystal ball and saw a
political path "in the Nixon-Agnew tradition." Chronic Phlebitis? Quayle
pleading nolo contendere? 1.5 terms?
McLaughlin's office pool this week focused on Saddam Hussein's political
lifespan: Pat Buchanan said the Iraqi leader would be sending out resumes by
"the end of the year;" Fred Barnes said he'd be out by "maybe 1992;" Eleanor
Clift guessed "three to six months;" John McLaughlin said he'd likely "be
there indefinitely;" Jack Germond, displaying vision, refused to take the
AWARDS AND COMMENDATIONS FOR MILITARY COVERAGE:
MEDAL OF OIL: Garrick Utley, NBC Meet the Press, 3/3: "Do we fully
understand the magnitude of what we have achieved? ... The Age of Empires is
over, and the troops will come home. The rulers of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia
know who their protector is now. Indeed, they know that they are now in fact
American protectorates. This war was fought for many reasons, but one result
is that it has given us for years to come a secure supply of oil at free
DISTINGUISHED SERVILE CROSS: Scripps-Howard White House correspondent Ann
McFeatters, in an op-ed in the 3/1 Chicago Tribune: "In 100 hours, George
Bush and his band of able assistants restored America's can-do spirit.... He
created a feeling of pride in America's prowess abroad that had waned since
the sorry days of the Vietnam War. ... In the end, the president's critics
retreated in shamefaced silence as he declared victory over a demolished
tyrant. ... The war had a movie-script happy ending: The good guys won, and
a supporting cast of millions felt the future looked a lot better than they
GOOD CONDUCT MEDALS: NBC's Brad Willis, who took steps to turn in
correspondents who had violated pool-coverage rules; and Charles
Krauthammer, who crowed that "press management was a great untold success of
the war." ("Inside Washington," 3/9). ORDER OF THE PURPLE PUNDIT I: Pat
Buchanan, who went from opposing the war on isolationist grounds, to
praising Star Wars for what it didn't accomplish with the Patriot Missile,
to praising Arab nations' security police for "keeping public sentiment from
boiling over," to leaping on the $600 toilet seat bandwagon with both feet.
Spoken like a true Nixonian, Pat. PURPLE PUNDIT II: George Will, who early
in the war praised Ronald Reagan, not George Bush, for the war's military
hardware. (ABC David Brinkley, 1/27). Will surrendered in Newsweek, 3/11,
citing Bush's placement of a portrait of virile Teddy Roosevelt in the White
House, replacing Reagan's favored portrait of Silent Cal Coolidge.
BRADLEE WRITING VEHICLE COMMENDATION: Nora Boustany, "Retreat of the
Anti-War Activists," Washington Post, 2/4: "An aging group of hippies and
veteran peace junkies, ranging from 78-year-old grandmothers with arthritis
to Hare Krishnas and long-haired, bandana-wearing, middled aged anti-war
activists, returned here (Amman) this morning.... This diverse group of
eccentrics and idealists, many of whom 20 years ago helped change the course
of history in a movement to end American involvement in a foreign war, now
seems like a sad relic from a different era. They were powerless to make a
dent, even in newspaper headlines" (except this one).
BRONZE STARS: Displaced Cold-War novelist Tom Clancy, LA Times, 2/28:
"There is no truer measure of any society than its armed forces. ... They
will come home with their heads up. Like their fathers and grandfather did
45 years ago, they went away to do something important. They have stopped an
evil force. They will have saved people from something. ... When they come
home, it's your job to remember who they are, and whom they worked for."
William Raspberry, Washington Post, 3/1 "At almost every turn, Bush, by
doing the exact opposite of what I thought was prudent, proved himself to be
the better judge of human nature, of the will of the American people, and of
the character of Saddam Hussein. Thus my perverse claim of credit for the
outcome. Without my advice as a sort of negative guideline, Bush might not
have known what to do."
Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe 2/27: "Now that the end game has begun, the
time has come -- especially for those of us who make most of our living
cuffing the guy around -- to recognize the magnitude of Bush's triumph."
Mona Charen, Boston Globe, 3/4: "Pride over a brilliant military victory
is not misplaced. A successful war, while never something to seek to prove
one's prowess, does provide a measure of a nation's excellence. War measures
technology, organization, engineering skill, discipline, cohesiveness,
prodcutivity, intelligence, and spirit."
QUOTING THE GLOATING: This may be a bit too predictable, but Pundit Watch
explored a motherlode of throbbing postwar adrenals. In scarcely over a
week's time, the Commentary pages of the Washington Times revealed the
following prose, fit for WWII newsreels:
Cal Thomas, 2/28: "The Democrats still haven't learned their lesson.
Frustrated that no one pays much attention to her whiny voice anymore, Rep.
Pat Schroeder, Colorado Democrat, complained on CNN that she worries we
might not be able to pay the bill for the war. Don't cry, Pat. If unpaid
bills remain after our allies ante up, we can put out some collection
buckets along the routes of the hundreds of victory parades that will
welcome the troops home. Americans will be happy to help pay the price for
those who have made us proud that we helped another nation rid itself of an
occupying tyrant and rid ourselves of the ghost of Vietnam."
William Murchison 2/28: "It may be the allies against a Third World power,
but this is no colonial war, such as the British used to specialize in:
maxim guns against spears and shields. Iraq, however defective its military
leadership, fielded a huge, well-equipped army, one that had aquitted itself
well in the recent past. The allies, in history's largest, most overwhelming
air operation, hammered this army into a pulp."
Murchison Continued: "The liberation of Kuwait, the basic objective of the
war, matters deeply. But more than that, America has been liberated. What
is, excuse the '80-speak, the bottom line here? It is that we're number
Wesley Pruden 3/1: "We're entitled to see some noses rubbed in the
success, the noses of the `peace' activists who hate America, and the
apologists for those peaceniks, with their tedious recitals about what jerks
American soldiers are, how their weapons won't work, and why as Americans
they're doomed always to fight for a rotten cause. Some of them afflicted
with National Public Radio's view of the world, are still at it in the wake
of Desert Storm.
Ken Adelman, 3/1: "For among the sundry surprises surrounding the Gulf war
was the sorry state of church pronouncements on one of the clearet moral
choices of our time."
William Rusher, 3/6 "The triumphant end of the Gulf war makes it possible,
at last, to make sense of the 20th century: to understand the ferocious
impulses that fueled its wars, and to identify the nations and tendencies
that have emerged victorious at last."
Ben Wattenberg, 3/6: "Pundits and experts usually don't attack each other
publicly. They should start. The quality of experts, pundits and journalists
is even more important to our national well-being than the quality of our
Georgie Anne Geyer, 3/6: "Then there is the key question of manners. The
old foreign correspondents were renegades and rascals, but they were also
mannerly bon vivants. Too many of the new ones, obsessed with personal
ambition and little else, are arrogant, superior and removed (value-free,
some put it) from society and from authority. Thus, they have gone on
endlessly and fruitlessly on themes that never had any geopolitical validity
(`the Arabs won't fight,' the `Republican Guard are terrors,' George Bush is
`in over his head.')"
Fred Singer, 3/5: "In the view of most experts, too much has been made of
such environmental dangers; oil fires are a common occurrence."
Singer, Continued: "While the Kuwaiti clouds may create regional problems,
they do have a (tiny) silver lining. Thanks to Saddam, we will now have the
opportunity to study the fate of smoke from large fires under ideal
conditions. (The US government has spent a great deal of money in the past
few years on such fire tests to verify the computer models.) With
reconnaissance and weather satellites overhead, we can trace the dispersion
of the smoke particles and their lifetime in the atmophere [sic] before they
are washed out by rain."
Finally, what are American Generals wearing?: "No wonder Mr. Bush has been
so determined to crush and humiliate Saddam's Soviet- supplied and
Soviet-trained armies in the desert. He was sending a message to his friend
Mr. Gorbachev that the Soviet Generals are wearing no clothes." Warren
The Allied military victory was months in the planning, but the strategic
triumph scored by the Pentagon over the press was in the works for twenty
years. Throughout the war the ideal of a free press were at once a weapon
for both the Iraqis and the Allies, and a target for the American public. We
asked several media observers what the longterm damage will be.
The most consistent failing of the war's coverage is lack of context. For
American television news consumers, the air war was defined not by its
devastation, but by what became a nightly air power highlights film.
"The media was cut out of the picture of the totality of the effort," said
Bill Arkin, Greenpeace's Military Research Director. "The military was able
to please the media. They didn't explain the B-52 bombing campaign, the
damage from the air war in general. We never got an overview from the field
of the war. One would have hoped that we would have gotten that from the
reporters back home." But Arkin added that there was little evidence that
the field reporters, the Pentagon correspondents, and the retired Generals
compared notes with each other. Bill Kovach, former Atlanta
Journal-Constitution editor and Curator of the Neiman Foundation at Harvard
University, added that the press must make its coverage less reactive,
redirecting reporting to "what institutions do, rather than what they say
But a further test of press performance in the war will be the willingness
to apply context and examine the war's impacts on Iraq, the Gulf region, the
US, and the world. To date, the deep issues, contradictions, and tragedies
of the war have gone largely unchallenged. "Bush kept saying that he had no
quarrel with the people of Iraq. Saddam Hussein is still in power and there
are 100,000 dead Iraqi troops and civilians," said Rolling Stone's media
critic, Mark Hertsgaard.
Sydney Schanberg, Pulitzer-winning columnist for New York Newsday, added
that public opinion would guide news editors' decisions on whether to pursue
in-depth post-war reporting. But New York Times reporter Craig Wolff
questioned the value of aggressive hindsight: "The fact that somebody is
able to dig out the story three years afterward is useful.. but it doesn't
change the course of events at the time."
Wolff urged news organizations to "Wake up to the fact that if they don't
defend the issue of access to information then we're on a scary road toward
controlled information." Schanberg cited an instance where Pentagon pressure
affected the public's access to dissenting information. He said that the CBS
"America Tonight" program rescinded an invitation to Schanberg when Pentagon
spokesman Pete Williams refused to appear opposite Schanberg, who is a
plaintiff in a Federal civil suit challenging Pentagon press coverage rules.
The standing ovation given by the Pentagon press corps to Lt. Gen. Thomas
Kelly on Kelly's retirement last week was a fitting symbol of the success of
the military's basic press training. (See "Tearful Farewell, below)
Intensive preparation for doing battle with the press has been s.o.p. for
senior officers since Vietnam. The Defense Information School at Fort
Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis and the National War College in Washington
are training grounds for the New World Order of military public relations.
For his part, Schanberg tempered his criticism of press restrictions with
kind words for the competence of Pentagon briefers. "I don't think you could
have better guys to carry out the policy. But the press should never have
accepted it. The press should have applauded Kelly and attacked the policy."
Additionally, the growing pressures to convert network news divisions into
formidable profit-makers will continue to exact a toll on news quality.
Scaled-down ad revenues and skyrocketing war-coverage costs are expected to
translate into further staff cuts and bureau closures at the networks. Big
ticket items including foreign reporting and in-depth investigations will be
further hampered. The future of CNN's ambitious Investigative team is
rumored to be cloudy. And the network news brass have some disturbing ideas
for belt-tightening: New York Times TV reporter Bill Carter wrote on 3/4
that pool coverage -- so widely loathed by journalists during wartime --
would increase: "The most likely place to begin pool coverage is Washington,
where official statements and briefing have often been covered by multiple
network camera crews."
But while economic pressures may force even greater uniformity on news
coverage, there's little discussion about how the press can avoid getting
snookered next time by a web of restrictions. "We're going to have to plan
as effectively for our future as the military do," said Kovach. If so,
nearly twenty years' worth of catching up is in order.
TEARFUL FAREWELL: Retiring Pentagon briefer Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly left the
job with praise for the press and the First Amendment this week: "I've just
got to say, believe it or not, I've enjoyed this little interlude," he told
the Pentagon press corps. "Got a lot of letters from people who really don't
understand the hurly-burly and give-and-take of a press briefing, and at no
time were you ever impolite to me and at no time did I ever become offended.
And as you know, I hold a lot of you in great respect. The last thing I'd
like to say is that having a free press has served the United States well
for 215 years. It is a crucial element in our democracy. And if anybody
needs a contrast, all they have to do is look at the country that didn't
have a free press and see what happened there." (Washington Post, 3/5) Was
the General referring to Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Turkey? All
have come under harsh criticism for harassing, censoring, intimidating,
imprisoning, and in some cases even killing journalists.
I GUESS YOU HAD TO BE THERE: "Diane Sawyer on `Nightline' told a syrupy
story of a soldier carrying a dead Vietnam buddy's flag with him across the
desert, and raising it over the US embassy in Kuwait. Only one problem,
correspondent Forrest Sawyer, who was on live with her from Kuwait, told her
it wasn't true. Undaunted, Ms. Sawyer ended the broadcast by saying that
even if it wasn't true, perhaps one day such a flag would fly over the
embassy." Robert Goldberg, "TV: The Antiseptic Tube," Wall St. Journal, 3/4.
HELPFUL HINDSIGHT: Carter era Middle East expert Gary Sick described early
US intelligence reports on Saddam to Time (3/11): "I don't recall reading
anything other than that this was a man who was ruthless and dangerous, but
who nonetheless, as with the Shah, was a man you could do business with."
THERE HE GOES AGAIN: Oliver North, not inexperienced at selling things to
Middle Eastern governments, has closed a $948,000 deal for bullet-proof
vests for Kuwaiti officials. (Times-Mirror, Leesburg, VA, 3/6) Perhaps the
worst Punditry of all came from the originator of the old bromide that crime
SIGNS OF THE TIMESES: New York Times headline, 3/6: "Rebellion May be
Subsiding;" same news, same day, Washington Times: "Rebellion Gathers
Momentum in Iraq."
ROLL THE FINAL CREDITS: Thanks to the contributors, writers, researchers,
and distributors of Pundit Watch: Bill Arkin, Fred Barnes, Julie Brenegar,
Pat Buchanan, Andrew Davis, Peter Dykstra, Jack Germond, Abner Grossman,
Patty Johnson, Josh Karliner, Morton Kondracke, RJ Matson, John McLaughlin,
Lisa Milz, Blair Palese, Jeanne Whalen, and Matt Wuerker.
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