To: Executives at News Networks
From: Former network producer Danny Schechter
Re: Third-anniversary coverage of the war in Iraq
Thanks for inviting me as a former network news producer turned media critic to offer suggestions for coverage of the third anniversary of the war in Iraq.
We all know how the news biz loves anniversary news pegs, and this one is just perfect for “packaging.” There’s footage and angry commentators on every side.
I am sure bookers are already reaching out to the usual “on the one hand/on the other” suspects. There will be one “stay the course” soldier and one grieving mother. There will be one pundit to tell us about the progress we are making and one critic to question whether it was worth it. There will be one graphic to show the fall in the president’s approval ratings and another to show the shift in public attitudes. Be sure to add one Iraqi to complain about the bloodshed and another to say, “We no longer have Saddam.”
You can expect centrist reports telling us what we already know. You can bet they will exude “balance” and noncommittal commentary like “one thing is for sure,” there is still light in the tunnel of democracy unless there is a civil war, caused entirely by the terrorists, of course, and Iraq splinters. Tragic, but not our fault.
Rest assured, White House spin-doctors have anticipated every contingency and framed “message points” rebutting every criticism.
On March 15, the anti-war movement will be making the media coverage of the war an issue, with protests at media outlets that have offered more selling than telling, more jingoism than journalism. These groups are the same ones that helped turn out 30 million people worldwide Feb. 15, 2003, in the greatest one-day protest in history to try to stop a war. You may not know them because most protests are marginalized when covered at all. Protesters charged the public was being deceived. They were right.
Perhaps it’s time for broadcast and cable networks to do what The New York Times and The Washington Post have done: acknowledge that you made a lot of mistakes.
What else can you do? Admit that “mili-tainment” passing for news is disgraceful. Seek more-diverse sources. Challenge bogus administration claims. Apologize for collusion and complicity. Report casualties. The key to credibility is truth. Flag-waving is not journalism.
Lastly, try asking yourselves: How would a state-run media system cover the war differently?