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Media and the War on Iraq

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Media Influence on the Iraq War in The UK and US

Introduction

In my journey to London I met many people who were very much against both US and UK troops still in Iraq. At first, I found nothing different in this idea because at this point in the War on Terrorism, many American citizens want our troops to come home. I remember when it was not always like this and when people were in support of bringing down Saddam Hussein and his “WMD’s.” A surprising article mentioned that “a February 2003 poll found that 72 percent of Americans believed that Saddam was ‘personally involved in the September 11 attacks.’ A January 2003 poll found that almost half of Americans believed that one or more of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi — even though not a single hijacker hailed from that country”(Bovard 3). How is it that this many American citizens were misinformed about an extremely important topic to our nation? I wondered if the same was true of the public in the UK. Broadcast media in the United States has become a means of swaying public opinion to either support or refute certain political and social topics. This is evident through examining the ways in which the War in Iraq was covered in the United States as compared to the United Kingdom. This can be seen through comparing the public’s initial support for the war in both nations, the objectivity of the media, and the amount of coverage of the war.

History

The media has always had its hand in the war effort. It was during World War I that mass media began using propaganda to support the war effort. The media’s reporting of breaking news during WWI came from what news the government supplied them with. Media outlets still had credibility with American citizens and sought to find the “real truth” behind these government releases. This was the first US war that the mass media had access to and thus the government was wary of so much publicity so the “media became skeptical of ‘canned’ government information releases that reflected the administration's perspective and were provided as news” (Murphy). Because of this distrust, the government created the Committee on Public information, headed by newspaperman, George Creel (Murphy). This organization took on the role of spreading propaganda in the form of pamphlets, print media, and press releases. It was not distributed by the press themselves because the government had not yet tapped in to the media outlets that would later come in handy when rallying support for the war effort. Media's role in war changed with the use of camera's and the ability to send images of war home to the people. The public began to distrust the media with their coverage of Vietnam and started to treat news sources with suspicion. Journalists began struggling with the idea of ethics as far as reporting for war. This problem began many years ago and remains an important topic in reporting today.

US Media and the War Effort

After September 11, 2001, many Americans were looking for retaliation against the attackers of Al-Qaeda and terrorist groups that targeted the World Trade Center. Though attacks were launched against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden, the architects of the attack, many news outlets began to run the propaganda campaign orchestrated by Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration. They began to assimilate the names Iraq and Saddam Hussein with terrorist and 9/11. Even though Saddam Hussein actually had no affiliation with the attacks of September 11th. Mariellen Diemen said, “Critics agree the role of the press in the war against Iraq has been to deter dissenting opinions and to be ‘cheerleaders’ for the ongoing battle. Any attempt at objectivity was abandoned once the bombs started dropping and was replaced with one-sided and overly patriotic sentiments, which closely resemble the administration's stance on the war.”

When talks began about a potential war with Iraq, many news sources became involved. One writer for the New York Times in particular became the media’s liaison between the Bush Administration and the public. Judith Miller relayed the propaganda in support of the war to the American public through many of her articles. She was an advocate for the Weapons of Mass Destruction rationale as well as one of the many journalists who assimilated Saddam’s name with 9/11 (Global Policy Forum). Miller quoted numerous anonymous sources to credit her work and began the series of media outlets that would fail to question the government and spread propaganda to the public.

The misperceptions perceived from the media directly affected whether or not Americans supported the War in Iraq. Some news sources were cited to be more credible than others but others had a higher rate of viewers with misperceptions of war. Viewers of Fox News were not only more likely to support the war, but also more likely to be misinformed on important topics. According to a 2003 poll, Fox News viewers were more likely to believe that Iraq had direct connection with Al Qaeda, Weapons of Mass Destruction had been found in Iraq, and that world public opinion actually favored the involvement in Iraq.American citizens who received their news from National Public Radio (NPR) or PBS were more likely to have less skewed information on Iraq, but were not isolated from the misperceptions of the American public. Unfortunately, people who watched, read, and listened to more news were more likely to be misinformed than those who consume less news.
The misinformation comes from the media’s support for the government as well as the war effort. News channels and newspapers were rallying support from the public by using the sense of patriotism culminated by 9/11. Though US actions in Iraq really had no connection with the attack on the country, people were banding together to support “our boys” in defending our country. Having support from the country’s population was important because of the lack of support form the UN and countries around the world.
US government also asked the media to send reporters as well as cameras in to Iraq to show the progress and efficiency the troops would make. Images of troops with children, securing cities, and eventually capturing Saddam Hussein all helped with the support of the war effort at home.The new government policy of “embedding” journalists with troops in Iraq not only caused a one-sided picture of Iraq but also gave total control of the media to the government. When journalists became embedded in Iraq they had to sign a contract which gave the military complete control over all media output. Any picture, story, or broadcast must be approved by the government. This policy gave the government total censorship over the news that Americans consumed. There were some free lance journalists who decided to travel to Iraq on their own. These journalists often found themselves at odds with the government and the military and some were even attacked. Two popular Arab television offices actually found themselves under a direct bombing by the US Air Force.
Not only was American media under censorship, but Iraqi news had been completely taken over by the US government. The government began to impose propaganda techniques on Iraqi news outlets, including bribing the Iraqi media to print articles written by American soldiers (Global Policy Forum). Iraqis were receiving the same kind of one-sided information that the Americans were receiving at home. Many Iraqi journalists that were critical of the US or a US backed government were actually killed (UN Security Council). In fact, under Saddam Hussein Iraq’s world ranking in the freedom of the press was listed at a mere 130. Under US control it slipped to 154 in world standings. Iraq also became the world’s leading hostage market for journalists, reaching 38 hostages in 3 years.

UK Media and Support for the War in Iraq

The United States and Great Britain have been two great powers and allies for years. It was no surprise then when Tony Blair backed George Bush in his decision to invade Iraq. However, British media was not as soft in criticizing its government’s support for the war as US media. Though the UK had its share of misperceptions, the media was more apt to challenge their government. This move by the media resulted in a more informed public as well as Blair’s eventual loss in the next election of Prime Minister.
A British tabloid newspaper, The Daily Mirror, opposed the war from the beginning as well as criticized Tony Blair for supporting Bush’s war plans. The tabloid received flak from both British and US governments but continued to print what it believed the public needed to hear. Writers at the paper made sure that “the paper developed its argument that an attack on Iraq would be counterproductive and would 'make us less secure, not more'.’ Responding to opinion polls showing a lack of popular support for an invasion of Iraq, the Mirror attempted to articulate this anti-war sentiment in bold and imaginative ways” (Freedman). The Mirror also helped to organize a No War march in London so that the public could express their stances on the war.
Many British media sources were pro-war and condemned the Mirror and other news sources that criticized the government and war. Along with the Mirror, the Guardian and Independent exercised their right to freedom of speech to expose what they believed was a propagandist war.
Along with a minority of other papers like the Guardian and Independent, the Mirror carried regular reports that condemned US and UK propaganda, the bombing of civilians, the appalling conditions in Baghdad and the instances of 'friendly fire'. It hired the veteran war reporter Peter Arnett, who had been sacked from MSNBC for speaking to state-run Iraqi TV, and turned this into a front page: 'Fired by America for telling the truth ... Hired by the Mirror to carry on telling it' (Freedman). This critical analysis of the war caught on and was believed to be the true representation of the public's feelings. They spoke out against their government and were rewarded by Tony Blair's resignation as Prime Minister. He also resigned as the leader of the Labour Party because of the criticism he received for supporting the US foreign policy plan. The media, in this sense, succeeded in their goal of informing the public as well as representing the true feelings of the public.

Change in Views on Iraq War

On July 15, 2003, all of the Reporting the World called together the Senior London journalists to discuss the media’s impact on British opinion of the Iraq War. In a similar effort to understand the flaws of news coverage in New York, Michael Wolf, critic of New York Magazine said, “Clearly, the war will be more of a story. It gets bigger every day. Not least of all because the media is now having to rewrite itself. The questions we failed to ask, the stories we declined to pursue, have surely helped to get us into the present mess.” The media in both countries realized the error in their reporting of the war. Media should be objective, factual, and correct, without these things the public cannot make informed decisions. Once the media began to get slack from the public they began to print stories on their own failures on reporting. The media realized the danger in failing to question or research the information that the government provides them with. They failed in their duty to the public and in both countries are taking a critical look at what went wrong in their reporting.

Conclusion

Clearly the representation of the War in Iraq by both the United States and Britain was skewed in many ways. The main problem with the US media is that it is owned by five major conglomerations that control all media outlets. It is hard to get media that is not backed by some kind of political or business agenda set by the companies that own them. It is no longer news to inform the public, but news to make money and sell. In the UK, media is able to be more independent and thus it is easier to be more critical of the government without some hidden agenda underneath the news. The media in the United States must learn from this catastrophe of reporting during the War in Iraq. We should also question the role that the government should play in the regulation and information given to us by the government. The media should inform the public despite the implications it may have on public opinion of the government. The public has a right to freedom of the press and that right should be acknowledged and never taken advantage of. We should listen to something Thomas Edison once said about media's role in our government, "The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Bibliography

Bovard, James. "War Lies and the 2004 Election." Bush Betrayal. 24 July 2007.
Diemen, Mariellen. "Media and Iraq: War Coverage Analysis." <www.mediaed.com>
Freedman, Des. "The Daily Mirror and the war on Iraq. " Mediactive. 3 (Oct 2004): 95(14). Academic OneFile. Gale. Slippery Rock University-Bailey Library. 23 Apr. 2008

<http://find.galegroup.com/itx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=AONE&docId=A158092095&source=gale&userGroupName=sshe_sru

Lynch, Jake. "Reporting Iraq--what went right? What went wrong?." Mediactive. 3 (Oct 2004): 109(18). Academic OneFile. Gale. Slippery Rock University-Bailey Library. 23 Apr. 2008

<http://find.galegroup.com/itx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=AONE&docId=A158092096&source=gale&userGroupName= sshe_sru&version=1.0>.

"Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War" <http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/international_security_bt/102.php?nid> 2 October 2003
"Plans for Iraq Attack Began on 9/11" CBS News. Washington: 4 September 2002

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/09/04/september11/main520830.shtml

“Media Coverage on Iraq” http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/medindex.htm

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