Media bias re: Iraq war?

Was inspired to start this thread after reading a post by elucidator in this thread.

luc said: *And next time someone starts belly-aching about that “liberal” media, I want to ask howcum nobody is asking the embarassing questions: Where did this solid gold [pre-war] intelligence [of WMD] come from? *

It seems to me that there has not been sufficient questioning of various aspects of this military action. Of course, I am aware that my perception might well be colored by my personal bias.

While there have certainly been minority opinion commentaries, the majority of strict “news” coverage impresses me as having been along the lines of “gee-whiz/support our troops,” primarily accepting at face value whatever they are fed by the military/administration. Perhaps the best the “liberal” pantywaists can do is pics of starving zoo animals.

So, 2 questions.
Has the media coverage of this war been biased or objective?
How does your answer to the previous question jibe with the oft-presented image of a liberal media bias?

I recommend this interesting article by the BBC, Iraq war: Unanswered questions

I recommend jumping back and forth online from news agency to news agency and reading reports on the same event. It is surprising how subtle, but powerful, bias is.

Thanks for the link, istara, I’d missed that one.

It seems to me that it’s not a case of media bias, it’s more a matter the Pentagon spinning things, and having the spin reported.

Retractions aren’t newsworthy.

And there’s been plenty of reporting of the opposing view, but that gets spun back as “anti-American”.

There’s also a natural reluctance for the media to seem too confrontational in the middle of a shooting war.

Wait until the war is over, and American servicemen are no longer at risk. Then you’ll see lots of very critical retrospective pieces. Especially if no WMD are found.

This war is going to be the cause of more books, documentaries and movies than any war since WWII. We’re going to be reading about this for decades.

I should have said “Since Vietnam”. I don’t think this war will outstrip that one in the amount of attention paid to it afterwards. Simply because it was so short.

In my own mind, at least, I found the reporting by the ‘unilateral’ reporting to be much different than the reporting by the ‘embedded’ reporters. No links, but the ‘embedded’ reporters seemed to be more like cheerleaders while the ‘unilateral’ reports reported the harsher sides of the war (deaths and injuries among civilian citizens, for instance).

I think the major news networks should think twice about embedding in any future war (assuming there needs to be one).


From time to time one of the various media will come up with some astonishing prediction or reputed find. Then somebody would ask Rumsfeld or Franks or some other spokesperson about it, and he would calmly reply that this was not confirmed, to wait for facts, that this might not be the case. Sure enough, most if not all of the time, the report or prediction turned out to be at best premature. It is a real instruction for anyone not already familiar with how news reporting works to see that you can’t believe everything you hear or read.

I’m not saying reporters were lying, but in many cases it actually turned out that the government or military sources were more credible than the independent press.

It’s also very interesting to compare various networks and newpapers to see the differing spins and perspectives they put on the same events. IMHO you can find both right- and left-wing slants on the war just as you can on politics, the environment or anything else. It’s unfortunate that most people simply find the one source that matches their own preconceived opinions and stick to that source instead of seeking out specific points of view that they don’t agree with right now. There’s also a certain art to reading news and determining the slants and the difference between fact and opinion. Ideally all reporters would report everything, even facts that their editors and publishers don’t agree with, and all editors and publishers would print same. (Ideally twenty dollar bills rained down on my front porch as well.)

The news channels are in competition with each other, and if embedded reporters gives better ratings, then all the channels will do it.

If a news channel was very critical of the war, would the military allow embedded reporters from that channel to travel with the troops? Would news channels hold back on the criticism in order to get the embedded reports and better ratings?

The under-reporting of civilian casualties is a case in point. No mainstream reporter wants to investigate and keep watch on this. Even the occasional reports on bombs in markets are caught up in a swirl of speculation … “The Iraqis could have done it”

I also agree with Sam Stone on this. There will be tons of critical reporting after the war is well over.

I think the perceived bias of the embedded reporters is less sinister than some make it appear. When a reporter lives with a group of soldiers for awhile, he’s going to develop an emotional attachment. Think about - that reporter’s life is dependent upon the soldiers he’s reporting on. That’s going to bring about a sense of respect, maybe even of awe, that is of course going to cloud his reporting. The whole thing has got to be very exciting, and it’s no wonder that the reporters can get caught up in it. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of embedded journalism: what you gain in excitement and up-to-date-ness, you lose in objectivity.

Overall, I’d say the media bias has gone both ways. You saw reports that played up the might of the US, and you saw reports that talked about the “quagmire” the war had become, and made unfavorable comparisons to Vietnam. Though I think we can all agree that no matter how bad Western press got, it was at least better than al-Jazeera. :slight_smile:

Embedded reporters can also report only what they see, which is no more than what their unit sees. That necessarily leads to discussions of firefights and little else. They do not get to roam freely and tell what they find.

The only moral is the obvious one, that you have to be eclectic in your sources of facts and then do your own thinking.

Saying anything sensible about media ‘bias’ is hard for me; it seems when people complain about ‘bias’ of given media outlet, what they are really objecting to is that the outlet does not editorialize sufficiently in favor of the complainer’s viewpoint.

I’ll give my best shot anyway. In answer to the OP’s questions, 1) mainly biased in favor of audience expectations, depending on the media source (that would be re: US media only) 2) the assumption of a ‘liberal’ US media has long been a bit of a canard, and certainly is false in the case of the majority of US TV journalism.

Of the media reports I followed most closely, the most biased coverage I noticed was that of Pacifica Radio; their coverage consisted exclusively of stories detailing negative aspects of US actions in Iraq, or of presumed pro-US bias in other media reporting. I can’t think of a single minute of Pacifica coverage that even hinted at positive US behavior during the conflict. Least-biased of the English-speaking nets seemed to be BBC and/or CBC. YMMV.

All major US TV networks, IMO, showed some degree of pro-US bias by showing little inclination to question actions by US troops in the field; not a complete surprise, I guess, as to present their stories otherwise would have risked alienating large numbers of viewers and thus potentially losing ad revenue. What I’m talking about here is basically a long-time, falsely populist stance by major media that is really just pandering to the presumed audience. This has existed for decades and I saw little to indicate that this tendency was stronger in Iraq covereage than any other.

In the case of pronouncements by administration officials, TV outlets were perhaps somewhat more analytical, but certainly not as confrontational as they could have been. I’ll just mention here that although I’ve read a lot snarky comments in this forum about FOX TV’s supposed extremist pro-war attitude, I saw little substantive difference among the coverage of the big three nets, FOX, CNN and MSNBC. Maybe I was watching at the wrong times.

Print coverage, surprise, surprise, seemed much more analytical and far more willing to question US policies and tactics.

As far as embedding goes, I saw no great contribution to understanding of the conflict by embedded reporters. In the case of TV coverage, it provided little more than eye candy; embedding seemed to provide no particular hard information about the conflict that I could have obtained otherwise.

Yeah, but the problem is, if it is more than 2 years from now, Bush still gets re-elected.

And such studied after-the-fact analysis seldom gets the airplay - or has the impact of current events. The American public has a very limited attention span. They will be far to interested in the real or manufactured crisis-of-the-moment to want to question whether they erred when jumping to conclusions about yesterday’s news.

Why do you think civilian casualties have been under-reported? On the contrary, what was under-reported was the horror of Saddam’s regime before the war. Once it was Americans doing any damage, we saw endless footage of little children with wounds in hospitals. I don’t recall seeing anyone interview one of the 150 children released from Saddam’s Gulag. Or any of the 123 people that came crawling out of that dungeon with beards to their waists, blinking at the light.

This is true, but all that means is that the embedded reporters can do an excellent job of reporting what it’s like to be in an actual military unit during a war. This is valuable reporting, and for those of us who don’t see everything the military does as being evil, an important part of the historical record. It’s about damned time the military got some reporting from their side of the fence.

Of course, if you want to learn about civilian casualties, or battlefield strategy, or about the price of milk in Ohio, I would assume you would seek out different sources.

I essentially agree with El_Kabong’s post above, but would like to add another angle.

I also believe the US networks, CNN and MSNBC specifically (I never watch Fox), were quite biased towards the American point of view. I am disappointed, but not suprised. I think they did their best (generally) to report the facts, but they kept their focus on positive US issues while generally skimming over negative issues (lots of interviews with Pfc Lynch’s brother, little focus on civilian casualties). They’re just pandering to what the audience wants to hear, trying to keep up their ratings (just like al Jazeera, btw).

That’s the free market for you, though. I guess my criticism isn’t so much with the networks, but with the American people, who are not demanding more of a critical view.

I don’t have access to BBC, and I found the most unbiased coverage from Canada’s Newsworld International. The difference between their coverage and the American networks was dramatic.

Frankly, I am more concerned with the influence of politics into the media, as appeared to be the case with ClearChannel. Many of these large media conglomerates currently have a significant issue regarding market concentration of media ownership pending with the FCC, chaired by Colin Powell’s son. The incentive to win favor with the FCC and be rewarded with more intense concentration of media assets is disturbing.

And as seems to be the consensus on the embeds, they delivered plenty of interesting pictures and anecdotes, but did little to add substance to the big picture.

As for the “liberal media bias” - I think that’s a crock anyway. Certainly, the coverage of this war is strong evidence that no such bias exists (at least in any broad, encompassing way).

The bias I see in televised media is to moronic oversimplification. If the issue can’t be explained in a 30 second (or less) soundbite it can’t be addressed on television. Then there is the issue of dramatic video. In television news the dramatic video is always the story. If I worked in television I would use the dramatic video also. That is the advantage television has as a medium. OTOH, it does not lend itself to complex and holistic analysis.

The best a news outlet can do is to report what they hear and what they see, while giving every significant side in a debate some time to express their views. Too much searching for faux ‘objectivity’ leads to reporting with a bias but being too uncritical to see it.

Objectivity is like goodness. You can only strive toward objectivity. If you think you’ve reached it, it’s time to get away for a couple days.

I’ll disagree – I liked having al Jazeera around as a counterpoint to all the pro-USA jingoism in the western media. If you placed a TV showing al Jazeera on one side of the room, and a TV showing Fox News on the other side, the tuth would be in the middle. :wink:

Which makes me wonder (yet again) why the US forces bombed the Baghdad office of al Jazeera the night before they rolled into the city. The Pentagon knew there were journalists there, and even reassured al Jazeera beforehand that they would not be targeted for attack. Was al Jazeera bombed because the United States didn’t want anyone disturbing their pre-orchestrated statue-pulling ceremonies?

An interesting write-in op-ed appeared in WP a few weeks ago. The piece was dealing with the differences between American and European journalism. While coming up short on some aspects in my opinion, it was nevertheless an interesting read.

In this piece one of the arguments given was that American journalism went through a change after Watergate, becoming more critisizing, investigative and analytic, especially in print media. It stayed that way until 1985-90. Then it changed back again to neutral and fact-telling, - focusing on reporting events as they happened. Commentary was dealt with by introducing multiple editorials, each representing a different view.

European journalism adopted the Watergate-style journalism, and has stayed that way since. While virtually all the major newspapers in Europe are politically neutral, pieces are often written with critical eyes, - and the papers love to find stories by themselves, not taking the stories thrown at them by the government.

My point is that in politics, holding a political position is itself very newsworthy, with the position as President of the United States being worth the most. Since today’s American journalism is centered around reporting (taking the role as a distributor) rather than analysing, whoever is in the White House can use the media to spread his message with less editing and less questions asked than in Europe (maybe with the exception of UK). In Europe, the President or Prime Minister should be advised against calling a press conference if the story isn’t newsworthy in itself.

One episode that comes to mind is an interview about Iraq with the Foreign Minister of my home country, conducted by one of the two major TV stations (the TV station is owned by the state, by the way). The poor guy was grilled to the point where he ripped off his microphone and walked out of the room.