‘The media is reality’
NEW YORK magazine media columnist Michael Wolff asked one General Renuart whether the media were misrepresenting the course of the war. "The media is reality," the general replied. At least that's what it says on the weblog buzzmachine.com. Which is media, so it must be true.
So what is reality? It depends a lot on where you are. Here are some random samplings from television in joined-up Europe, taken in Brussels on 22 March.
TV5 (imagine "Channel 4 Worldwide" in French): film from Baghdad hospital; long segment on US Marines' parents who are against the war; the feelings of a French member of the ill-starred human shield group; archive footage of the 1991 Shiite rising in the South of Iraq, with a fighter saying "I felt betrayed by the Americans..." - their decision not to back that uprising "cost the Iraqi people 300,000 lives"; James Woolsey of the CIA saying that was "one of the worst decisions of the 20th century"; segment on the rise of Hussein, with footage of Brit ambassador meeting him... old friend of Hussein saying he thought Kuwait should have been the compensation for holding the Iranian revolution at bay on behalf of the USA.
RTBF (Belgian French-language public TV): standard CNN footage of the US/UK operations, but qualified with "information is strictly controlled by the military and it's hard to know exactly what is going on"; 40,000 school pupils demonstrate against the war in Liège - with the support of their teachers.
RTL (Belgian commercial): school students march on US embassy in Brussels, also with support of their teachers, get water-cannoned and hit with shields, then have a street party.
RTBF 2 late: really, really serious discussion on geopolitics in the next 25 years.
ARD (German public television 1): reporting the sayings of Rumsfeld with that drily excessive neutrality that makes a kind of comment that English doesn't seem to have a word for; reports from Gaza on feelings about Hussein; "Bush is declaring war on the Islamic world" says a preacher at Friday prayers; street demonstrations have been strictly forbidden in Cairo for 25 years - here are 100,000 people on the streets and police beating some brutally; in a Cairo coffee-house, men are bitter about the Americans.
BBC News 24 (UK): fuzzy film of UK troops; fuzzy film from a rooftop in Baghdad with telephone commentary; fuzzy film of UK troops; American in a suit saying "resistance will melt away"; brief segment on Baghdad - "these images have been beamed into Arab living-rooms by al-Jazeera", with the images neatly framed and distanced in a box-within-a-box with Arabic captions; same fuzzy film of UK troops.
I wish I'd managed to follow the discussion on ARD about why the BBC and CNN are transmitting fuzzy footage, which came with perfectly crisp images of the same scenes.
This was of course an entirely unscientific survey, but it rouglhly reflects the balance of coverage. It's as if Newsnight moved to Channel 3 and higher things moved in to fill the gaps. As journalists, you can damn well draw your own conclusions about objectivity: a week later there were some encouraging signs of BBC News 24 getting a bit more varied.
And... Sam Hart, age 11 from Maryland, was cornered on Times Square and asked by freelance Jim Lowney "Do you think the media is doing a good job covering the war?" His response shows a better grasp of the Anglo-Saxon school of philosophy than General Renuart's: " I don't know. I don't have anything to compare it to."