Biased War Reporting Endangers American Democracy

BY HLEVINE@LAW.HARVARD.EDU

I was once a supporter of the war in Iraq because of my loyalty to Israel. Ironically, watching Israeli television news made me realize that the tragic implications of this war on American democracy are a price too high to pay for anything, no matter what the benefits may be. As a dual American-Israeli citizen, I was until recently marginally in favor of the war in Iraq, despite my disdain for Bush and his personal motivations, simply because Saddam Hussein has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel. However, watching uncensored information about the war on Israeli news shocked me beyond words. I was unaware of the lies that we in this country are being fed by our media. On March 28, a daily Israeli news show was interrupted by the highly emotional testimony of Israel’s leading reporter, Dan Smama. He had just returned from having been held hostage in Iraq for 48 hours by American troops, together with a Portuguese reporter, suspected of being “spies” because they did not coordinate with the U.S. army in advance, as did other reporters who attempted to interview American forces. Smama spoke in a cracking voice of the abuse and humiliations the reporters underwent, including being denied food (in violation of the Geneva Convention). He testified about shocking human rights breaches by American troops against Iraqi prisoners. He described everything that reporters who “coordinated” with American troops left out of their stories. Throughout Israeli media, there is open discussion of the reality of this war: the civilian deaths, the abuse by soldiers, the ridiculous cultural insensitivity and unpreparedness of the American troops. Israel, as one of Hussein’s main targets, potentially has as much to gain by Hussein’s overthrow as does the U.S., if not more. The majority of Israeli public opinion favors this war. Yet the Israeli media, being free and uncensored, attempts to cover both the good and the bad side of war, as the media should. The U.S. army apparently has a problem with this.

I feel compelled to tell this story because it shocks me as an American. I am outraged at the American army’s expectation that all reporters “buddy up” with a good-looking brigade of its own choosing. I am outraged that the media accepts this as accurate war reporting. Perhaps we should have all reporters covering the next American election “coordinate” with the incumbent candidate’s PR team, and only broadcast the stories that party feeds them. Or maybe American news networks should pick only one side in other global conflicts as well-the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for example-and adopt that party’s viewpoint solely and completely, without mention of the other side. When Fox uses “we” in referring to the American army, should the “real we,” the viewers, not instantly disregard the information it broadcasts, as the product of a biased news source?

This “live televised war” puts on a front of being democracy’s pan-ultimate: full transparency to the point of allowing every citizen to watch American troops in action. Yet the reality of the army’s systematic and organized ‘adoption’ of reporters, and vice-versa, is troublesome at best and completely corrupt reporting and governing at worst. Where is the one dissenter in American mass-media? Where is the voice of opposition aired with serious consideration? Where is the reporter broadcasting from Iraqi homes? In the Gulf War, the first “televised war,” American news media treated the American public as consumers needing to be fed with patriotic propaganda. Just like commercials feed the American consumer, the news media aims to numb us into patriotic sentiment, to the extent of adopting “us versus them, good-guy/bad guy” language, rather than reporting neutrally and letting the intelligent viewer decide what to believe. This approach is not only demeaning and insulting to our intelligence. It is destructive to our democracy, since history has taught the dangers of over-zealous patriotic propaganda. If our government and/or our media feels the need to hide the other side of the war from its public, then the “live war” is in fact as much of an oxymoron as it sounds, and the proof of corruption is in the pudding.

Hephzibah Levine, 1L

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