ABC Stresses U.S. Failures & Harm, CBS U.S. Success & Help -- 03/26/2003 CyberAlert
2. People in Baghdad Feel Safe Because Regime Says War Going Well
3. ABC's Moran Holds Bush Culpable for "Plight" of People in Basra
4. No Flowers for U.S. Troops, So Do Iraqis Really Like Hussein?
5. Peter Arnett: Hussein Orders U.S. POWs "Be Treated Well"
6. War's Reality Versus Video Reminds Alter of Schindler's List
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ABC's Peter Jennings stresses U.S. failures, enemy propaganda and how the war has hurt Iraqi civilians. But CBS and Dan Rather look at the positive, see U.S. successes and highlight how coalition forces are helping Iraqi civilians.
Tuesday's World News Tonight and CBS Evening News provided illuminating illustrations of the contrasting approaches to the same events.
-- Contrast #1. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's view of the war as conveyed during his press briefing earlier in the day:
• ABC. Jennings set up the one and only soundbite from Rumsfeld shown during his program: "And here is the summary line of the day from Mr. Rumsfeld."
• CBS. The soundbite from Rumsfeld played during a story by David Martin focused on Iraq's ruthlessness in using human shields: "This is the behavior of desperate men. Iraqi authorities know their days are numbered, and while the Iraqi regime is on the way out, it's important to know that it can still be brutal, particularly in the moments before it finally succumbs."
-- Contrast #2. The future of Iraqi television, with Jennings relaying the Iraqi propaganda line while CBS's Martin pointed out a reality ignored by the Iraqi regime's propaganda line:
• ABC. Jennings: "Iraqi television is still on the air. They broadcast a statement from Saddam Hussein today. He urged peasants and his para-military guerillas, the Fedayeen, to kill the American invaders whatever way they can."
• CBS. David Martin: "The Air Force blasted Iraqi TV with an experimental electromagnetic pulse device in an attempt to knock it off the air and shut down this propaganda machine which continues to show the regime's firmly in charge and ignores the fact that the American Army is almost literally at the gates."
-- Contrast #3. The people of Basra and Umm Qasr are suffering because of the coalition invasion, or after the Iraqi regime cut off their water coalition forces are now providing them with much needed and appreciated aid.
• ABC. Jennings suggested President Bush broke a promise: "On Sunday President Bush said that massive amounts of aid would begin arriving in country in 36 hours. It simply hasn't happened."
• CBS. Rather introduced CBS's story which highlighted how coalition forces have come to the rescue of the people in Umm Qasr: "Also in southern Iraq, the small gulf port of Umm Qasr will be a major route for relief supplies into Iraq. This includes drinking water for desperate civilians. CBS's Scott Pelley was there with allied forces bringing the first fresh supply."
ABC's freelancer in Baghdad, Richard Engel, conceded in a Tuesday night story that U.S. bombing in the capital city hasn't "caused many civilian casualties" and so Iraqis are going about the lives as normal because, Engel suggested, "the Iraqi government appears to everyone here to be functioning normally" with "press briefings by senior leaders" who say "that Saddam Hussein is firmly in control of the country and directing the course of the war which Iraq says is going extraordinarily well."
But that explanation was too much even for anchor Peter Jennings who passed along how "somebody else observed today that perhaps the citizens were quite relaxed in Baghdad because they knew up to this point that the United States was not targeting them."
As if at some point the U.S. will begin targeting them?
Engel began his piece on the March 25 World News Tonight: "In Baghdad you'd never know U.S. and British forces are closing in on the city. A week of bombings, which haven't caused many civilian casualties, seemed to have given Iraqis what could be a false sense of security..."
After noting how restaurants are doing a brisk business and that he enjoyed mutton at one, Engel asserted: "Iraqis have even started to climb on rooftops to watch the explosions. The calm could come from the fact that the Iraqi government appears to everyone here to be functioning normally. Again today there's been an endless stream of press briefings by senior leaders and the overall message is that Saddam Hussein is firmly in control of the country and directing the course of the war which Iraq says is going extraordinarily well, thanks largely to the support of what Iraq calls heroic Baath Party miners and local tribesmen. Iraq also maintains that U.S. and British troops are targeting civilians and today parade the coffins of some of them through the streets in a public funeral."
Jennings interjected immediately after Engel's story: "Somebody else observed today that perhaps the citizens were quite relaxed in Baghdad because they knew up to this point that the United States was not targeting them."
Acknowledging that Iraq setting mines in the harbor which has prevented civilian aid from being delivered was "a wicked thing to do," ABC News reporter Terry Moran, nonetheless, held Bush administration policy culpable for the plight of the people in Basra. "The coalition battle plan was to bypass Basra and leave the more than half million citizens there essentially to fend for themselves," Moran told White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer at the Tuesday briefing. Moran demanded: "Does the administration take any responsibility for the plight of the people in Basra?"
MRC analyst Ken Shepherd caught this exchange, at the March 25 briefing, which followed Fleischer explaining how Iraqi mining of its port is what is preventing ships from delivering food and medical supplies.
Moran: "But isn't it more than the mines? Obviously, the Iraqi regime has mined this harbor and that is a wicked thing to do but the coalition battle plan was to bypass Basra and leave the more than half million citizens there essentially to fend for themselves until we can get this aid flowing. It's not that we can't only get ships into Umm Qasr, it's that we didn't take Basra, which is now a scene of utter chaos and total unpredictability and there's no telling when aid will flow there. Does the administration take any responsibility for the plight of the people in Basra?"
ABC's derogatory attitude carries over onto its morning show. On Tuesday's Good Morning America, Charles Gibson pressed General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, repeatedly about how the U.S. has an "inadequate" number of troops to fulfill the mission. An hour later, Diane Sawyer asserted that Americans expected that "American troops would be treated as liberators in the streets." She wanted to know: "What happened to the flowers expected to be tossed the way of the Americans? Was it a terrible miscalculation?"
She soon proposed to a guest expert in Kuwait: "Did American officials miscalculate the way the Iraqi people really feel about Saddam Hussein?" And, less than a week into the war, she wondered if "this is going to be a long, protracted, quagmire of a war?"
MRC analyst Patrick Gregory caught the two March 25 segments in question. During the 7am half hour, Gibson pounded away at Myers via satellite:
-- "It is very obvious from what we've seen so far that you have some very good soldiers over there, but the question is, do we have enough of them?"
-- "I want to come back to this question of do we have enough soldiers over there. Given the resistance that we have faced now in smaller cities like Umm Qasr and Nasiriyah, do we have enough to handle an all out fight in this city which is really about the size of Los Angeles, and still keep an eye on those smaller cities and maintain supply lines as well?"
-- "But this is gonna be, from all indications, a tough fight as we get close to Baghdad and around Baghdad itself. You just talked about more forces flowing up toward that area. Is there going to be a pause, a day, a couple of days, three days, four days, number one while we wait out the sandstorm, number two while more troops flow up to that area, and number three while we carry out air attacks against entrenched Iraqi forces?"
At the top of the 8am half hour, Diane Sawyer in Kuwait City plugged an upcoming segment: "Coming up in this half hour, I think a lot of Americans did believe that American troops would be treated as liberators in the streets, at least in the south. What happened to the flowers expected to be tossed the way of the Americans? Was it a terrible miscalculation? We'll find out what an expert has to say coming up."
Sawyer soon set up her pre-taped piece: "As we said, American officials tended to indicate that American troops would be treated as liberators in the streets of Baghdad. We have a couple of questions now. Even if it's going to happen in the future, why isn't it happening now?"
Sawyer answered her own question: "They're the pictures so many Americans believed they would see -- Iraqis filled with joy, relief, celebrating in the street."
Back on live, Sawyer introduced her guest: "I'm joined now by Doctor Shafreeq Ghabra, he is President of the American Kuwait University, and we're happy to have you with us, an expert on Iraq. So what about this, did American officials miscalculate the way the Iraqi people really feel about Saddam Hussein?"
Ghabra suggested it will take time for Iraqis to overcome their mistrust.
Sawyer moved on to another U.S. mistake: "You're saying it's uncertainty, and not necessarily digging in against the Americans. I've got a couple of questions though. We have heard that the Iraqi troops, the regular troops, in fact have disguised themselves as civilians, have pretended to surrender when in fact they weren't surrendering, have posed as journalists, in order to shoot at Americans. Is that also a miscalculation about the extent to which they're willing to fight?"
And Sawyer soon arrived at the suggestion of a "quagmire," inquiring: "Do you think they [Iraqi troops] are under duress or do you take from this that this is going to be a long, protracted, quagmire of a war?"
Sawyer at least allowed Ghabra to end on an up note: "In a word, you still seem optimistic that the Americans will be seen as liberators, at some point?"
Very reassuring. On Tuesday's Today Peter Arnett passed along how an Iraq official "told us in a press conference that President Saddam Hussein had personally ordered" that the prisoners of war held by Iraq "be treated well" and be "given the best medicine and the best food."
Arnett, MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed, relayed from Baghdad on the March 25 Today: "Now last night we saw on television pictures of the two more American POWs, the pilots of those Apaches making seven prisoners. And this morning the Trade Minister Mohammed Sali [sp?] told us in a press conference that President Saddam Hussein had personally ordered that these prisoners be treated well. The Iraqis are aware that there is increasing American concern about the treatment of their people that are being held. A total of I believe, seven now, the Trade Minister said Saddam wants them given the best medicine and the best food."
I guess that good treatment only applies to the ones Hussein decided to not have executed.
In this week's Newsweek, Jonathan Alter applied the Reaganesque tendency to meld real events with Hollywood classics in his mind but, unfortunately, he thinks it's somehow appropriate to compare the Bush-led coalition's liberation of Iraq to the Nazi genocide of the movie about the holocaust, Schindler's List.
(The MRC's Tim Graham submitted this item for CyberAlert.)
"Listen for the Human Voice" read the headline over Alter's piece in the March 31 Newsweek. The subhead: "As pure TV, it was like a suburban Fourth of July fireworks show, or a second-rate Vin Diesel movie. But war isn't entertainment."
Many years ago, Alter covered the media beat for Newsweek, so his media angle on the war this week was a homecoming of sorts. After recalling how Tom Brokaw was touched during his on-air interview with Nancy Chamberlin, the mother of killed helicopter pilot Jay Aubin who urged the media to go beyond gee-whiz amazement at military technology and remember the human sadness, Alter went to the movies:
Certainly this war and its imposing technology can be characterized as "numbing machinery of death," but isn't there some moral difference between a war of liberation with a wary eye on civilian casualties and an intentional campaign to "cleanse" Europe of millions of Jewish civilians?
Alter's story is online at: http://www.msnbc.com/news/889519.asp
> With our DisHonors Awards on Thursday, this may be the last CyberAlert of the week, though on Friday I will distribute a rundown of what occurred at the awards event and e-mail subscribers will receive something on Thursday, probably a recent edition of Notable Quotables.