Some journalists may think they can reprise their anti-war role from the Vietnam period, but this time the public is not going to let them get away with it. Most journalists probably can't change the oil in their own cars (limos if they're anchors), much less service a tank, but suddenly they have become experts on the pace of troop movements, supply lines and the service requirements of tanks, trucks and armored personnel carriers. Shallow news anchors and retired generals with no direct information about war plans or their execution speculate and "opinionate" endlessly. The only thing most reporters know about war is what they have seen in the movies. Had they been covering World War II, they would have called for the court-martial of Eisenhower and Patton for causing too many civilian casualties.
As bad as some of the American media are, things are worse in Britain. If Saddam Hussein listens to the BBC World Service, he might think he is winning. A column in last Sunday's (March 30) Telegraph by Caroline Lees, who says she is "stranded in Eritrea," reveals the frustration of British citizens with their media. Lees says the BBC is her only source for war news, but "I am tired of the relentless bombardment of worst-case scenarios, endless analysis of problems before they occur, and blow-by-blow accounts of perceived errors by the coalition forces. I realize war is never easy, and it is not the BBC's job to pretend things are going well when they are not, but all I ask, as a listener, is a little balance."
With competition for viewers (and readers) hotter than ever, the big media cannot afford to ignore complaints about biased and negative reporting. The proliferation of cable TV means news consumers have more choices than they did during the Vietnam War. The New York Times reported last week that combined ratings for Fox Broadcast and the Fox News Channel were second only to the larger NBC network.
Is it too much to ask journalists simply to report what is happening in the war and to stop endless speculation and editorializing without direct and credible knowledge of the facts? Apparently it was for Peter Arnett, and NBC, sensitive to the ratings war, made him a casualty.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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