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US media: Telling it like it isn't
By Akhilesh Upadhyay

NEW YORK - In submitting too easily to the official line on Iraq, the United States media have grandly fallen short of their all-important responsibilities to reflect diversity and to keep the government at arm's length, according to a group of journalism educators and working journalists.

They say that the country's dominant media corporations have presented the current buildup to war on Iraq with a shocking homogeneity that fails to reflect the pluralistic vibrancy that exists in the United States. In an open letter sent to major media outlets this week, more than two dozen professors, journalists and authors warned, "This is no time for relying solely on official sources and their supporters.

"The media should never confuse patriotism with obeisance and a rubber-stamp mentality," the letter states. "There is a duty to seek out and quote the many experts who express skepticism about claims by the state, rather than simply to rely on the same pundits repeatedly."

Enlightened by history, independent journalists argue, more and more people in the US are relying on the Internet to get alternative viewpoints, a trend that took off during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, where media corporations failed to give adequate and accurate information on what many now regard as a turning point in a broad-based international anti-globalization movement.

The media debacle in Seattle led the much-venerated Christian Science Monitor to note, "The new media in Seattle provided a glimpse of what lies ahead for journalism in the new century. It is a message that older media ignore at their own peril."

"The first thing US readers need to do is stop reading the US corporate media," said Jeanne Strole at the Independent Media Center (IMC) in New York. "They should start reading the foreign press - British, French, Spanish, Arabic - anything other than the goddamn US corporate media."

The IMC homepage features two articles related to war, neither of which has found much room in the US media. One describes a weekend report in Britain's Guardian newspaper based on a leaked memo describing how US agents have increased their spying on representatives of the United Nations Security Council member countries in a bid to get their approval for war on Iraq. The expanded surveillance operation includes intercepting home and office telephone calls and e-mails, according to the paper.

The other IMC article describes recent anti-war protests in the Turkish capital Ankara, where parliament on Saturday failed to approve the deployment of 60,000 US troops inside the nation's borders.

A day after the vote, the New York Times, for instance, did carry the news on its front page, but failed to mention that thousands of protesters had gathered outside the parliament in Turkey, a secular Muslim state and the only democracy in the region.

"We are seeing this increased need for alternative news sources because many more people are feeling generally disillusioned with our government, our corporate leadership and the mainstream media which favors these interests," said Strole's colleague Catriona Stuart.

Those who signed the protest letter include retired Times columnist Tom Wicker; a former reporter at the paper, William Serrin; Ben Bagdikian, former dean of the journalism school at the University of California at Berkeley; author Studs Terkel; independent journalist and filmmaker Barbara Koeppell; and author and politician Ralph Nader.

The letter describes six patterns of poor media coverage, which characterized reporting during the 1991 Gulf War and which are being repeated in the present run-up to war in Iraq. The "horse-race syndrome" and highlighting military tactics over political analysis means that the media are endlessly churning out news features with titles like "Showdown with Saddam" and "presenting a grave matter as though it were a high-stakes sports contest", the letter says.

It indicts the media for failing aggressively to protest government control of information, adding that newspapers and TV news have under-reported this "freeze-out". The letter also accuses the media of failing to maintain "an arm's-length relationship" with government, noting the over-reliance of TV news in particular on government-approved retired military and intelligence consultants.

According to IMC's Strole, the US media are run by "a handful of corporations who all have a stake in making sure the Bush administration gets its [expletive] war. More and more Americans are waking up to the fact that the US corporate-mainstream media has been bought and paid for."

The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press and the New York Times declined to comment on the letter, telling IPS that they react only to specific points about their own coverage.

(Inter Press Service)
Mar 7, 2003



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