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2003 invasion of Iraq media coverage

Media coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was different in certain ways from that of the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

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"Embedded" reporters

Around 600 journalists were "embedded" with military units, 80% being British or American. The Pentagon established the policy of "embedding" reporters with military units. This allowed viewers of several channels to see U.S. tanks rolling into Baghdad live on television, with a split screen image of the Iraqi Minister of Information claiming that U.S. forces were not in the city.

Robert Entman[?], professor of communication at North Carolina State University and critic of mainstream media for decades, indicated it was a very wise tactic from the Pentagon. He mentioned there were more chances for the journalists to make favorable reports whilst in Iraq with British and American soldiers than if they had been asking questions in Washington. Entman indicated there is a natural cultural bias of American journalists in favor of military troops of their own country and that journalists do like to satisfy the government upon which they rely for information, as well as the public on whom they depend commercially. Entman also mentioned the high number of retired generals making comments on TV, pointing out these could not be considered independent experts as they were still paid by the government. He claims the British Broadcasting Corporation was much more neutral and informative on cultural and historical background than most American television reports.

Some critics asked sarcastically whether the reporters were "embedded" or "in-bed." Some reporters referred to their hosting troops as "we" instead of "they" leading to charges of non-objectivity. Nevertheless, when reporters' safety and lives depend on the soldiers around them, some level of camaraderie is understandable.

Reporters in harm's way

There have been a number of journalist casualties during the invasion, including fourteen deaths (some not directly war-related). Notable events included incidents on April 8 when journalists in Baghdad were hit by U.S. fire (see the entry for details), and the death of Michael Kelly[?], an influential neoconservative reporter, columnist, and editor who died in a Humvee accident on April 3. NBC's David Bloom died of a blood clot on April 6. Both Kelly and Bloom were embedded with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

U.S. war coverage


Fox News simulcasts Sky News reporter David Bowden[?]'s interview with a U.S. Army sergeant following a firefight near Umm Qasr (March 23, 2003, 09:35 UTC).


CNN broadcasts a live press conference by Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf while keeping an eye on Umm Qasr (March 23, 2003, 08:27 UTC).


MSNBC discusses the various appearances of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on television and speculates on his fate (March 24, 2003, 08:41 UTC).

The most popular cable network in the United States for news on the war was Fox News, some of whose commentators and anchors made pro-war comments or disparaged detractors of the war, such as calling them "the great unwashed". Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a strong supporter of the war. On-screen during all live war coverage by Fox News was a waving flag animation in the upper left corner and the headline "Operation Iraqi Freedom" along the bottom. The network has shown the American flag animation in the upper-left corner since the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. Fox News' pro-war commentary stood in contrast to many U.S. newspapers' editorial pages, which were much more hesitant about going to war. While the distinction between the news section of a newspaper and the editorial page is very clear, some of Fox News' anchors, who offer their own editorials during their shows, did not always make it clear when the reporting stopped and the analyzing began.

On the other hand, Fox, like other Western Media outlets did have a number of regular commentators and anchors that were against the war. Western Networks, including Fox, also gave countless hours of coverage to anti-war protests and rallies, anti-U.S. protests in Iraq, and celebrities and politicians that were against the war. Anti-war celebrities appearing frequently on these news networks included actors Tim Robins[?], Mike Farrell, Janeane Garofalo, Martin Sheen, Susan Sarandon and Director Michael Moore. While most of these celebrities were able to make anti-war comments in the media and receive little public criticism, some experienced a backlash for their words. Perhaps the most well known case was the country music act, The Dixie Chicks, who ignited boycotts and record burnings for their remarks about President Bush.

MSNBC also brought the American flag back on screen and regularly ran a tribute called "America's Bravest" which showed photographs sent by family members of troops deployed in Iraq. MSNBC also fired liberal Phil Donahue[?], a critic of Bush's Iraq policy, a month before the invasion began and replaced his show with Iraq war coverage hosted by Keith Olbermann. Shortly after Donahue's firing, MSNBC hired Michael Savage[?], a controversial conservative radio talk show host for a Saturday afternoon show. Although Donahue's show had lower ratings than several shows on other networks, and most reports on its cancellation blamed poor ratings, it was the highest-rated program on MSNBC's struggling primetime lineup at the time of its cancellation. During February "sweeps", Donahue's show averaged 446,000 viewers, compared to rival Connie Chung's 985,000 on CNN and Bill O'Reilly's 2.7 million on Fox News, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Comparing viewership from prewar to post war, MSNBC saw a 357 percent jump in ratings, while CNN went up 305 percent, and Fox News climbed 239 percent, according to Nielsen numbers. In overall numbers, Fox News was number one, followed by CNN, and then MSNBC. It was a major success for Fox News, as many had believed CNN would reclaim the top spot, since it established itself with coverage from the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

In separate incidents, Peter Arnett, an NBC and National Geographic correspondent, was fired for giving an interview with Iraqi officials in which he questioned the United States' role and saying the "first war plan had failed," and Geraldo Rivera left Iraq after drawing a crude map in the sand during a live broadcast on Fox News, which raised concerns at the Pentagon that he was possibly revealing vital troop movements on air.

Symbolic coverage

A large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Freedom Square, directly in front of the Palestine Hotel[?] where the world's journalists had been quartered, was toppled by a U.S. tank surrounded by dozens of celebrating Iraqis, who had been attempting to pull down the statue earlier. The destruction of the statue was shown live on cable news networks as it happened and made the front pages of newspapers and covers of magazines all over the world - symbolizing the fall of the Hussein government.

The images did not show that the plaza where the statue stood, surrounded by the dozens of Iraqis, was otherwise empty, and was cordoned off by U.S. tanks.

The images of the statue falling came as a shock to many Arab viewers who had been led to believe that Iraq was winning the war. Iraqi citizens then decapitated the head of the statue and dragged it through the streets of the city hitting it with their shoes.

Various media outside of the mainstream U.S. press argued the statue's toppling was a carefully staged media event. [1] (http://paris.indymedia.org/article.php3?id_article=2040) Some claim that some of the demonstrators were seen at supposedly independent celebrations, although this has not been verified. [2] (http://vigirak.com/article.php3?id_article=126) [3] (http://www1.iraqwar.ru/?userlang=en).

Regardless, video was later beamed around the world of jubilant Iraqis defacing murals and posters of Saddam Hussein, setting many on fire, and dragging broken statues through the street.

Non-U.S. coverage

Non-U.S. coverage sometimes differed strongly in tone and content.

In some countries television journalists behavior differed significantly during the conflict compared to Gulf War conflicts. Jean-Marie Charon said most journalists were more precautious, using conditional form very often, and citing sources. He noticed televisions were on the whole avoiding noisy and flashy jingles.

The crew of the HMS Ark Royal, Britain's flagship naval vessel, demanded that the BBC be turned off on the ship because of what they saw as a clear anti-Coalition or "pro-Iraq" bias. One BBC correspondent had been embedded on the ship, but the crew said they had no complaints of his reporting specifically. The sailors on board the ship claimed that the BBC gave more credit to Iraqi reports than information coming from British or Allied sources, often questioning and refusing to believe reports coming from Coalition sources while reporting Iraqi claims of civilian casualties without independent verification. The ship's news feed was replaced with Sky News. [4] (http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_768569?menu=news.wariniraq)

Arab media, Al-Jazeera broadcast many scenes of civilian casualties, usually referring to them as "martyrs", press conferences with Iraqi officials claiming to be winning the war, and of American and British POWs which U.S. media refused to run. Most Arab networks also downplayed the scenes of Iraqi citizens cheering coalition forces entering their towns. Arab networks consistently referred to U.S. and British forces as "invading forces," while Western media referred to them as "coalition forces."

The war in Iraq saw Abu Dhabi TV mature into a credible Al-Jazeera rival. However, the war did not benefit Al-Arabiya, the newest of Arabic news networks. Created by the audio-visual group saoudien MBC to compete with Al-Jazeera (whose tone often displeases Arab leaders), Al-Arabiya was launched on February 19, 2003.

See also

External links and references



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