Along the Tracks

Wednesday, April 09, 2003
 

Media minimizers


The Ohio-Indiana line marks off an hour's difference once Daylight Savings Time starts - allowing yours truly to catch at least two evening newscasts in entirety, or fair chunks of four or five. Tonight, I watched the BBC World at 6 p.m., CBS from 6:30 to 6:40, mostly ABC from 6:40 to 7, PBS Newshour from 7 to 7:30, and finally, NBC from 7:30 to 8. Here's what I noticed:

The BBC, jolted from its dream of a quagmire for the U.S. and a bloody trail of America's victims for its audience, had to go outside Iraq to find the downside to the day. A look at various Arab television outlets and their portrayal of the fall of Baghdad was followed by the "disillusioned" man-on-the-Arab-street interviews, followed by experts explaining why this is all terrible for America. They did lead with the statue falling, but even that was "balanced" with seens of looting and busy hospital wards. I'm sure they've got conspiracy theorists all lined up for when we confirm some chemical weapons, too.

Dan Rather on CBS willingly admitted the jubilation in downtown Baghdad, but indicated such seens were limited - something the reports I read during the day would dispute. After the statue-fall, CBS showed combat by the Marines on the East and by the 3rd ID in the West - very valid, as the bullets showed, but giving the impression that the success was isolated. After 10 minutes or so on Iraq, Rather (who is reporting from Kuwait) sent things back to Harry Smith in New York for the "rest of the day's news," a dismissal of the importance of today's success if ever I saw one. That's why I flipped it to ...

ABC, which thanks to Peter Jennings I almost never watch, actually seemed straightforward and balanced - of course, I had missed the first 10 minutes, so I can't say how the on-the-ground events were spun. But the network looked at the postwar scenarios, the reaction of the Kurds and some official statements by the administration. Overall, I couldn't complain.

On PBS at 7, Jim Lehrer seemed a bit peeved by all the attention the Baghdad "reaction" was getting. He doesn't usually come right out with "editorial comments" like Jennings blurts out, but you can tell what he thinks by the questions he asks, his tone - high pitched when he gets excited, droll and dismissive when he doesn't like what he's hearing. He was particularly droll tonight. "Scenes" from Baghdad were very limited (although this has basically been true throughout the war), with the focus on reporters in Baghdad answering questions and various retired experts giving the reasons that "the hard part is really just beginning." I must say, I was really disappointed that the Newshour didn't have its nightly panel of retired colonels give their opinion of things. They haven't always been right about what was happening or what the overall strategy would be, but they have brought a real understanding of tactics and individual operations, and the last few nights they seemed to come together on the concept we saw executed - running major avenues through Baghdad to draw out the opposition, taking control of the seats of power, and generally "making statements" - although they didn't like that terminology - about American power and control. The strategy was the little burst of courage the Iraqi people needed, and the final straw Saddam's shaky supporters needed. I would have enjoyed hearing the colonels' take.

Finally, I turned to NBC, and I must say it quickly became clear why Tom Brokaw has dominated network war ratings. NBC is faster paced (dare I say, Fox-like) than CBS or NBC (PBS doesn't have a pulse, let alone a pace), but not so "rah-rah" as the "fair and balanced" network - making it the most credible evening news program I saw. The popular celebration led and was well covered, including seens other than the statue toppling. Combat at Baghdad University and in the western parts of the city was also given a full report. Other reactions followed - from Kurds to Iraqi-Americans to administration officials. After a segment of "other news," NBC came back to the war for more reactions and a look ahead - not only at post-war administration, but also at the combat still to come around Tikrit, Mosul and Kirkuk. None of the broadcast was sugar-coated; the good news was reported straightforwardly, and the bad news was not softened - but neither was it exaggerated.

Watching and reading so many reports which diminish the importance of this day and the reaction of the liberated Iraqi people can be disappointing, but for now, at least, let's ignore these pitiful attempts to ruin what is truly a wonderful day for the Iraqi people, and a wonderful day for Great Britain and the United States. The war is drawing to a close.

And if you need a news fix, I'd recommend NBC.


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