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[] WT 07.01.03: Piercing The Fog Of War,

Washington Times
January 7, 2003
Pg. 2

Piercing The Fog Of War

Media wary of being used, misled in battle coverage

By Matt Kempner, Cox News Service

ATLANTA -- American viewers will never get the full and true picture of a 
U.S. war with Iraq. That at least is the assessment of formerCNN anchor 
Bernard Shaw.

"Nobody saw the whole picture in '91, and nobody will see the whole picture 
if there is a Gulf war again," Mr. Shaw says. "People forget that everybody 
censors in a war. The U.S., the Iraqis, the British, the Israelis. "

"You are only getting what the government wants you to get," Mr. Shaw said.

U.S. news operations, including Atlanta-based CNN, are preparing for the 
heavy expenses of war coverage. Those costs aren't likely to be offset by 
advertisers, some of whom yank commercials during traumatic times. CNN has 
set aside a $36 million contingency fund for possible war coverage.

But even with the heavy spending and assurances from news outfits that they 
will report aggressively, people who have followed past wars say Americans 
will get only an incomplete view of what is really happening. Early 
impressions of the fighting may be the least accurate and the most 
difficult untruths to dispel, they say.

Mr. Shaw says for his own needs he will be scouring different sources for 
information, and "it won't all come from television. It really bothers me 
that 75 percent of Americans get their news from television. It's an 
imperfect medium."

"You should listen and read and watch cautiously," Mr. Shaw said. Beware of 
"confusion, haste, propaganda, the outright use of the media."

During the Gulf war in 1991, the U.S. military tried to throw off the 
Iraqis by creating a false impression of where U.S. soldiers would first 
land, Mr. Shaw says.

"If I were president of the United States, you'd better damn well believe 
I'd use the media," he said. "There's no such thing as a fairly fought war. 
Anyone who thinks so is naive to the point of being dangerous."

And Mr. Shaw, who predicts American viewers "will be numbed by the 
saturation" of war coverage, said he doesn't dispute the military's need to 
limit information to avoid putting American soldiers at risk.

But that may not be the only reason governments tell untruths during war, 
says London-based TV correspondent Sheila MacVicar, who has covered more 
than a dozen wars and conflicts for Canadian network CBC, ABC News and, 
now, CNN.

"And it will be too easy to dismiss what comes from the other side as 
propaganda, and not all of it will be," she said.

In a war, the starting position of one side is always that the other side 
is lying, Miss MacVicar says. Or that negative eyewitness accounts such as 
deaths of civilians are wrong. The truth, she said, may only be ferreted 
out later.

Even overall images of the fighting may be wrong.

During the Gulf war, there were daily press briefings by the coalition forces.

"The picture that was given to us by those briefers was of a war being 
fought by high-tech weaponry," Miss MacVicar said.

Much later it became clear that the vast majority of bombs that fell were 
not "smart" bombs, she says, but "the old gravity bombs, that same dumb 
stuff that's been falling out of the airplanes for 50 years. It's stunning 
to learn something about the true nature of the war that had been concealed 
through all those briefings."

Reporters don't always ask the right questions, Miss MacVicar said. And 
sometimes they are suckered, even by civilians.

She cites a colleague who did a moving report focusing on a woman in Kosovo 
who said she became a fighter after witnessing Serbs murder her 9-year-old 
sister. Later, the reporter revisited the woman and found that her sister 
was still alive.

The woman told the reporter she had lied because: "You were looking for a 
story, and I gave you a story. And even if it didn't happen to me, it 
happened to others," according to Miss MacVicar. The reporter did a 
follow-up story.

Viewers should consider what is being used as a measure of success in a 
war, says Clarence Wyatt, an associate professor of history at Centre 
College in Danville, Ky., who wrote the book "Paper Soldiers: The American 
Press and the Vietnam War."

In Vietnam, war correspondents often focused on day-to-day tallies of 
bombings and casualties, and which side inflicted the most damage, Mr. 
Wyatt says. But the more important question, he said, was: "Who was willing 
to pay the bigger price? That was going to determine the outcome of the war."

War correspondents are often dependent on information they get from 
military officials, who often restrict their movement in war zones.

That holds true even with the Pentagon's stated plans to allow reporters to 
follow military units if there is a war in Iraq, Mr. Wyatt said.

Joshua Meyrowitz, a University of New Hampshire professor of media studies, 
said "the most critical time for a free press is before the war starts, 
when there ought to be the widest debate and access to the widest amount of 

Americans should be careful about believing what they hear from pundits and 
analysts who offer their expertise during news shows, Mr. Meyrowitz said. 
Journalists, he says, could help viewers by rating the past accuracy of 
sources and pundits they use.

And the public should look for alternative sources of information, he said.

"Americans have to take what they see initially with a grain of salt and 
ask, 'Why are we being told this?' and 'What might be missing that would 
change the story?'" Mr. Meyrowitz said. "Citizens of a democracy have an 
obligation to do this."

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