National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 25, 2003

Militarists rule on TV news

The networks offer ex-brass a new revolving door


Here are a few of the retired soldiers appearing on network television offering analysis and commentary on the combat in Iraq: Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor, Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, Gen. Barry McCaffery, Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, Lt. Gen. Don Edwards, Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerny, Col. Tony Koren, Lt. Col. Rick Francona, Maj. Jack Stradley and Capt. Chris Lohman.

-- Paul Lachine

That news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox sanction this domination by militarists is a further assault on what the public deserves: independent and impartial journalism. The tube is a parade ground for military men -- all well-groomed white males -- saluting the ethic that war is rational, that bombing and shooting is the way to win peace, and, for sure, that their uniformed pals in Iraq are there to free people, not slaughter them. The illusion of absolute consensus prevails. Or as Tim Russert of NBC announced as the war commenced, “The country is galvanized around the president.”

For television’s galvanizers, perspective has vanished, as if caught in a sandstorm of hype and war whooping. If the U.S. military has embedded news people to report the war from Iraq, news people back in network studios have embedded militarists to explain it. Either way, it’s one-version news.

Why no air time for dissenting voices to say what millions of citizens around the world are proclaiming in the streets, that this U.S. invasion is illegal, unjust and unnecessary? Why are pacifists from such groups as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, Peace Action and the American Friends Service Committee not invited to counter the generals? Why are leaders from Veterans for Peace or Veterans Against the War in Iraq not brought in to offer their analysis and views -- that what the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Powell-Wolfowitz war machine is doing to the people of Iraq is brutal and criminal and that political, legal and moral alternatives to violence exist? Why are no social workers or teachers from America’s inner cities invited to sit across from the generals and give their views on military spending -- more than $11,000 a second -- while poverty and the national debt increase? Why are leaders from the peace churches denied airtime to say that the just war theory should be called the just slaughter theory?

In wartime, presumably, the message to the peace community is either shut up or shut down.

Not entirely, though. C-SPAN, as it always does, lets the cameras roll on the widest range of voices. It televises news programs from the Middle East, Asia and Europe. It takes phone calls from anyone patient enough to wait for an open line. C-SPAN offers the left wing, the right wing and the whole bird. It was on C-SPAN, not the networks, that a three hour antiwar forum was aired March 22 in which the director of Veterans for Peace said that hours after Congress endorsed a resolution to support the troops in Iraq it proposed cutting $25 billion from health, education and disability programs for veterans.

In their cordial hosting of military men, the corporate networks provide still one more revolving door for the ex-brass to stride through. Viewers are not told of possible conflicts of interest -- that this general or that one is on the payroll of this or that military contractor. Nor are they given information on whether or not the retired generals are paid for their appearances: Are they mere double-dippers, getting military pensions and salaries from their contractor employers, or triple-dippers getting pensions, salaries and TV analyst money, or quadruple-dippers getting pensions, salaries, analyst checks and lecture fees now that they are network stars?

If the stateside studios are dominated by militarists, coverage from Iraq also offers mostly the military perspective. The media are tethered to the military whether it is celebrity news people like Ted Koppel or Brian Williams roughing it by donning helmets, gas masks and goggles, or Geraldo Rivera gushing from Afghanistan that “we have liberated this country.” “Alleluia!” shouted his anchorman back at Fox. They are battle buddies. They become beholden, which leads not to Pentagon censorship, as in 1991, but a worse kind, self-censorship.

The effect is to justify military violence. The bombing of Baghdad is accepted as necessary and sane. The killing of Iraqi soldiers is a positive, the deaths of American soldiers negative.

George W. Bush lectured the world that you’re either with us or against us. America’s networks got the message: They’re with. They could have said that they’re neither with nor against, because no side has all the truth or lies and no side all the good or evil. But a declaration like that would have required boldness and independence of mind, two traits not much linked to America’s television news.

Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist, directs the Center for Teaching Peace and teaches courses on nonviolence at six Washington-area universities and high schools.

National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 2003

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