A war is raging in Iraq, and it is being broadcast like a live sporting event, complete with play-by-play announcers who say the obvious and color commentators who say nothing at all.
Network and cable news channels alike are portraying the United States as the home team.
But shouldn’t we expect more from our media than we do from the folks at SportsCenter?
They are simply providing a platform that allows the powers that be to spout off their rhetoric, without any critical reporting or analysis.
It is becoming increasingly unclear that we are the country with an independent media.
The experiment with embedded reporters has been a disaster for the journalism profession, but a great success for the American government.
The Pentagon was enthusiastically behind the idea, as it saw an opportunity to redeem itself for its dishonesty in Vietnam.
Now the “truth” about the war could be told from the front lines.
But we are not getting the truth.
Not only have these reporters signed documents forbidding them from giving away strategic information, but the basic tenants of journalism are being compromised.
How can these “in-bed-with” reporters be objective when their lives are in the hands of the American military?
But with NBC’s firing of Peter Arnett for giving an interview to Iraqi TV, suddenly objectivity is again an important goal of American media.
Arnett, a longtime National Geographic reporter was covering the war from Baghdad.
In an interview with Iraqi TV, Arnett said: “The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another war plan.
Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces.”
NBC and National Geographic subsequently fired him.
“It was wrong for Mr. Arnett to grant an interview to state-controlled Iraqi TV, especially at a time of war,” said NBC News President Neal Shapiro.
“And it was wrong for him to discuss his personal observations and opinions in that interview.”
But this is just one man’s opinion.
Apparently Shapiro failed to heed his own advice about staying objective.
Or perhaps the real problem is that Arnett dealt with the Iraqi TV station.
At a time when news channels are scrambling for ratings for their war coverage, it could be disastrous to give airtime to anyone not dressed in yellow ribbons, let alone someone conversing with the enemy.
In an effort to save his job, Arnett apologized for using poor judgement, but said his comments were something everybody already new was the case.
When one considers the administration’s back-pedaling on its promise that the war would be a matter of weeks, not months, Arnett may indeed have a point.
Even members of the U.S. military are questioning the strategy.
When Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the commander of V Corps, says, “The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we’d war-gamed against,” it’s a pretty good sign that things aren’t going according to plan.
It wasn’t that long ago that the media stepped up to the challenge that covering a war presents.
During the Vietnam War, the media handled its role wonderfully as the fourth estate.
They didn’t trust the government because they new they couldn’t, and instead made the effort to find alternative sources and provide information that is truthful; not tired patriotic propaganda.
Sadly, with the absence of people like Arnett, there are increasingly fewer reporters who tell it like it is, and more reporters who tell it like the government wants it to be told.
Jesse Chadderdon can be reached at email@example.com.