War Coverage Fits Right In (AScribe Newswire 4/3/03)
It was a guilty rush of emotion. The opening day of the war, that is.
Waiting for Shock-and-Awe to hit my 27" Sony screen was like sitting
on a lawn chair on the Fourth of July, staring at the dark, starry sky.
Was that the fireworks grand finale? No? What did he say? I'll know it
when I see it?
These embedded journalists sure were giddy, weren't they? Pentagon-prepped
and primed with the game plan, they knew everything about the mission
of their chaperones. The manufacturer of the plane, weight of the bomb,
circumference of the missiles. Well-trained, wide-eyed reporters regurgitated
strategy, statistics, and model numbers like sales managers at a Radio
And just in case we forgot that human beings were involved in this conflict,
the journalists chatted with American soldiers beneath their chemical
suits, then got them to wave to the camera from their cockpit before scorching
off the USS Lincoln. Thumbs up. Go get 'em Hawk! The troops, up-close
and personal, like Olympic athletes.
So why should I worry about this televised war?
My boob tube experience tells me the main character always wins. Our guys
will be back next fall for the new primetime season, won't they? That's
what a lifetime with American television as your companion teaches you.
Murders, mysteries, investigate, speculate. The spectacle of this war
coverage has fit in well with our televised society.
Strobing images of helmet-headed reporters zooming through the sand atop
army tanks resemble Playstation video games. Which, no doubt, is how the
media-blitzed youth of our country escape from this wall-to-wall war coverage.
Pull out the joystick and play a few rounds of Battlezone before going
Meanwhile, bombs detonate inside Baghdad. The journalist files his report.
326 Tomahawk Cruise missiles fired from aircraft carriers. A GBU-37, precision
guided 4500-pound bomb falls from the air. Simultaneously within the city
limits, a shivering six-year old boy, eyes filled with tears, struggles
to see the pictures of his favorite bedtime book. His mother teaches him
to read under candlelight.
I didn't see that report, but I'm sure it happened.
I didn't see it because no one embedded a U.S. journalist with any of
the innocent families in Baghad, huddled under their wooden bed frames.
Burning metal showers down from an otherwise serene desert sky. A father
covers the ringing ears of his precious three-year old daughter. The cheap
thrill of opening night TV coverage has worn off for me.
Imagine Scott Pelley reporting from under a table with his videophone,
four young Iraqi children crying in the background as they hold each other
in their bedroom. Imagine cutting that footage with Dan Rather in the
studio, or a pixelated journalist watching the mighty F-16s soar off the
Imagine retired General/Colonel/Admiral Johnson talking about surgical
strikes on designated targets of military significance, cross cut with
child psychologists explaining the traumatic effects of a 2000-pound payload
detonating a city block from a toddler as she desperately clutches her
soothing security blanket.
No, there just isn't much interest in live dissection of innocent people's
psyche. It's much easier to digest the fancy flying 3-D graphic design
of Iraq land maps with arrows stretching toward Baghdad.
Easy but sad. Like the faces of frightened prisoners of war.
From Los Angeles to Miami, local news stations and their newschoppers
daily trip over each other trying to broadcast the most sensational footage
of every live homicide, suicide, and hostage situation. But when a foreign
network has footage of American POWs being interviewed during the war,
our networks stutter to figure out whether it's appropriate to air this
Maybe it wasn't violent enough for our primetime lineups.
ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX produce top rated television dramas and reality
shows about mass murderers, serial rapists, and repeat pedophiles, complete
with graphic depictions of death. In terms of violence the war coverage
fits right in with a lineup of CSI, Special Victims Unit and the latest
Perhaps that's where America's reconstruction of Iraq should begin. With
the rehabilitation of Iraqi television. Chances are we're probably producing
new reality TV shows in Baghdad at this moment.
Gee, won't they be happy to see their new fall primetime lineup.
Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre
at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2004 Ted Mandell.