“Truth is the first casualty of war” – how many times have you heard or read that old cliche in recent weeks? I’m sick of hearing it.
Of course only a fool believes the propaganda that comes out of the mouth of officials of the fascist regime in Baghdad who seem to believe that the best way to get the media to take them seriously is to wave an AK-47 at them. Likewise only an idiot fails to take Pentagon briefings without a large dose of salt. Lies, half-lies and attempts to mislead the media are to be expected and merely the fact that the information is coming from Donald Rumsfeld should be enough to instill a sense of perspective in most viewers.
This attempted manipulation would be a problem if the media just spoonfed the spin to the public – but to be honest I don’t think they are. Almost every time I have heard a reporter from the Pentagon on Sky News, it has been followed by a warning along the lines of, “of course the Pentagon are going to say that” and reminders that both sides are going to try and use the media for their own purposes – and quite right too.
And yet constantly there are claims that the media is biased in its coverage.
The favoured message board of the British student/schoolkid protestors at Urban 75 is full of moaning that their protests have been ignored by a biased pro-war BBC. Anti-war mailing lists are full of posts claiming that the media is sensationalising/sanitising the war and cynically ignoring the ‘peace’ protestors.
Now at a time when soilders and civilians are dying and that major cities are being bombed I think most broadcasters can be forgiven for focusing on the major warfare rather than a bunch of kids running around London. But the fact is that the BBC are not ignoring these protests – look here kids!
Such complaints are fairly predictable fodder from that section of the far-left who somehow operate under the fantasy that the BBC and other media organisations are staffed by hardline, right-wingers and government stooges and who have reached such a level of cynicism that they take the old cliche “don’t believe everything you read in the papers” and have turned into “don’t believe anything you read in the papers”.
But the right-wing are just as bad. Take one of conservative America’s favourite Anglo commentators – Andrew Sullivan. whose blog bristles with suggestions that the likes of Reuters, the New York Times, the Guardian and yes, of course, the BBC are soft on Saddam or secretly willing defeats for the US.
So the BBC are annoying the conspiracy theorists of the far left and at the same time are accused of actually being the far left by the right. What does that tell you? It tells me they are probably doing about OK.
Yes I know that there are a lot of ‘liberal lovies’ at the Beeb, yes I know they had to send a memo out to staff before the Feb 15 demonstration and there are times when my eyebrows have been raised by some of the coverage of the pre-war debate. But I really do feel the reporters out their in the field for all the major news organisations are doing their best to bring us good information on what is going on.
Let’s be honest, the much vaunted ‘Blogosphere’ is made up of people sat safely behind our PCs with 24-hour news channels in the background, posting smartass comments to websites. Meanwhile scores of reporters are out in the desert somewhere, liable to be shot at, in order to feed us the information we need.
Just watch all those pro-war bloggers post the pictures of liberated Iraqis triumphantly – pictures taken by a photographer who has entered a war zone knowing he could become a target or a prisoner.
Just watch all those anti-war bloggers post stories of civilian casualties written by journalists who have risked becoming one themselves to bring them the story.
There are real ethical questions to be asked about how close reporters have got to the military but I think they deserve a bit better than to be accused of working for biased organisations or having some hidden agenda.
Update: If you think I was exaggerating Sullivan is calling the BBC the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation .