Shock and Awe and Shuck and Jaw

An OC Weekly editor who has since gone on to bigger and better things once wrote of a drinking game wherein any time the words "Orange County" were uttered on the late, not-so-great Orange County News Channel, players had to take a swig. Anyone who wasn't sloshed within an hour wasn't listening.

That competitive spirit apparently lives on thanks to San Diego college students and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. According to a recent Wireless Flash news service item, "Baghdad Bingo" players watch any of the evening news shows and down a shot whenever a pre-designated word is spoken. With such buzzwords in play as "decapitation attack," "embedded journalists" and the near-ubiquitous "shock and awe," some competitors have reportedly passed out before the news show's end credits roll.

We'd be tempted to call that a weapon of mass intoxication were we not drunk right now. But even when not looking up at the TV screen through our own personal shag carpeting and drool puddle, we've been downright confused by the war coverage so far. We're not referring here to the eerie green wide angles of downtown Baghdad, the wobbly shots of U.S. tanks on the move or Fox News Channel wussies staring back at America through gas masks. No, we're talking about the confounding way the media has been handling the whole bloody mess.

Television news became a cultural force amid the unflinching coverage of the Vietnam War. CNN became a force during the original Bush Gulf War. Discounting for a moment Bush the Younger's public-relations arm—Fox News Channel—we have been mortified by the war whoring that's evident elsewhere.

Much has been made—and should be made—about the hundreds of reporters in bed—"embedded," as they call it—with the American military in the Gulf. But the arrangement has been just as incestuous stateside. Supposedly liberal CNN anchorman Aaron Brown at one point vowed to try to help "our boys" and keep from giving information that would aid "the enemy," which apparently was not a reference to Rupert Murdoch.

Then there's NBC's Tom Brokaw, who suggested that Baghdad "would soon be ours," which apparently was not a reference to General Electric.

By the way, remember way back in time to the anti-globalization protests? The mainstream media managed to marginalize the protesters, suggesting they represented such diverse viewpoints that their unifying message—globalization is bad, m'kay?—was not worthy. Well, guess what some of these same broadcasters are doing with the thousands of anti-war protesters across the country? Yep, because so many different organizations are getting the word out to protesters, they don't matter. But with polls showing escalating public support for the war, the more lightly attended support-our-troops rallies are given far more serious coverage. That Nixon-era "Silent Majority" nugget is even being tossed about.

Meanwhile, we read in generally conservative Editor & Publisher, the trade publication for generally conservative U.S. newspaper publishers, that a survey of op-ed pages across the country found the majority of mainstream daily newspapers have grave concerns about Bush's invasion. That probably doesn't surprise the right-wing wack jobs clinging to the increasingly discounted notion of liberal-media bias. But keep in mind that in the real world, most of the nation's editorial pages have been conservative since at least Reagan's second term.

The Wall Street Journal, naturally, supports killing Iraqis, and the New York Times, just as naturally, is opposed. But heading into the conflict, our conservatively libertarian or libertarianly conservative Orange County Register was "unpersuaded" the threat Saddam Hussein posed justified military action. And the Houston Chronicle—based in solid Bush country—called the war a failure of their favorite son's administration.

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And now, a Clockwork News Channel exclusive: our insta-survey of the lapels of cable-news anchorbots during afternoon war coverage on March 22 reveals:

Lester Holt, MSNBC, no pin.

Sophia Choi and Steven Frazier, CNN Headline News, no pins.

Brit Hume, Fox News Channel, small American-flag pin.

Lou Dobbs, CNN, second-largest American-flag pin (strategically placed high enough on his lapel to clear the bars carrying scrolling messages).

Shepard Smith, Fox News Channel, either the way, way biggest American-flag pin or ol' Shep's a munchkin, which would thus make his flag simply appear bigger than everyone else's.

* * *

CNN's Brown may as well have waved Old Glory during his March 23 "interview" with a poor sap from the Arab Al-Jazeera network. Rather than compare notes with an international colleague, Brown seized the opportunity to lecture the Al-Jazeera rep on decency and journalistic integrity.

Brown began by tearing the guy a new one over Al-Jazeera showing footage of American POWs, explaining how no responsible news organization would do such a thing. The Al-Jazeera guy calmly responded by holding up a copy of the New York Times featuring a front-page, above-the-fold photo of Iraqis held as POWs. With Brown reduced to sputtering and spewing, the Al-Jazeera rep noted that the networks of U.S. allies had shown the same footage. (He could have added that CBS aired it, that the mother of a POW found out her son had been captured not from the Army but by watching a satellite broadcast out of the Philippines, and that the next morning's Orange County Register front page, above the fold, carried mug shots of the imprisoned Americans.)

Brown replied lamely that he wasn't there to speak for other networks and their choices. That apparently included CNN International, which also ran the footage. When the Al-Jazeera guy remarked that CNN had run images of Iraqis taken as POWs, Brown shot back snarkily, "I'm sure the families of the Iraqi POWs didn't see it on CNN." That's right, Aaron; just like the families of the U.S. POWs don't watch Al-Jazeera—although maybe they should.

Paul Brennan contributed to this week's report.


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