It has always been known that the first casualty in war has been the truth. Invariably, lies have been a crucial part of the war arsenal.
During the final days of the Second World War, the Germans were still telling their people to soldier on; that the army was regrouping to counter attack, even though all German cities were either taken by the Allies or burning under merciless bombing raids. And those people who wanted to believe that the end was not yet near, hung on hoping that the Nazi propaganda was in fact the truth. Even to the bitter end.
To lie so blatantly today is not nearly as easy a proposition as it was even during the first Gulf War. There are media everywhere. And the media is as well equipped with modern communication technologies as is the military.
I am most impressed with video cell phones and satellite cell phones.
Here we are, comfortably sitting in our homes watching LIVE coverage of a battle raging half a world away. And the images are good. And where we can’t see the actual action we can hear it live, up close and personal.
Having this kind of technology amongst thousands of reporters makes it imperative that “the” story gets out fast and accurate. What the journalists and their media bosses are competing for is an instantaneous audience, their reputation and their very careers.
Whomever is first off the mark with a breaking report, is the journalist who will win the audience.
Being first is not the ONLY criteria for media success. Because there are so many competing media, ACCURACY is CRITICAL. Honest reporting has become one of the most significant victories of this Gulf War.
I watched a report from Britain’s Sky News, which we don’t usually get to see in North America. Sky News is a British version of CNN, and the only time I ever saw Sky News before, was when I visited Israel in April of 2002. My first impression of this news network was one of incredulity.
Perhaps they were reporting on a parallel universe was my first thought; because, what they were reporting on the Middle East vis a vis Israel and the Palestinians was so far from the truth, that their broadcast could best be described as propaganda.
I could not believe what I was hearing and seeing on Sky News about Israel, especially since I WAS in Israel, and could see for myself, that what they were broadcasting was an outright lie. But; unless you happened to be in Israel as I was, you would have probably believed what Sky News was saying. After-all, we’re all conditioned to trust the media.
Now that the Allies are pressing ahead with the war against Saddam and his thugs, here was Sky News once again disseminating lies. However; this time, Sky News was ONLY one of a thousand or more journalists reporting LIVE from as many places as there was conflict, and this time, their distortions stood out like a hippopotamus in a pink tutu.
One sickening example of their reporting had them comparing the treatment of the American POWs to the Iraqi troops captured by the Americans. As far as they were concerned, spontaneous independent news video of surrendering Iraqi troops was exactly the same as the STAGED news interrogation of the Americans which we all had the opportunity to witness.
BBC had the same warped slant. The BBC leans so far to the left, that they have trouble seeing the center. Many of their journalists are also less than honest, and only tell the truth the way they see it, far too often never showing the other side.
Yesterday evening, the BBC had on an Arab American as an “expert” commentator, who was quick to show the failings of the American and British led war against Saddam. He spoke of the massive anti-war demonstrations without ever mentioning that more than TWO THIRDS of the American people support their troops and their President. He also failed to mention that more than HALF of the British people are now on-side with Tony Blair.
When it came to the American soldier who was a convert to Islam, who killed one of his officers and wounded 15 others while they slept in their tents, the Arabic “expert” on BBC suggested that it might have been the Kuwaiti translators who were responsible for the attack, or simply: a very disgruntled soldier with a grudge.
The BBC interviewer never challenged her guest, even though the whole world new the story behind the story, almost a day before her interview with her Arab American “expert”.
In days gone by, the BBC and Sky News would get away with this crap. But not today. If I want lies and distortions about the war or anything else in the Middle East, I could try to watch Arabic television. But that is not what I want. I want the truth. And if news media deliver anything but the truth, I along with virtually everyone else will tune them out, and they will become irrelevant.
Having the media imbedded with the Allied forces was a risky but brilliant idea. Here we have independent journalists from every medium we can think of, from virtually every country in the world, and the story they tell is what is really happening.
If the journalists lie, distort or manage the truth by withholding the other side, they will soon become the architects of their own career demise.
When media is limited to just one or very few sources, the “truth” is whatever they disseminate. However; when there is virtually unlimited media backed up by live reports from the very source of the action, all of a sudden, the truth becomes far more incontrovertible.
This also affects editorial coverage. It’s easy to take a slant on a subject that is already reported in a slanted fashion if there is no other reference. But, it is indeed an entirely different story when an editorialist bases his/her opinions on “fact” that we know not to be true.
It is interesting how little as of late has been reported concerning the Israeli/Palestinian issue, even long before the Americans and their friends went to war against Saddam.
There has been a virtual vacuum of stories in the media about Israel and the Palestinians, not because things are not happening in that part of the Middle East, but more so, because the Media can no longer be so slanted towards the Palestinians and against the Israelis with impunity.
Because of the army of journalists in the Middle East, the independent Internet sites, E-Mail, and live on the spot coverage, even the slanted media finally became embarrassed by their own coverage. A perfect case in point was the non existent massacre at Jenin.
On April 18, 2002, this was reported as unconfirmed FACT by the BBC:
“Palestinians claim hundreds of bodies are buried beneath the rubble, but Mr Shoval (Israeli advisor to Prime Minister Sharon) said only about 65 bodies had been recovered, of which five were civilians”.
By May 1, 2002, it was confirmed that ONLY 56 Palestinians were killed. Not the hundreds claimed by the media. And of the 56, virtually all were Palestinian fighters who had taken refuge in the homes of non combatants.
Had it not been for the army of journalists in Jerusalem, the accepted “truth” about Jenin would probably have been the lie. And even after all concerned knew the truth, the BBC, and just about every other media like them never really retracted their stories and set the record straight.
Reporting a lie is one thing. Not properly correcting the lie is a different matter all together. Media who lie, distort or withhold will be casualties of war, no less than the men who fall in battle.
More than anything else; perhaps truth in journalism has finally arrived. And the war’s first and perhaps most significant victory will be the integrity of the media.