Experts Assess Media's Coverage Of the War in Iraq

By Elaine Hargrove-Simon, Silha Fellow and Bulletin Editor
Before the war with Iraq officially began, journalism school deans, professors,
independent editors, journalists and authors sent an open letter to major
media editors, publishers, producers and reporters. Signers included retired
New York Times columnist Tom Wicker; former New York Times
reporter William Serrin; Ben Bagdikian, the former dean of the Graduate
School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley; professor
of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana Robert McChesney;
and authors Studs Terkel and Gore Vidal.

The letter highlighted six "patterns" of media coverage that deserved attention, according to the signers of the letter. They advocated avoiding what they called the "Horserace syndrome," that is, presenting a "grave matter as though it were a high-stakes sports contest;" failing to protest government control of information; failing to maintain an arms-length relationship with the government; failing to question the official story;
failing to present a diversity of viewpoints, and the failure of radio to encourage orderly debates with varying viewpoints. The text of the letter is available online at

The May issue of the American Journalism Review (AJR) was dedicated to an analysis of the coverage of the war in Iraq. In her article, "The Television War," available online at, Jacqueline E. Sharkey cited a Los Angeles Times poll that showed that 70 percent of Americans got their news concerning the war from cable television. The poll also showed that Fox was the "most-viewed" cable news channel, with an average of 3.3 million viewers per day. Part of the reason for television's popularity as a news source is the developments in technology, including, according to Sharkey, "communications systems that provided instant battlefield coverage, and satellite imagery and software that enabled the networks to swoop in from space and look at sites that have been hit by bombs and missiles."

Despite the ability to show anything that can be framed within a camera lens, Sharkey wrote that the American version of the war was sanitized, omitting graphic pictures of the violence of war and criticism of the administration and the military. "Some commentators believe one reason that many news organizations didn't provide more complete coverage is that after [the terrorists attacks of] September 11, opposition to the administration became widely regarded as unpatriotic. This made it difficult for the press to carry out its constitutional role of acting as a check on the government." But a poll conducted by USA TODAY, CNN and Gallup over March 29-30, 2003 showed that 38 percent of those polled rated the job the news organizations have done with regard to the war in Iraq has been" excellent," and 41percent thought the job done by news organizations was "good." Nevertheless, many Americans turned to international news sources to obtain information about the war in Iraq. The (London) Guardian
reported that UK news Web sites experienced "huge increases" in the number of visitors from the United States. Most of them were looking for coverage of events leading up to and during the war in Iraq. The statistics were collected by an Australian company, Hitwise, which measures the popularity of Web sites based on analysis of data from Internet service providers. Hitwise claims to have measured over 25 million Web users globally.

Hitwise reported that the most popular UK news site has been the BBC's at, followed by the Guardian's at Jon Dennis, deputy news editor of the Guardian's Web site, told dotJournalism, "American visitors are telling us they are unable to find the breadth of opinion we have on our web site anywhere else because we report across the political spectrum rather than just one perspective."

The article is available online at

Other Internet surfers turned to war Web logs - or blogs. Blogs are Web sites where people post their thoughts and observations in a journal or scrap book-type format. Some journalists working for news organizations were discouraged from keeping their own blogs posted online. According to an article posted on the Online Journalism Review, Kevin Sites, a correspondent with CNN; Joshua Kucera, a freelance correspondent for Time magazine; and Denis Horgan, a writer with the Hartford Courant were forced
to "shutter," or shut down, their blogs. The article's author, Mark Glaser, cited "many online commentators" as saying that news organizations such as the Hartford Courant are able to require their reporters to do so because the news organizations "have the right to police the activities of employees because of potential conflicts of interest." Glaser's article is available online at

According to the Chicago Tribune, some of the more popular war
time blogs have been:

Another blogger, using the name "Salam Pax" - the words for peace in Arabic and Latin - documented the war from the point of view of an Iraqi civilian, writing in a witty and sometimes irreverent style about driving around Baghdad streets to inspect the war damage done to the city, and of the disorganization behind humanitarian efforts to aid the country. Although his last name has not been revealed - his first name really is Salam, according to the Los Angeles Times - the person behind Salam Pax is real. Identified as a 29-year-old architect, Salam served as a translator for freelance journalist Peter Maass during the war. "He's a lot like us but he's not us," Maass reported. "Salam sees what's happening around him - the tragedy or the absurdity and he communicates it in a human voice that most journalists don't have." The Salam Pax Web site is available at

It wasn't until later that Maass realized his translator was the person behind the popular blog. In an article appearing in the online magazine Slate, Maass wrote, "Working alongside - no, employing - a star of the World Wide Web and being blissfully unaware of it is a lesson about the murkiness of today's Iraq, a netherland of obscurity in which you cannot know who was a Baathist and who was not, or whether the man in the middle of the street with a gun is going to shoot you." The article is available online at

On June 6, the Guardian of London hired Salam to be a columnist.



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This page contains a single entry by cla published on November 9, 2009 11:11 AM.

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