Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Sanitized War: Coverage both McDonald's and the Pentagon can Agree on

The lens through which the citizens of the United States view war is often sanitized and "advertiser friendly". In the run-up to the Iraq war, the focus of the media was often aimed at the weaponry that would be used in the war and a fascination with the technological aspects of the United States military. Different types of aircraft were analyzed and their capability for dropping bombs on Iraq were discussed like analysts were discussing a video game. Once the campaign of "Shock and Awe" was underway we saw cameras perched on hotel balconies beaming images of wild explosions back to our living rooms. Spectacular clouds of smoke and fire filled the Iraqi sky as bursts of sporadic anti-aircraft fire swept across our screens. The invasion of Iraq also provided us with a new way to view war, through the eyes of embedded reporters. We were told that this would give us a never before seen, first-hand look at how wars are fought by putting reporters alongside troops on the front lines. This move was pure genius on the part of the Department of Defense because the reporters who were embedded with the U.S. troops developed a militarized type of Stockholm Syndrome. What I mean by this is that the reporters developed a unique bond with the troops who were protecting them and because of this, objective and independent journalism suffered. We began to see the war through the eyes of the invading forces and sanitized war coverage was what we consumed.

The reality of war is not good for advertisers. Picture this: a reporter, on the ground in Fallujah takes his cameraman to the scene of where U.S. forces just clashed with Iraqi resistance fighters. Some civilians were caught in the crossfire and three children, ages ranging between 8 and 14, were gunned down. The reporter is fresh on the scene and instructs his cameraman to show the bodies of the dead children, with pools of blood still fresh on the ground. After this report the network must throw to commercial and then you see an advertisement for McDonald's complete with happy children and families laughing and living in a carefree world of Big Mac's and Happy Meals. This is specifically what advertisers do not want; certainly a war without the casualties is more appealing for the advertisers to sell their products. Not only do advertisers benefit from such sanitized coverage, but the government also benefits from an "advertiser-friendly" war. There is a known realization that people would be horrified if they saw actual images of war: the dead bodies, the maimed civilians, and the voices of the oppressed. This is illustrated by the ban that was placed on the media (by the U.S. government) of photographing the coffins of U.S. service men and women upon their return to the U.S. They want our support for the war, as long as we get to see the war they want us to see.

Who benefits from this type of coverage? Clearly the news networks benefit from such coverage. As illustrated, advertisers will continue to spend money to advertise in programs that are sanitized so as not to conflict with the Utopian worlds that they present to us in each :30 second commercial. The government also benefits from such coverage. Public support for wars can be manipulated much easier if the public sees the war through a lens that does not present a true reality.

Who does not benefit from this type of coverage? First and foremost, all of us do not benefit from this type of coverage. We are not seeing the full picture and we are not getting independent reporting that shows us reality, no matter how ugly. I argue that we need to see these images on our television screens and in our newspapers. We need to see the dead children, the maimed populations, and hear the voices of the oppressed. There are some who may say that they do not want those types of images on their televisions and I say to them, that if that is the case, then maybe we should rethink what we are doing overseas and stand up for ending the torment of the Iraqi population. Public opinion would strongly shift if we started showing the actual images of war on our television screens. We are indeed a compassionate people, we just need to be given the full and accurate picture of what is happening.

Let's give up our fascination with machines that make war on populations and refocus our attention on the real issue surrounding war, the human cost. The human cost of the Iraqi family that has lost a child due to a cluster bomb, the human cost of the American family whose child came back from serving in Iraq and has committed suicide, and the human cost of the population of Fallujah whose children are experiencing birth defects thanks to the white phosphorous that the United States used in their assault on the city. If our country wants our support for war, we must be prepared to see the ugly, gritty, brutal human cost of war.

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