(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2014: Iraq Redux", please click here.)
Back in the fall of 2013, writing about America possible military intervention in Syria’s civil, I noticed something:
The media is incredibly pro-war.
More accurately, the media--particularly the political talk shows--tend to favor action (read: military intervention). Two weeks of Sunday talk shows about Bashar al Assad violating human rights/using chemical weapons were dominated by pro-war voices. (I hate using the phrase “the media” but I don’t really have a better option.)
Of course, last September, when ISIS continued to take territory in Iraq and beheaded two journalists, the whole chorus began again. Three distressing problems stood out...
1. Quantitatively, pro-war guests dominate the debate.
SInce the debate over war in Syria two years ago, I’ve wanted to track the Sunday talk shows and quantify--look at the baseline numbers, instead of using my gut--how biased the media actually is.
Fortunately for me, when the country debated intervening in Iraq last year, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) did the work for me. Their key finding? “The study of key TV news discussion programs from September 7 through 21 reveals that guests who opposed war [in Iraq] were scarce.”
Analyzing three weeks worth of programs during the debate over another war in Iraq, “205 sources appeared on the programs discussing military options in Syria and Iraq. Just six of these guests, or 3 percent, voiced opposition to US military intervention. There were 125 guests (61 percent) who spoke in favor of US war.” Only one guest could be counted as anti-war.
To be fair--pun not intended--FAIR is a left-wing organization. But I doubt anyone who watches the Sunday talk shows regularly could disagree with their conclusions.
Frankly, it’s shocking how little debate there is. It’s almost like the inverse of how the media handles global warming. For years, newspaper articles and talk shows invited global warming skeptics and global warming scientists at a near fifty-fifty rate.
When it comes to war, almost no skeptical viewpoints are allowed...until the war turns into a quagmire.
2. The media is too dependent on official sources.
Not only are the guests on political talk shows supportive of war, they’re government officials who are supportive of war. Again, from FAIR:
“The guest lists for all the programs leaned heavily on politicians and military insiders. Current and former US government officials—politicians and White House officials—made up 37 percent of the guestlists. Current and former military officials accounted for 7 percent of sources.”
Nearly half of all guests were official sources. Most of the rest were reporters depend on official sources for their coverage. Why is this a problem? The Columbia Journalism Review explains:
“Lee Artz, who teaches communications at Purdue University, and the author of Public Media and Public Interest and Cultural Hegemony in the United States, said he sees these findings reflected in the constantly shifting narrative about the Islamic State. “The mainstream media in the US tends to accept uncritically whatever the US administration releases,” he says.”
Again, unlike virtually any other issue the mainstream media covers, when it comes to security and the military, they trust the military. Trusting the military is not their job. And it denies the government and military’s dodgy (at best) track record with the truth.
3. The televised media invited back the original Iraq war architects to discuss another war in Iraq.
Obviously, many media critics have made this point. The same neo-conservatives who pushed America into the original Iraq war are still being invited onto the Sunday talk shows as guests to discuss intervening in Iraq a second time. I could provide dozens of links to people making this point; I’ll just point you to The Colbert Report and what Jon Stewart calls “America’s tragedy herpe”.
Not only does the media invite John McCain and Lindsey Graham on to their shows to push military interventions--they favor intervention so much, I don’t even have to clarify which war--they invite them on more than any other politician or guest. Period.
Inviting Iraq war proponents on as guests proves that the media’s coverage is pro-war. Or at least, in an effort to avoid perceptions of bias, ends up biasing itself in pro-war/pro-intervention ways. This failure to provide even coverage also fails to educate the country about our military or foreign policy.
In closing, I haven’t suggested any solutions to the above problems. Good news: they’re coming on Wednesday.