Mar 2, 2006

Review: When News Lies

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Danny Schechter. New York: Select Books, 2006. Available at this Amazon link

(Toledo, OH) Schechter is is a television producer and independent filmmaker, and is a veteran of the news business. He had stints as a producer at ABC and CNN, and was an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

When News Lies: Media Complicity And The Iraq War is a disturbing book that is accompanied by the feature-length DVD of Schechter's prize-winning film "WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception)." The author condemns the roles played by American mainstream media in both promoting and misreporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

While Schechter has a clear antiwar bias, his book and film are less concerned with the questionable reasons for the Iraq war so much as the sort of collusive, incestuous relationship that has evolved between the media and the US military. Even ardent supporters of the war should be disturbed by the author's sober details of the failings of American media to act as journalists and not as cheerleaders.

Schechter convincingly argues that the military actively engaged in a campaign to control media coverage of the Iraq war, and quoted General Tommy Franks as describing the management of the media as a "fourth front" in the war.

Left: Danny Schechter, self-described "news dissector"

The author raised unsettling questions about an American corporate media that must choose between criticizing a government's military plans, while simultaneously beseeching the same government for regulatory plums. Schechter also looked at the phenomenon of embedded reporters; the net result of this new wartime coverage seems to be the destruction of objectivity.

The book and film have interviews with a wide assortment of media, military, and government figures whose collective insights lend credence to Schechter's thesis. Of note to Toledo readers: Schechter singles out the Toledo Blade and reporter James Drew for their willingness to cover topics ignored by the mainstream media.

Irrespective of one's position on the justification for war in Iraq, this book is a must read for anyone concerned about democracy, journalistic integrity, and transparent governance. Buy it, borrow it, and tell everyone you know to read this important critique of American mainstream media.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'll have to check it out, Mike. I never heard of Danny Schechter before.

-- Petrograde

liberal_dem said...

The poll released on Wednesday reported that 85% of the G. I.'s in iraq believe that Saddam had a direct hand in the 9-11 attacks.

Imagine that. And to think they are dying for Bush's lies.

historymike said...

We may never know if WMD was a lie or "bad intelligence," but it is a shame that so many people are dead for weapons either long-gone or non-existent.

-Sepp said...

Working as a professor of journalism at Columbia makes me automatic in my suspicion of this guy and his motives. As for the WMD questions, Investors business daily reported about some Nixon style office tapes seized from Saddam's office where he discusses WMD and the deceptions of the UN's inspection teams. The story was seemingly overshadowed by Cheney's ignorance of basic hunting rules.

historymike said...

Yes, he's a left-of-center, and yes, he is against the war, Sepp.

His book and film go a lot deeper than just a Franken-esque, liberal elite party line. Schechter takes as many shots at Dems as he does the GOP, and he is actually much more critical of ABC, CNN, and NBC as he is of FOX.

He also pays FOX's Bill O'Reilly some compliments for admitting on air that he, too, was duped by WMD.

There are a lot of thought-provoking criticisms in both the book and film that stick with me days after finishing them. The whole issue of the embedded reporter is one.

How objective, really, can reporters be of a military that they owe their very lives to? He had some examples of reporters who were actually engaging in quasi-military activities, like acting as scouts or carrying weapons. Odd stuff.

Some of the reporters admitted that they were swept up in a sort of leatherneck fervor when they were in the field.

The responses of some executives, though, were most telling, as were the profiles of some of the military's media experts, like Victoria Clarke.

You can see how much Schechter annoys supposedly liberal talking heads like Tom Brokaw; Schechter stirs up the corporate media hornet's nest and has candid clips of media heavyweights with their guards down.

The master plan of the military media campaign reads like something out of Orwell.

And, unlike Michael More's Farenheit 9-11, I am not able to poke gaping holes in Schechter's work. I detect some bias, but his thesis holds water: corporate media worked hand-in-glove with the government to provide a vertically-integrated, sanitized coverage of the Iraq War.

And if they can pull it off on a military excursion, where else might mainstream media remain agreeably silent?

Anonymous said...

I do support the President in getting rid of Sadaam, but I think that America rushed to war. Had we planned it better we wouldn't have all these problems now.

liberal_dem said...

I do support the President in getting rid of Sadaam,

Why? How has it been a benefit to our nation? Billions of $$$ down the black hole, +2200 dead soldiers, and the world laughing at our aggorant ignorance.

And you support this?

Stephanie said...

"How has it been a benefit to our nation?"

A nasty tyrant that we (as a nation) have shamefully supported for years is now out of power and will not be able to terrorize "his" people ever again.

Then again, an perspective that includes an act of responsibility is often lost on the far-left liberal side of affairs.

Stefan Schmidt said...

A nasty tyrant that we (as a nation) have shamefully supported for years is now out of power and will not be able to terrorize "his" people ever again.
======

It is neither our duty nor should it be our goal to globetrot and ‘liberate’ banana republics at whim (don’t be fooled—Saddam was not removed because he was a ‘nasty’ tyrant).

Actions such as these provoke men to fly planes into towers.

Saddam was no threat to the USA and as of now has managed to govern that hunk of desert much better than we have.

I would advocate re-installing Saddam as president/dictator and getting the hell out of there before they start killing each other and ultimately our soldiers.

=====
Then again, an perspective that includes an act of responsibility is often lost on the far-left liberal side of affairs.
======

Isolationism is conservatism…..

M A F said...

"Schechter also looked at the phenomenon of embedded reporters; the net result of this new wartime coverage seems to be the destruction of objectivity.

I'd say "mission accomplished."

Of course, the media has been on a downward spiral after congress did away with the "fairness doctrine" with the passage of the Telecommunications Act in 1996. It gave rise to the to the disinfotainment of right-wing radio.

With regards to my cartoon Mike, I'd have to say that the Republicans aren't the only ones wearing rose colored glasses.

Was Mr. Schechter ever interviewed by any members of the MSM regarding the contents of his book? I haven't seen any coverage.

McCaskey said...

"A nasty tyrant that we (as a nation) have shamefully supported for years is now out of power and will not be able to terrorize "his" people ever again.

Then again, an perspective that includes an act of responsibility is often lost on the far-left liberal side of affairs"---


This is nonsense. The reason given for the invasion was direct threat to our country though WMD and ties to Al-Queda. When those "reasons" turned out to be manipulative exaggerations and half-truths (at best) we're supposed to say, "It's ok....at least Saddam is gone." 85 percent of our soldiers there evidently believe those "reasons" (recent Zogby poll). In other words, they're fighting for causes that never existed. An unbelieable waste.

historymike said...

Mac - Schechter has been on many programs; he is in demand as a media critic.

His political views are left-of-center, but I wouldn't call him an ideologue. This book just hammers away at the hypocrisy and unquestioning stupor of mainstream media during the run-up to, and excecution of the war in Iraq.

Some of the footage in the film is amazing, as "reporters" in fatigues and helmets are running around like soldiers. They are caught up in the excitement and terror of the battlefield, and sound just like Marines.

Now, the Marines have tough jobs, don't get me wrong. But the embeds are supposed to be journalists, not flag-waving soldiers. The objectivity goes p-h-h-h-h-h-t when the reporters "become" the people they are supposed to be reporting on.

Stephanie said...

Stefan,

"It is neither our duty nor should it be our goal to globetrot...don’t be fooled..."

I wasn't suggesting we globetrot (actually, I'm much more of the "just don't support the tyrants" type) and I'm not fooled as to why Bush went in, but that doesn't mean I can't support his initial decision just because I don't support it for his reasons. Never supporting him in the first place and not helping put/keep him in power would have prevented this whole mess. Just because some think it was a strategically sound decision at the time, doesn't mean it was wise or right. And I personally believe doing what is ethical is more important than doing what is strategic.

"Isolationism is conservatism..."

Not for this conservative.

Stephanie said...

"This is nonsense."

It's not nonsense. It's why I support the war. It's why I believe the war is worth supporting. I did not and do not claim that this is why Bush went to war!

"85 percent of our soldiers there evidently believe those "reasons" (recent Zogby poll)."

Hmm. It does make me wonder what they're seeing on the ground that we're not. Then again, the pollers probably didn't "get around" any more than the reporters do.

liberal_dem said...

Stephanie, twisting in the wind.

Stephanie said...

Hardly.

liberal_dem said...

Surely.