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Media was biased toward military in gulf war

I am deeply disturbed by the appalling lack of objectivity in the media coverage of the war. Its willingness to accept the US version of the story without expressing even the most obvious of reasonable doubts has made the credibility of the "free media" seriously suspect.

Just two or three days before the US alleged that Saddam Hussein ordered pumping crude into the gulf, the coalition had acknowledged the bombing of a loaded Iraqi oil tanker. Not a single reporter questioned the military officials on the possibility that the leak could be from the bombed tanker.

Then the military said that it stemmed the spill. No questions or reports on the details of this alleged operation were heard or seen from the media. This oil spill was described as environmental terrorism by Saddam. No reports were offered on the environmental effects of bombing nuclear plants, chemical and biological weapons factories, and depots.

President Bush was shown several times, angrily alleging that Saddam set fire to Kuwaiti oil wells. Again the media was not concerned with the possibility that

the fires could be due to a few of the thousands of bombing missions being conducted.

The media promoted the two or three TV clips a day that were released by the military when they were flying thousands of raids everyday. No questions were asked about the possible mistakes. The abstract 80-percent success rate reported by the military got its share of publicity without even being explained. Even after the British military showed one guided bomb hitting the wrong target, no hard questions were forthcoming from the media about the civilian damage.

No ethical questions were raised about the merciless destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, including water supply and sewage pipes. No analyses were offered on the consequent long-term homelessness and the potential outbreak of communicable diseases. At the same time unabated propaganda was being aired about Saddam's immorality, his despicable gassing of the Kurds being cited as the leading example. Noticeably, this atrocious act attracted more attention from the US media after his invasion of Kuwait. If the media was really concerned about Saddam's moral standing they should have questioned his actions three years ago, not when the administration was looking for reasons to get rid of him. This tireless destruction of the Iraqi cities and towns was not even compared with the scorched-earth policy that Saddam has been accused of following.

Even after the TV networks got back into Baghdad, no pictures or reports of civilian casualties were shown except in the case of the bombing of a bomb shelter. However, numerous pictures of injured and crying children were shown from Israel after every Scud attack that resulted in casualties. Surprisingly, no children in the occupied territories went hungry or cried in spite of weeks of curfew.

The TV networks spent hours analyzing the war strategies with their "military consultants," all seemingly completely unconcerned with the death and destruction being caused by the war. It is a rarity to see anyone with anti-war sentiments or concern for human life being interviewed on TV.

All this from the "free" and "fair" media.

The media does not seem to realize the damage it is doing to the mental health of the American people by portraying a war fraught with human misery as a kind of a game. Discussions of military strategies presented with miniaturized Middle East maps equipped with toy tanks and airplanes, video clips of guided bombs blowing up targets, etc. do not really help people understand the realities of war.

The realities of war are children losing mothers, husbands losing wives, brothers losing sisters and thousands of people, young and old, men and women, losing legs, hands and eyes and having to live with it for the rest of their lives. Coupled with this, large-scale homelessness, widespread diseases and grinding poverty will also prevail after the war. This is the real picture of war. By projecting wars that in reality are horrendous as totally bloodless games, the media, consciously or not, is desensitizing the people to human misery. In this kind of militarized culture children are likely to grow up to be less compassionate and more violent.

By acting as a cheerleader to the military, the media is putting the democracy in this country at risk. The stabilizing forces in a democratic system are the checks and balances. People can respond to either excesses or deficiencies of the administration only if there exists a flow of accurate information. Thus a free and fair media forms, in my opinion, the most essential part of the balancing mechanism in a democracy. Right now the media seems to be thinking that the administration is the "good guy" and it should go easy on this "good guy," especially during a tough time like the war. Thus it is accepting the US version of the story without much scrutiny.

This kind of attitude on the part of the media has dangerous implications for the future. Historically, it's precisely during these times of war that governments of all kinds have committed the most serious crimes. On many occasions they have used small-scale wars to divert the attention of the media from tough domestic issues. If the media excuses the administration from tough scrutiny, leaders will find more and more room to overstep their authorities. This ultimately leads to the abuse of power.

The media might be thinking that it is being "patriotic" by going easy on the military, but in fact it is being "unpatriotic" by allowing the democratic traditions to rust.


Sasi K. Digavalli is a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.