MARCH 27, 2003 15 Stories They’ve Already Bungled Mitchell on the War Coverage So Far
By Greg Mitchell
NEW YORK — Opinion
The war is only a week old and already the media has gotten at least 15 stories wrong or misreported a sliver of fact into a major event. Television news programs, of course, have been the prime culprits. Newspapers, while they have often gone along for the ride, have been much more nuanced and careful. Newspaper coverage has not been faultless, as photos and headlines often seem shock-and-awe-struck but, compared with TV, newspapers seem more editorially — and mentally — balanced. Some have actually displayed a degree of skepticism of claims made by the military and the White House — what used to be known as “journalism.”
On Monday, I received a call from a producer of a major network’s prime time news program. He said they wanted to interview me for a piece on how the public’s expectation of a quick victory somehow was too high. “But,” he hastened to add, “we don’t want to focus on the media.” I asked him where he thought the public might have received the information that falsely raised their hopes. In chat rooms, perhaps? The problem, I suggested, is that most of the TV commentators on the home front appear to be just as “embedded” with the military as the far braver reporters now in the Iraqi desert.
Surely this is a bipartisan issue. While many on the antiwar side complain about the media’s alleged “pro-war bias,” those who support the war, and the Bush administration itself, have also been ill served by overly-positive coverage that now has millions of Americans reeling from diminished expectations.
Here, then, is a list of stories that have been widely misreported or poorly reported so far:
1. Saddam may well have been killed in the first night’s surprise attack (March 20).
2. Even if he wasn’t killed, Iraqi command and control was no doubt “decapitated” (March 22).
3. Umm Qasr has been taken (March 22).
4. Most Iraqis soldiers will not fight for Saddam and instead are surrendering in droves (March 22).
5. Iraqi citizens are greeting Americans as liberators (March 22).
6. An entire division of 8,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendered en masse near Basra (March 23).
7. Several Scud missiles, banned weapons, have been launched against U.S. forces in Kuwait (March 23).
8. Saddam’s Fedayeen militia are few in number and do not pose a serious threat (March 23).
9. Basra has been taken (March 23).
10. Umm Qasr has been taken (March 23).
11. A captured chemical plant likely produced chemical weapons (March 23).
12. Nassiriya has been taken (March 23).
13. Umm Qasr has been taken (March 24).
14. The Iraqi government faces a “major rebellion” of anti-Saddam citizens in Basra (March 24).
15. A convoy of 1,000 Iraqi vehicles and Republican Guards are speeding south from Baghdad to engage U.S. troops (March 25).
Source: Editor & Publisher Online Greg Mitchell (gmitchell [at] editorandpublisher [dot] com) is editor of E&P.