It’s already reached the level of truism or cliché: as Desert Storm was CNN’s War, Iraqi Freedom is the Web’s War. The first person to set up an Anglophonic mirror of Al Jazeera is gonna cash in. ["Wait for it:" Voila! Now let’s hope they have the servers to handle it. -Ed.]
Less than a week before the "100 Hour War" opened in February 1991, I flew to Europe (I have never flown cheaper), ostensibly to study in Austria but really to visit my French girlfriend. As I was being shopped around her family and friends, I noticed video of tanks racing across the desert, but my girlfriend refused to translate any of the news commentary. I had to wait until I was on the train back to Austria to grab a Trib to read the Agincourt allusions. Nevertheless, I had absorbed four weeks’ of air war coverage, enough to impress upon me the "video game briefing."
Last week I had the TV on pretty much all the time, flipping between CNN and MSNBC and Fox News, waiting for something definitive to happen. It must say I wasn’t at all impressed with the video from either Baghdad or the embedded journalists; it was mostly night-vision mush. I suppose that, to people who remember the delayed coverage of Vietnam and earlier conflicts, this realtime Pong show is exciting. To us post-Saving Private Ryan folk, this stuff is just poorly blocked and lacking in strategic context.
Finally, both sides in this conflict have prepared elaborate psy-ops strategies, turning the 24/7 television coverage into the primary theatre of the propaganda war. TV journalists don’t seem to acknowledge that governmental sources are not their allies in reporting the truth, and ever-shortening news cycles elevate rumors to the status of breaking news. On Friday 21 March 2003, all three cable news networks reported that the entire Iraqi 51st Infantry Division — 8000 men — had surrendered and that the coalition had captured Basra. As of this writing, the coalition is claiming a total Iraqi prisoner count of 2000 men, and a portion of the 51st Division is dug into Basra, awaiting a coalition assault.
So now I watch very little TV news. The ticker headlines are much more informative than the talking heads, and when the ticker cycles back to the beginning, I know I’ve exhausted the info value and switch the TV off. I find that checking an array of web news sources every six hours or so yields information that is much more measured and developed. More importantly, the sources are of course infinitely more varied. If I had satellite TV, I might approach the variety of web sources, but it would still be Short Attention Span Theater.
This is not to say that web news sources are unbiased, but at least they are up front with their bias, and I can mix the biases to taste. Today’s menu (revised daily):
Where is Raed?