Aaron Brown ( the CNN anchor doing the evening war coverage on CNN ) tries hard to give a balanced delivery of the war news, but it is easy to find the subtle phrasings which mark CNN coverage as being Coalition biased.

I’m not talking about the agenda bias — i.e. there is always a human interest story where the mother or wife of a Coalition soldier tells how their loved one is a good boy, good father or good husband, but there are no interviews with Iraqi mothers who say their (injured or captured or killed) sons in the Army are/were good boys, good fathers, and good husbands. There is plenty of commentary from retired American or British military men about the war, but of course none from any other military professional. There are plenty of pictures of bullets being fired in the direction away from the camera, but very few pictures of bullets flying towards the camera.

And of course, the war coverage in America is very sanitized. Aaron Brown was speaking with an Al Jazeera representative about the gruesome images shown on Iraqi TV and rebroadcast by Al Jazeera. Brown said “but these images were simply gruesome — can’t you convey the gruesomeness of war without showing such repulsive video?” I wish I had been there to respond ” No Aaron, even showing the most gruesome film of the war will never be able to convey the utter horror and ghastliness of combat, and you are lying to your viewers if you tell them otherwise”.

But these are the inevitable faults of war coverage: The human interest story would induce channel changing if it were the Iraqi mother lamenting the capture of her son, Iraqi military pundits are hard to come by, and the reporters just aren’t allowed to travel with the Iraqi units, and unsanitized war makes for bad press, and the last thing the press wants is bad press. They cause bias, but it is easy to understand why things are the way they are.

But language is more subtle. Compare the phrases:

“the injured Americans are coming home”
“the injured Americans are going home”

When spoken by a TV journalist, the first is biased, creating the feeling that the American soldier is part of the viewers’ community, whereas the second one isn’t

“the American troops made better progress today as they continued towards Baghdad”
“the American troops continued their advance towards Baghdad today”

In the first quote, progress is only better if you are on the American side. The second is neutral.

“the 3rd Brigade 7th Cavalry opened fire on enemy positions”
“the American 3rd Brigade 7th Cavalry opened fire on Iraqi positions”

In the first quote, the word “enemy” creates the impression that the journalist has taken the side of the Americans. Furthermore, leaving out the word American creates the impression that because the nationality is not stated, it must be the nationality of the reporter, or, worse, that the journalist believes that viewers’ will understand that if the unit number is given, it must be American, because viewers do not care about such details about the enemy forces, perhaps because their sons and daughters will not be part of that unit.

All of these examples were from CNN — the first line being the actual phrase which aired ( at least what I remembered). Listen carefully and you will find that CNN and ABC reporters try to avoid it but make such mistakes regularly. FOX reporters apparently make no effort to avoid them. NPR and BBC reporters very seldom make such mistakes.

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