March 24, 2003
Incomplete Thoughts on News Coverage of the War in Iraq

I worry that frequent watching of the news coverage of the war in Iraq is poison for one's brain. Least insidiously, up-to-the-minute information is (understandably) often quite inaccurate; but as humans we tend not to be very effective at discounting information that comes from an incredible source. Once we've heard something, over time we tend to forget about the reliability of the source and just remember what we heard. (I believe that psychologists call this "source dissociation.") Thus, we may make false judgements based on innaccurate information if we watch too much "breaking" news.

More worrisome is I think that much of the information that does come out is derives directly or indirectly from the propoganda of interested parties. I suppose this is true of news reporting in general, but it all seems to take on a greater intensity during wartime. Imbedded reporters are limited in what they can say for serious security reasons, but agenda items such as maintaining morale, intimidating the enemy, etc. may affect what is being reported. Similar influences may affect the briefings of senior military or politicians on both sides. Even reporters not in the field may have some trouble maintaining objectivity in the face of a threat to American citizens.

Another critique I have heard of the wartime coverage is that it is deplorably presented as entertainment, and, on the consumer side, that sick, bloodthirsty American viewers enjoy watching war. I am not as ready to critique the media in this manner, (nor do I believe americans are bloodthirsty). It is important for us to be informed of events, and the news media really our only option for doing so. But I do think constant viewing tends to give the war the emotional feel of a sporting event in which we're rooting for an outcome, say, the victory of the US with few causalities. But it's not a sporting event, and the danger is that watching the war with such an attitude tends to push one's (or at least my) mind in the direction of frighteningly hateful feelings.

I guess what I'm going to do is to watch long term, but not short term. I'll read analysis at the end of the week, say, in the economist magazine or other summary news sources. This won't keep me exactly up to the second, but I think being up to the second is not healthy, as events seem to shift so quickly. I am open to other suggestions, however.

Posted by ethan at March 24, 2003 05:34 PM

I'll admit it, I'm a news junkie. I'll sit there listening, reading, or watching the news for half my life and not even notice. But there's something I want to add to the source dissonance byproduct of constant and instant news coverage. It's that I tend to find news biased no matter where it comes from. Being in Baja California the past week, you notice that the slant on the coverage is vastly different. It's more raw. They show destruction from the US soldiers family's side and also in technocolor on the Iraqi side. None of that through the b/w U2 spyplane shot of distant distruction for them! It's actually not the bias that bothers me. It's that in the U.S. we're taught that bias doesn't exist in our news. "We report, you judge" they say. Unfortunately, what you're basing your judgement on are the sanitized, piecemeal pieces of a larger puzzle.

Posted by: teddy on March 30, 2003 8:51 PM

Here's a hilarious example of why we shouldn't be too quick to gobble up everything news correspondents feed us:

Posted by: irene on April 10, 2003 4:21 PM
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