The Media, The War, The Bottom Line

— Michael Betzold

IN 1991 I was a reporter at the Detroit Free Press. I watched, appalled, as the city room became a war room and the newspaper a propaganda sheet The headlines, the stories, the pictures all cheered on the generals. Television was presenting the war as great entertainment, a glorified video game, and the Free Press wanted to grab a share of this boom market.

Knowing that Detroit had the largest Iraqi-American population in the nation, I suggested to editors that it might be important to find out how they saw the war. I interviewed some local Chaldeans and wrote a story. It was cut-to make room for more articles and graphics about the wonders of our "smart bombs" -and buried on page 11 or so.

Some see this as an example of how the corporate media run in lockstep with the U.S. government. There’s some truth in that.

But I see it mostly as a prime example of what matters most to the bosses at the dailies. War sells papers. War grabs viewers. War is show business, as Robert De Niro’s character points out in the movie "Wag the Dog." This is the bottom line.

"I think the people are trying to do their best to understand the situation," says Tom Jabiru, a Chaldean from West Bloomfield Township, who has lived here thirty years and is outspoken about the recent crisis.

"I would put the blame on the media. I don’t know why we don’t get the facts. I don’t know why this present generation of journalists doesn’t subject the statements of the administration on Iraq to the same rigor they do other statements."

Having been for thirty-one months a member of a group that has been stigmatized, ignored and misrepresented by Free Press bosses, I share with Iraqi Americans an appreciation of how the media exclude inconvenient views.

Jabiru sees it this way: "I draw a great distinction between what America stands for... and the actions toward Iraq on the part of this administration and the prior administration as well as the action of journalists.

"They have to be held accountable for those actions. They have to answer to future generations, to historians, to their fellow human beings and ultimately to God."

The point is well taken.

ATC 74, May-June 1998