Right now in Iraq if you throw a rock in the air you'll stand a pretty good chance of it hitting either a solider or a journalist. Or at least you might be forgiven for thinking that if news coverage of the US lead war in that country is to be believed.
The war, now into its second week, dominates almost every minute of TV news and seemingly every column of newspaper and magazine print. With thousands of journalists in Iraq covering this war, as well as many more back in their respective countries doing the same, this conflict has become completely inescapable. We have become media cannon fodder for the clamoring networks desperately trying to be the first to break the latest stories and get us as close to the war as it's possible to be while sitting in front of a TV thousands of miles away.
Within hours of this conflict starting the media began to bombard us with facts and figures, diagrams and charts, live footage and library material, as well as special reports and 'expert analysis' of the war as it progressed, minute by minute. We're fed with more information than we could ever hope to absorb let alone comprehend. But almost overnight we can use seemingly technical military terms as if with knowledge while we idly chat about the war going on so far away, so close.
Already there have been victims on both sides. None more expensive though surely, than the war's earliest casualty, truth.
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said "In wartime, truth is so important that it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies." And in more recent times, just after the terrorist acts of September the 11th, the Pentagon sparked a hailstorm of debate when its plans to create a propaganda bureau called the Office of Strategic Influence were leaked to the New York Times.
That office was to be given the authority to plant false stories in the media to influence public opinion and project a favorable view of US military activity abroad. However, shortly after the New York Times article, the OSI was reportedly closed down. But were those reports real, or had they been planted?
It's been just over a week, and I've already given up on trying to follow war coverage. The constant intensity of it has left me looking for dry ground in this flood of information, disinformation, facts, and propaganda. I fear that while the truth is out there, it must surely be drowning. Lost in a flood it stood little chance of surviving. It may of course be washed ashore one day. But long after the echoes of gunfire and bomb blasts have faded into the surrounding deserts, who will be interested in yesterday's news?
The coverage thus far has made me seriously question our almost blind trust in the media. I don't think it would be entirely unfair to say that much of the western world has more faith in the power of the press than the power of any God. We see, therefore we believe. We're not encouraged to question, nor are we given the time to do so as the same news reports are simply repeated over and over again until something new is fed into the cycle.
The amount of information at our disposal has, it would seem to me, has given us a false sense of security. The news is served up and consumed like microwaved meals that fill our bellies but lack the very ingredients we need to stay healthy. And between the reports from far off places and interviews conducted under bright white studio lights, are commercials selling us shampoo and shower gel packed with fictional scientific formulas that carry a promise with a 'sell-by' date.
The lines between fact and fiction have become so blurred that we almost need both to be clearly labeled to be identified. Perhaps this is how it has always been? Certainly, propaganda has long been part of any political battle or war. But when the news has become 'newsetainment' and entertainment has become the news, our ability and indeed our desire to remain conversant with the world around seems to be fading over time.
I wonder how long the media saturation of the Gulf war will continue. What will tire first, the continuous coverage, or our interest in it? Is it possible to overdose on information, to simply consume too much?
Maybe we would become more interested in real news if we weren't force-fed such vast amounts of journalisms equivalent to the burger: bite-size bulletins consisting of news, gossip, conjecture, PR stunts, corporate and government propaganda, along with a few secrets and lies thrown in the mix to add that little splash of spice. It's not news, it's the lazy and unhealthy alternative mashed up for the masses, it's 'McNews.''
Perhaps I am wrong to give up on the truth like this. In giving up on the media are we not simply allowing them to continue serving up McNews unchecked? I don't like newsetainment, but when it seems that most people have simply sat down in resignation what can we do? We could switch off, unplug, and demand something of a higher quality I suppose. But we don't want to switch off and unplug do we, because if we did that, then how would we know what was going on in the world?