April 1, 2003
By Leilla Matsui
There's little news on CNN... unless of course, you want
to know how the Dow Index is doing or what the latest developments
are in cases involving missing white children. As for war
coverage, CNN merely gives us the bells and whistles; nifty
graphics, Hollywood editing techniques and a blockbuster score
to pre-empt the real groundbreaking news - the commercials.
CNN anchors spend much of their airtime congratulating themselves
for being able to deliver such a polished product in the time
that it takes to slap together a quarter pounder. Unfettered
by the nutritional requirements of content, CNN brings it
to you shiny-wrapped and steaming off the wire.
Like its fast food counterparts, American news relies on
the statistical improbability of the consumer ever actually
opening the bun to reveal the reconstituted offal inside.
News Inc., has become the forum for generals, commanders and
CEO's to deliver a non-stop monologue of praise for themselves
and the institutions that bask in the reflected glory of the
shining tin on their chests. News viewers are seldom expected
to digest the glut of information beamed at them with the
intensity of a pixellated shock and awe campaign. We remember
the headlines but more often than not, forget what's beneath
the bold print. The sonorously indifferent lull of General-speak
sets the mood for a collective amnesia - not much different
from the starchly induced slumber that comes with consuming
too many empty calories. How many of us even remember what
never took place a few days ago yet somehow have it etched
in distant memory as "breaking news?"
Just days ago, it was reported (falsely, as it turns out)
that allied forces had unearthed what Hans Blix and his UN
team were unable to find - weapons of mass destruction - the
smoking gun Washington hawks had promised to produce as evidence
of Saddam Hussein's Dr Evil plot to rid the world of America
a few gas cannisters at a time. Again, breaking news became
just more breaking wind from the Pentagon when CNN (along
with several other American news agencies) failed to verify
reports of a scud missile cruising into Kuwait from Baghdad.
Under the guidelines the UN laid out to disarm Iraq after
the first Gulf War, Soviet-made Scud missiles with their long-range
capabilities were strictly verboten. If such reports were
true then Washington had what it needed to say, "see,
told you so" to former allies in Europe, including all
those Communist agents in the Vatican. Later, intelligence
sources discredited these reports so yet another smoking gun
became just one more steaming pile of manufactured manure
on the information super-grapevine reported as fact and not
even checked before leading the news.
If CNN represents the Golden Arches of television broadcasting,
then the FOX News channel is its dirtier Burger Barn rival,
throwing guns and girls into its primetime mix of hard-broiled
infotainment. As self-appointed custodians of fear, Fox anchors
use their newsroom as a bully-pulpit to brow-beat their viewers
into believing that fair and balanced reporting means twelve
hours of liberal-bashing followed by twelve hours of bashing
liberals. CNN plays the more cautious role of guardian to
their corporate master's interests; the chickenhawk politics
of the Saab driving, country club set - a declining demographic
of Canadian grandmothers who call into Larry King's show and
are careful not to offend the visiting generals on the set.
CNN brings the war to us with anchors recycled from the coffee
klatch programs that are the mainstay of their ratings. The
silkily glib Paula Zahn does her battlefront lounge act from
her Manhattan studio alongside her embedded colleagues who
wave at her by satellite link from Kuwait. For Paula Zahn's
viewers, war coverage is a blonde-led prayer breakfast with
assorted colonels and the relatives of enlisted men and women
who looked shocked and awed to be in the presence of someone
almost as famous as Jerry Springer.
Like the McFood that CNN emulates in its McNews format, the
finished product resembles no more than trace evidence of
the slaughterhouse's mechanized momentum of bloodletting.
"All The War Without The Gore," seems to be CNN's
dubious moral stance to the $75 billion and counting X-rated
version of the Iraqi Horror Picture Show they've packaged
to look a National Geographic special. If you want to see
the true face of this invasion the only option is the foreign
press, whose news teams unsparingly transmit images of the
real war - the ravaged and grimacing corpses who even in death,
know something that CNN viewers never will.
Leilla Matsui is a freelance writer living in Tokyo.