This past week, as the world marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the corporate news media confirmed the latest Washington consensus on the war: mistakes were made, perhaps, but things are looking up.
It's plain to see why -- despite the historical record, let alone the "facts on the ground" -- the corporate press has such a rosy picture of the war: the US press corps' uncritical reliance upon elite news sources.
Action alerts regarding press coverage marking the anniversary of the war in Iraq issued this week by the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) confirm as much.
For instance, in a dispatch dated March 17, 2008, FAIR notes that a feature in last Sunday's New York Times' "Week in Review" section "leaned heavily towards pro-war voices." The FAIR report found, "The 'experts' who were asked to weigh in were all more or less supporters of the Iraq war, most of whom evinced no regret about their errors."
The self-assured and sanctimonious attitude struck by the hawkish luminaries assembled by the New York Times stands in stark contrast to the regret and recrimination expressed by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations at the hearings convened last week by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). As media critic Jeff Cohen observed, "On panel after panel, the veterans offered heartfelt 'apologies to the Iraqi people' for what our country has done to their country."
The event, titled "Winter Soldier" -- a reference to the historic Vietnam-era hearings of the same name conducted in Detroit in 1971 -- was held at the National Labor College, not far from Washington, DC. And yet, the national press corps ignored the hearings and the dramatic, heartrending testimony of veterans and their families who are struggling to make sense of the tragic consequences of an illegal and immoral war.
For all their talk of supporting the troops, the corporate media (not unlike beltway pundits and politicians) refused to acknowledge the inconvenient truths about civilian causalities, torture, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Veterans' Administration's shameful mistreatment of returning veterans revealed by over 100 eyewitnesses to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Public broadcasting fared only slightly better than their corporate media counterparts. The Sunday, March 16 edition of All Things Considered aired a brief report on the Winter Soldier hearings. Tellingly, a report on the previous Friday's broadcast of Morning Edition describing the therapeutic value of fly-fishing for disabled vets received more airtime.
With a few exceptions, then, the national media ignored the hearings, effectively marginalizing anti-war voices and denying veterans and their families an opportunity to speak their truth to power.
According to Linda Milazzo of The Real News Network, "Were it not for independent media like Free Speech TV and Pacifica Radio ... and internet streaming via the Iraq Veterans Against the War website there would have been a total blackout of the live testimonials of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans."
The rub here is that grassroots and independent media, which operate on shoestring budgets and reach only a fraction of the American people, provide a more robust forum for democratic debate than their well-heeled mainstream counterparts.
All of which begs the question: Shouldn't we demand more from corporate and public service media? After all, democracy is served best by a media system that represents the full diversity of opinion and expression of society.
For more information and extensive coverage of the Winter Soldier hearings, go to:
Pacifica Radio www.pacifica.org
Free Speech TV www.freespeech.org
Real News Network www.therealnews.com
Democracy Now! www.democracynow.org
Iraq Veterans Against the War www.ivaw.org
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at