Mixed up Media

As our country finds itself immersed in a brutal war, Americans and Arabs alike turn to the media for information and updates. Americans faithfully view CNN, while many Arabs tend to lean toward al-Jazeera, the most prominent Arabic-language satellite network. Although these two news stations are reporting on the same war, they produce two completely different tales. Each network, with its one-dimensional focus, reinforces popular stereotypes and widens the gap between the Western and the Arab worlds. CNN exposes its viewers to scenes illustrating American prowess, courage, and innovation. It excels in coverage of American paratroopers leaping off planes and coalition troops pushing the Iraqi front. CNN constantly parades the technology used in the war and by those journalists covering combat. The reporters proudly extol American strategies, while retired generals probe maps of the fighting areas. The majority of this CNN coverage is pro-American and breathtakingly unsympathetic to the loss of human life and property suffered by Iraqi civilians. Al-Jazeera could not cover the war more differently. The network constantly airs images of blood, disorder, and bedlam. In its coverage, troops fight amidst the filthy land, and the television images juxtapose wounded civilians—especially innocent children—receiving treatment in hospitals while, in split frames, perilous American bombs dot the Iraqi sky. Al-Jazeera depicts the harsh reality of the war and its impact on the Iraqi people, while generally ignoring the bravery of those coalition soldiers who are risking their lives to save others. Occasionally, CNN will attempt to broaden its horizons and show the effect the war has on people. However, CNN doesn’t give any information on the Arab people; on the contrary, it profiles only Americans, the latest such profile featuring the families of our prisoners of war, such as the now-famous Jessica Lynch. This is, of course, an important subject of genuine interest to Americans, but it is not the whole story. What about the Iraqi prisoners of war, particularly those who were forced to fight or risk the death of their families? And while both CNN and American newspapers sport headlines that reveal the exact number of the Americans killed in the war, they rarely do the same for the Iraqis who perish. This imbalance seems to endorse the view that one American life is more important than one Iraqi life—a notion that reinforces American stereotypes of Muslims and widens the gulf between the East and West. CNN and al-Jazeera’s separate accounts make it hard for the public to understand all the dimensions of this war. One-sided US media doesn’t reveal to Americans the causalities, risks, and downsides of war as it relates to innocent civilians and tends to deliver a distorted picture of the realities of war: one of cutting-edge technology and “sanitary” fighting, while ignoring civilian casualties and the effect of such a war on the beautiful and historically significant cities of Iraq. This will influence Americans, unaware of the full human cost of war, to support armed conflicts in the future. Indeed, some observers believe that France and Germany opposed the war, in part, because each has experienced first-hand the devastation of war during World War II. But al-Jazeera is guilty of similar faults. Al-Jazeera shows its viewers almost exclusively Iraqi deaths, rather than the American deaths, and generally views Americans as crazed crusaders rather than as a legitimate fighting force. Both CNN and al-Jazeera try to show their viewers what they believe the audience would like to see. Each network wants to record good ratings, outperform their competitors, and gain advertising revenue, but in doing so, both TV stations have objectives other than simply reporting the facts. The media, however, has an obligation to report honestly, fully, and fairly. When the media serves only to reinforce popular stereotypes, it does a disservice not only to the viewer, but also to the greater goal of world peace and understanding.