Not at all going to plan

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at
Mon Mar 31 17:17:11 MST 2003

Not at all going to plan

  TV Review/Shane Hegarty: The people at Fox News are confused, a little
hurt even. They can kind of understand why those dreadful Iraqi and Chinese
journalists ask the wrong questions at the Qatar Central Command briefings,
but on Wednesday there was a guy with an Australian accent hounding the US
military spokesman over the Baghdad marketplace bombing. "An Australian
accent!" repeated the news anchor. Of all the darn things for a journalist
to have.

War coverage, all channels

The X-Files, BBC2, Sunday

2003 Academy Awards, Network 2 and BBC1, Monday

They watch the news briefings with a look of puzzlement that sends cracks
through their make-up. The front row at these things is always made up of
American journalists. Good journalists, who ask good questions and get a pat
on the head and a treat in return. Behind them, however, sit the other
journalists - Arab journalists, British journalists, journalists with
Australian accents - and they are not asking good questions at all.

The media was promised a McWar. A war they wouldn't have to wait for, that
would be quickly finished and with minimum guilt. The army even brought the
journalists along for the ride so that they could see it happen. Now that
they're there, though, they're reporting on how the swift attack isn't so
swift and the "liberated" don't look so liberated. The allies waited until
the mess and mud and blood to point out that it would be messy, muddy and
bloody and now face the one thing that the media does very well: a backlash.

If the people at Fox News start watching British television they will want
to declare war on it. There is more than a hint of distaste not just among
the usual suspects on Channel 4 and Newsnight, but on the prime-time BBC
bulletins too. There are as many pieces questioning the tactics and spin of
the allies as there are straightforward reports on the action. Many of the
BBC's top correspondents were schooled in the insolence of Newsnight and it
is showing.

While Sky News still indulges itself in its war fetish, its correspondent in
Qatar, Geoff Meade, is frequently found posing the more awkward questions at
news conferences. In the studio there is a military analyst, Francis Tusa,
who is forthright and dramatic in his naysaying.

"That is not at all going according to plan!" he gasps, while strafing the
Skystrator map with arrows and tanks and little mushroom clouds.

RTÉ has proved an increasingly good bet too. That it lacks immediacy is
actually proving an advantage during a conflict in which the 24-hour
channels feel the need to convey every rumour and speculate about every
bang. Reports contain disclaimers about sources. Its bulletins are
uncluttered by unnecessary graphics. Richard Downes's dispatches from
Baghdad have been excellent and tinged with a gathering gloom about what
awaits the city. Mark Little's patience in northern Iraq is paying off, and
in the meantime he has filed informative reports from an area with less of
the flash and bang that diverts attention elsewhere.

Charlie Bird, meanwhile, is still in Kuwait City. When he leaves you will
know that the war is either over or that it will last a very long time. Last
week, he admitted that his information comes from the US and UK military
briefings. Charlie, his tan lit by the neon skyline, could be as well
informed at home on his settee. The drama, of course, would not quite be the

In this part of the world, the marketplace bombing was the main story of
Wednesday. On Fox News and NBC it was mentioned only so that it could be
dismissed. NBC gave it no more than 20 seconds. Fox News spent the day
calling the story "a lie", suggesting that the Iraqi government may have
fired on its own people. Its Operation Iraqi Freedom graphic, by the way,
includes a jet firing off a missile before transforming into a golden eagle.
Fox News mocks Iraqi TV's constant rotation of poems to Saddam and
newsreaders in military uniform. Then it turns to a reporter dressed in
fatigues who tells us how much the troops love George Bush.

Across all channels, however, the reasons for the war are still treated as
an impediment to the unfolding narrative. On Wednesday, every channel
carried live pictures of George Bush's rabble-rousing speech to the troops
in Florida, including the prayer that preceded it and Bush's invocation of
god's will ("We thank god that liberty found such brave defenders)."

Later that night, only CNN and BBC News 24 brought live coverage of Kofi
Annan's speech to the UN Security Council about the impending humanitarian
crisis. The United Nations? Is that old thing still around?

The finding of chemical protection suits was treated by US networks as the
evidence of chemical weapons that they had almost forgotten they were
looking for. They should search the US army supplies too. They'll find
plenty of evidence there. Meanwhile, by the end of the week we were being
shown more pictures of Iraqis being given aid than we ever saw of the 10
years of sanctions that made these people so desperate and hungry in the
first place.

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