The truth is the first casualty of war

BY MATT HEINZE | MARCH 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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First start the drumbeat, and then start the war: It's a policy governments have used for centuries to mobilize support. These days, however, no one seems to beat the drums as loudly as America's Fourth Estate.

So perhaps it's no surprise that in the wake of incessant media coverage over "developments" in the "Iranian crisis," President Obama issued his sternest declaration yet of the possibility of American intervention in Iran on Sunday. Promising he would "take no options off the table" in attempting to prevent the development of a nuclear-armed Iran, he assured pro-Israeli hawks around the globe that he was prepared to play rough as cameras stood rolling.

But as fairy tales of an Iranian nuke continue to flourish in media circles around the country, a more alarming trend has begun to re-emerge on the domestic front. At home, where info-tainment reigns supreme, the American public has repeatedly been introduced to this long-storied diplomatic dispute through the simple narrative of "us versus them." Unfortunately, as we've seen before and may soon again, this perspective can have disastrous consequences on our nation's ability to react in a rational manner.

Anyone tuning into network news lately should know the banter: The United States must strike now if we wish to prevent widespread chaos that would be unleashed by a nuclear-armed Iran. Yet often lost in the presentation are other possibilities for handling the Western-Iranian dispute, let alone any discussion over whether or not Iran is even close to being ready to produce a nuclear weapon.

In fact, there's little talk of diplomacy at all on the newswires. That's more than a bit unsettling, considering the consequences an intervention might produce, including higher gas prices, even as Iowans prepare to pay near-record rates at the pump. For a fragile global economy just shaking off a massive hangover, the consequences of another war are frightening.

Believing it is their civic duty to serve as the government's mouthpiece, though, media outlets have neglected to present American public sentiment in a manner consistent with those of average citizens. A mid-February poll taken by CNN/ORC, for example, noted that fewer than one in five Americans support military action in Iran. But that's not the impression one comes away with when NBC's Brian Williams notes Iran as an "enemy of the United States" or ABC's Diane Sawyer reports on a "shadow war being waged by Iran" on the evening news.

Troubling might otherwise reflect the current American media blitz if it shared no historical precedent. But as many observers have noticed, the over-reliance on government assumption and the formulation of simple narratives was also used extensively in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

In 2002, the President George W. Bush's administration warned of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the danger Iraq posed to the United States and its Western ally, Israel, on news outlets the world over. But officials didn't stop their fear-mongering efforts there. Instead, they further asserted the claim that Iraq was already in possession of WMDs or, at the very least, sought to produce them.

"We know where they are," former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld infamously told ABC's George Stephanopoulos just weeks after the invasion began. "They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat."

Of course, in retrospective, we now know Rumsfeld's claim was inexplicably wrong. But if one was to replace, say, "Tikrit" with "Tehran" and "Baghdad" with "Mashhad," there'd remain the strong possibility of overhearing some military official repeating this line of thinking on Fox News or MSNBC.

So it would seem the American media have once again embraced war fervor with open arms. Gone are the days of fact-checking and investigative analysis. Instead, it appears media companies have become content with being spoon-fed by government informants whose motives are never fully considered.

Alas, truth remains the first causality of war.

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