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Columnist Criticizes Iraq Coverage

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Columnist Criticizes Iraq Coverage


NEW YORK -- With most column commentary ranging from the right to liberal, what does a rare left voice in mainstream syndication have to say now that the U.S. is at war with Iraq (news - web sites)?

For one thing, Creators Syndicate writer Norman Solomon is dismayed with the cheerleading approach many U.S. newspapers are taking in the initial days of war. And the media columnist said the practice of "embedding" journalists with U.S. soldiers is partly to blame.

"Embedding means the journalists covering the U.S. war on Iraq are 'in bed' with the military," said Solomon, explaining that the system can lead to reporters losing objectivity as they bond with troops.

"If journalists are going to embed themselves with U.S. troops, they should also embed themselves with Iraqi families," he told E&P Online Friday. "But it's obviously better to be on the sending rather than the receiving end of missiles."

Solomon has a unique perspective on coverage of Iraq. He visited that country three times since the fall -- including a September trip with past and present members of the U.S. Congress and a December trip with actor/director Sean Penn (news) that upset Bush-administration supporters. The Creators columnist also co-wrote, with Reese Erlich, Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You (Context Books, 2003), which is about to go into its fifth printing.

Since the war began, views questioning the Bush administration's Iraqi policy are "shrinking drastically" in newspapers, said Solomon. He noted that some dissent can still be seen on Op-Ed pages and in inside-page stories, but very little is in editorials or on front pages.

Why? For one thing, said Solomon, reporters who want to get front-page stories know they shouldn't "rock the boat." He recalled, during his Iraq trips, talking to "perceptive, hardworking" American reporters who expressed skepticism about Bush's Iraq policies but rarely wrote stories quoting people reflecting that view.

Most mainstream dailies, said Solomon, are very conscious about reflecting the consensus of U.S. "elites." Since few prominent Democrats have spoken out against war on Iraq, newspapers feel they don't need much content against it, either -- even though there is plenty of antiwar sentiment in the communities where newspapers circulate.

Solomon contrasted this with several British dailies that have "really bucked the powers that be on Downing Street. They have provided [antiwar] commentary and news coverage I absolutely couldn't imagine on a regular basis in The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Many U.S. newspapers, continued Solomon, make it seem like the U.S. is attacking only Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) when in fact many innocent Iraqi civilians are also being put in harm's way.

Solomon emphasized that he's no fan of Hussein. He said, for instance, that Hussein has been brutal against the Kurds in Iraq -- but adds that U.S. newspapers rarely mention that the Kurds also have a difficult time in Turkey (an American ally). Readers are being told "who to cry for and who to ignore," said Solomon. "We're being manipulated."

The columnist added that the war is more about things such as oil and displaying American power than about the reasons President Bush (news - web sites) has offered.

Solomon -- who said TV and other non-newspaper media are also being too positive about the war -- has written his Creators column solo since 1996 and with Jeff Cohen during the four years before that. He reported no cancellations of his column since the U.S. invaded Iraq, but noted that his antiwar views and hard-hitting criticism of American media have led to a number of past cancellations.

The author of 10 books is also founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy -- which tries, among other things, to get progressive voices represented in media coverage.

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