Tuesday, March 22, 2011

All Out War - CNN vs. Fox

CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson was fuming. Accused by the rival Fox network of being an unwitting "human shield" duped by the Gaddafi forces, he was lashing out at his accuser.

"This allegation is outrageous and it's absolutely hypocritical," ranted Robertson, in a rare direct attack on Fox. When you come to someplace like Libya you expect lies from the dictatorship here. You don't expect it from the other journalists."

Strong words.

One problem: Robertson had no information to contradict the central allegation in Fox's report, namely that British planes called off a missile attack on Muammar Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli because a busfull of reporters, including from CNN and Reuters were being given a tour of the damaged building at the time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The "Non-Targeting" of Moammar Gaddafi

"I can guarantee that he's not on a targeting list," Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, told reporters late Sunday afternoon at the Pentagon.

But does that mean the U.S. and it's allies are not trying to kill the Libyan leader, who is vowing to wage a long war to stay in power?

Uh, not exactly.

Technically, what Adm. Bill Gortney says is true. For one thing it's nearly impossible to kill a single individual with cruise missiles, or airstrikes, so the military is never going to admit they tried a "Hail Mary" shot on the slim hopes of decapitating the regime.

Reporters with longer memories may recall when the U.S. tried to killed Osama bin Laden back in 1998, with a volley of cruise missiles aimed at his mountain redoubt, the Pentagon steadfastly, and with a straight face, insisted bin Laden was not the target. Just "terrorist infrastructure."

The reason for that is simple. Infrastructure, which doesn't move, is infinitely easier to hit than people.

But just like in the opening days of the 2003 Iraq war, when the U.S. tried to killed Saddam Hussein with airstrikes even before the ground invasion began, you have to know that there was at least a hope that the whole messy situation might be resolved with a couple of well-placed cruise missiles, which were fired by a British submarine, by the way.

Adm. Gortney you will note, did not say the coalition was trying to avoid killing him. Gaddafi is fair game if he happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, say inspecting a missile site. Or at his Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, which was destroyed Sunday. Or really anywhere allied forces strike.

And not being specifically "targeted" is a distinction that makes little difference to Gaddafi himself. He's well aware that the U.S. would be perfectly happy to see him dead, and is willing to use lethal force, as it did in 1986.

In this case military actions speak louder than words from a Pentagon briefer. And that message is: We'll kill you if we can, so get out now and save your skin.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Missing the Lessons of Japan

Amateur Night at the Big Three Networks

Could it happen here?

It's a basic question any self-respecting news organization asks itself after a major disaster. And a very legitimate question it is. People want to know, need to know. Should they worry? How much? It's a core function of good journalism to help the public understand the real risks, the real issues that are in dispute.

And in the case of the Japanese nuclear crisis, it's particularly relevant, since there are currently 23 U.S. reactors in service that are based on the same 1960s design as reactors at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi complex.

So this past week, all three major news networks assigned top reporters to answer the question. And they all failed miserably.

Not only did all three television networks fail to answer the key questions, not one of their reporters even raised the key questions!

And keep in mind, these are the pros, at the pinnacle of broadcast journalism, working the top news organizations, the venerable big three: ABC, NBC, and CBS.

So what was wrong with their reports?