Iraq War Coverage: Background Reading
Readings and discussion questions explore such topics as what it means to be "embedded" and how the media covered the pulling down of Saddam Hussein's statue and the attack on Fallujah.
By Alan Shapiro
Each of the following news items is preceded by introductory questions that might help you get a sense of how well informed students are on a particular issue. Following the news items are discussion questions, some of which might also be used for writing assignments.
A. The Statue of Saddam Hussein
- How many students recall the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad?
- What, specifically, do they remember about the event?
B. The Attack on Fallujah
- Do these officials always provide the most accurate information that they can?
- Should they? Why or why not?
December 1, 2004:
- Do you think that Aaron Brown's statement about the "important and explicit bargain between the press and the Pentagon in time of war" is appropriate? Why or why not?
- Was it reasonable for the military to mislead the public in this instance? Why or why not?
- If you think it was reasonable, then how are citizens in a democratic society to know when the military is lying and when it is telling the truth? And how are they likely to react to what they read in newspapers and view on TV?
- If you think it wasn't reasonable, then doesn't always telling the truth make the military's already difficult task even more difficult?
C. Some Headlines
- Who decides what news to put in a TV newscast or in a newspaper?
- Who decides what words will be used? what pictures? where the item will appear?
- What difference do any of these decisions make for the viewer or reader?
- "For U.S. Soldiers, Therapy Helps Ease Battle Stress"
- "Hope for Missing GIs Gives Way to Sadness"
- "Rescued U.S. Private Reunited with Family"
April 7, 2003:
- "Iraqi Hospitals Offer Snapshot of Horror"
- How would you explain the difference between the Tribune and Daily Star headlines?
- Since headlines are what newspaper readers usually see and respond to first, how would you describe the likely different reactions of Tribune and Daily Star readers to "the news" of the day?
D. A Radio Interview
- What is an "embedded" reporter?
- How is the fact that the reporter is embedded likely to affect his relationships with troops?
- What differences might this make in his or her reporting?
E. The Language of Reporting
- Should a TV news anchor offer his or her opinions about the news being reported? Why or why not?
- What language would you use to identify Iraqis who are fighting U.S. troops? Why?
- What language would you use to identify Iraqis who are fighting with or in support of U.S. troops? Why?
- What difference does it make what language you use?
- What is your opinion of the Cavuto and Gibson remarks? Why?
- In the Post and Times reports, Iraqis supporting U.S. troops are called "Iraqi forces." On CNN, Iraqis opposing U.S. troops are called "anti-Iraqi forces." And in the Times those Iraqis fighting U.S. troops are called "insurgents" or "Iraqi rebels." Since over 90 percent of those fighting the U.S. are Iraqis, why aren't they called "Iraqi forces"? What makes them "Iraqi rebels," as they are designated by the Times or "anti-Iraqi forces" as they are designated on CNN?
F. Coverage of Violence on Arab TV and on American TV
- What differences, if any, are you aware of?
- How would you account for these differences?
- How do you account for the differences in reporting between Arab-language networks and American TV?
- What criticisms, if any, do you have of the Arab-language networks? American TV?
G. An Attack on Fallujah General Hospital
- What do you know about the Geneva Conventions?
- Can you name any specific provisions?
- What is your understanding of why most of the countries in the world, including the U.S., have agreed to them?
- Can you think of any reasons why U.S. forces might attack a hospital? If so, what are they?
- According to the report, what seems to have been the reason for the U.S. attack the Fallujah hospital?
- How would you evaluate this reason?
- Why are the five people "suspected of being foreign fighters, including one from Syria" referred to as "foreign fighters" but not the American troops, who are also foreign?
- In this hospital attack, did the U.S. violate to Fourth Geneva Convention? Why or why not?
- If the U.S. did, what should be done about the violation?
- Why do you think the Times report doesn't mention the Fourth Geneva Convention in its account of the attack on the Fallujah hospital?
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