Keep up with “your” war

By on March 19, 2003

The invasion of Iraq is an enormously important story. I urge Quinnipiac students to follow the war and its aftermath closely. It’s “your” war. It will have an impact on your generation just as the Vietnam War had on mine. Pay attention.

Will we suffer many casualties? Will terrorists hit targets in our country? Can we really rebuild Iraq as a friendly democracy? Will our sagging economy grow weaker or rebound? Have our relations with European countries and other long-term allies been damaged beyond repair? Will the world’s 1 billion Muslims (many of whom are not in the Middle East) view us as the enemy? Will George W. Bush be seen as a hero or a fool?

Watch news on the all-news cable channels and the traditional networks. Listen to radio reports, especially from the ABC and CBS networks and NPR. Scan a newspaper every day. Read Time or Newsweek every week.

The all-news cable channels — CNN, Fox and MSNBC — are providing almost 24/7 coverage. The traditional networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS — are canceling or rescheduling normal programming. The NCAA basketball tournaments may be switched to cable channels. Even non-news cable channels, such as MTV and BET, have programming related to the war.

The better newspapers are adding pages for war coverage. If you aren’t interested in local news, read USA Today. The stories are tightly written. Maps, charts and other graphics help the reader understand what is going on.

Pay special attention to reports from “embedded” correspondents. The Pentagon has allowed 500 journalists to live shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. military units. They are from print, radio and TV news organizations. About 20 percent work for foreign news outfits, including the BBC and Al Jazeera, the satellite TV service sympathetic to Arab causes.

But be warned: what the embedded journalists tell us and show us via live satellite hookup may not be pleasant. We may see civilian casualties. We may see U.S. forces hit by friendly fire (a big problem in the first Gulf War 12 years ago). For the first time, we may see Americans killed in real time. That would give “reality TV” a whole new meaning.

Don’t forget the Internet. It contains a lot of junk but also solid, up-to-the-minute information. Go to the sites maintained by established news organization, such as, and

Beware of idle speculation, especially on TV and most especially on the all-news cable channels. CNN, Fox and MSNBC want to fill virtually all their time with war news, but they often don’t have any new information. So they turn to talking heads to give us their take. Some are experts, such as retired generals and former Defense Department officials. Some are just gasbags, with strong political views but little military knowledge. None — repeat none — have reliable information not available to news professionals.

They like to guess what the U.S. forces will do and how the Iraqis will respond. They may turn out to be right. They may turn out to be wrong. Remember the profilers who confidently told us that the D.C. sniper was a lone, while male who had been trained as a military sharpshooter? None of that proved to be correct.

Avoid talk radio. The hosts and the callers will have nothing reliable to tell us. You might as well go to a bar and listen to drunks arguing.

Beware of bias, either “for” or “against” the Bush administration’s policy. But also beware of those who accuse the media of bias because the reporting does not conform to the critics’ political position. Already some backers of the administration have accused journalists, including ABC anchor Peter Jennings, of asking U.S. soldiers “inappropriate” questions, such as do they feel anxiety.

I don’t think that’s inappropriate and, I’m sure, neither does the Pentagon.

Paul Janensch is an associate professor of journalism in the School of Communications. He was a news professional for 30 years and served as the top editor of three newspapers. His “Professor News” column appears Thursdays in The Hartford Courant. His radio commentary can be heard at 6:47 a.m. Wednesdays and again at 10:45 a.m. Saturdays on WQUN, 1220 AM, and at 8:35 a.m. Fridays on the five stations of WNPR Connecticut Public Radio, including 90.5 FM in Hartford/New Haven.


About Professor Paul Janensch