Global Policy Forum

Media Coverage of Iraq

Picture Credit: Rugged Elegant

This section looks at mass media coverage of the Iraq war and occupation, especially how the big US-based media companies fed the public sensational, pro-war news reports. During the war, most journalists were "embedded" with US military units, giving them a very one-sided picture of the conflict and ruling out even-handed reporting.

Other journalists who decided to go "free-lance" came under attack by the US military and two popular Arab television offices were directly bombed by the US air force. Post-war reports on Iraq by the big media companies have continued in an uncritical vein, with positive reports about the occupation and negative coverage of Iraqi opposition.


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“The War You Don’t See”: Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine (June 24, 2011)

"The War You Don't See” is a 2010 British documentary film written, produced and directed by, the award-winning journalist, John Pilger. The film asks why mainstream media outlets were not more critical - in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war - of claims that Iraq was developing WMDs, funding Islamic extremism and harboring terrorists. This Global Policy in Brief blog outlines some of the film’s most potent points in relation to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. The film highlights the systemic bias within mainstream media outlets which, for a number of reasons, publish material that protects the interests of the powerful. (Global Policy in Brief)


False Advertisign About the Iraq Surge (June 13, 2010)

Using satellite imagery reports and maps detailing the sectarian cleansing of Baghdad, Agnew and Guler cast doubt on the utility of the US troop surge in Iraq. They challenge the mainstream media assertion of a causal link between the surge and a decline in violence in Iraq. They instead suggest that the surge was, at best, a "psychological boost" to the US public and Iraqi government and that the decline in violence actually came about due to the culmination of a systematic sectarian cleansing of Sunnis in Baghdad. This kind of analysis is especially pertinent in light of the misguided arguments being made against the impending withdrawal of US forces, based on the notion that a possible increase in violence could follow. (Truthout)

Pentagon Tries to Steer Media Coverage of Iraq (May 24, 2010)

A pre-solicitation notice issued by the Pentagon on May 24, 2010 reveals that the US military is making conscious efforts to influence the media vis-à-vis coverage of the Iraq war. The notice seeks a private contractor for the provision of "strategic communication services" to the US Forces in Iraq. The list of expected tasks includes engagement with media prior to any interviews with US military spokespersons, monitoring and assessment of major news sources in Arabic and English and management of the USF-I's website. In an eerily Orwellian fashion, the notice also calls for the contractor to communicate with US, Iraqi and international audiences to help "gain widespread acceptance of core themes and messages" and "effectively build US decision makers' and the public's understanding of Iraq's current situation".  (Washington Post)


Too Close for Comfort? (September/October 2009)

The US media have shifted their coverage of the war in Iraq, as journalists have enthusiastically embraced the strategy of counter-insurgency. Such unqualified coverage creates a serious lack of debate. Too busy discussing how counter-insurgency should be fought, the media fail to consider whether the war should be fought at all.  (Columbia Journalism Review)


Iraq's US Security Charade (December 6, 2008)

The world's media hails the Status of Forces Agreement between the US and Iraq as a victory for Iraq because the treaty represents a return of sovereignty to the country. But the media fails to question whether the US will abide by the terms of the agreement and commit to the full withdrawal of its forces from Iraq. (Zmag)

Will the Slaughter of Iraqis by the US Military Ever Be Reported? (November 18, 2008)

Michael Schwatz argues that the US media continues to compromise its journalistic integrity by failing to maintain independence from Washington in its reporting of the Iraq war. The US media failed to report the devastating US assault on Fallujah in 2004 as well as failing to publicize claims from research groups that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of the war. (Uruknet)

Massive Iraqi Death Toll Ignored by Tabloid Culture (November 4, 2008)

Project Censored claims that the US mainstream media chooses to ignore the human cost of the war in Iraq. A 2007 poll by Opinion Research Business estimates that the number of deaths in Iraq is close to one million, yet alternative news sources revealed that the US public believe only 10,000 Iraqis have been killed since the US led invasion. (Inter Press Service)

In Basra Thousands of Workers Take to the Street in a Demonstration Against the Government Anti Workers Policy (October 28, 2008)

Thousands of Iraqi workers protested in Basra on October 27, 2008 against a government policy to cut workers salaries. The local and international media has failed to cover the demonstrations, despite the increasing intensity of the protests. (US Labor Against War)

4,000 US Deaths, and a Handful of Images (July 26, 2008)

In an effort to censor graphic images of the war in Iraq, the US military forbids journalists from accompanying troops on combat missions. The rules established by the multinational force command at the onset of US occupation in 2003 did not prohibit journalists from taking photographs of dead or wounded soldiers. But, the reality on the ground five years on has proven that even when acting under military rules, journalists can suffer harsh consequences for showing the human cost of war. (New York Times)

The Iraq War Movie: Military Hopes to Shape Genre (July 7, 2008)

US army officials, eager to change the public view of the unpopular war in Iraq, offer to help filmmakers create movies about the conflict. The military gives moviemakers access to bases, ships, planes and advice. But directors claim that the system is a subtle form of censorship. For example, army officials denied help to Paul Haggis, writer and director of "In the Valley of Elah." Instead Haggis received a letter with 21 pages of objections to his film. (Los Angeles Times)

Journalist Charges Censorship by US Military in Fallujah (July 3, 2008)

The US military tries to censor media-workers stationed with the troops in Iraq. This article from Inter Press Service claims that US officials prohibited a journalist from using pictures of dead and wounded US soldiers taken after a suicide bombing in Fallujah. When his contract with the military ended, the journalist had to leave Iraq with no chance of return.

How the Media Abandoned Iraq (June 4, 2008)

US taxpayers have lost interest in the Iraq war, even though the fighting costs them more than US$12 billion a month. While Iraq accounted for 23 percent of the TV news in 2007, it plummeted to 3 percent during 2008. War fatigue also struck journalists who find it hard to translate the ongoing battles to an American audience caught between an economic downturn and a pending presidential election. Similarly, the White House curbs the media by banning on-base photography of returning coffins and funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. (American Journalism Review)

Study: False Statements Preceded War (January 22, 2008)

According to a study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism, the Bush administration made more than 900 false statements in the period leading up to the war in Iraq. Over half of the statements explicitly formed links between Iraq, weapons of mass destruction and Al-Qaeda in order to gain support for the war from the US public. (Associated Press)

Surge to Nowhere (January 20, 2008)

Despite numerous efforts by the Bush administration to label the increased troop level a success, this Washington Post article concludes that the situation in Iraq proves worse now than ever before. Conditions in Iraq deteriorate with Iraqi households receiving only 12 hours of electricity a day. Corruption continues to rise as US officials offer bribes to Sunni insurgents, to temporarily reduce levels of violence. The US has succeeded, however, in ensuring that US troops remain in Iraq for the unforeseeable future.


Reporting From Baghdad (September 6, 2007)

In this Truthdig article, Scott Ritter considers US media compliant with President George Bush's policy in Iraq. The author asks why there is insufficient public debate on the occupation. The US media fail to ask why Americans keep dying, who is killing them and why. Ritter considers that the media cover the war from "the perspective of an American political dynamic, not Iraqi reality."?

Reporter for Post is Fatally Shot in Baghdad (October 15, 2007)

An Iraqi journalist, Salih Saif Aldin is killed while covering a story in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadiyah. At least 118 journalists have been killed in Iraq since 2003, with 100 of those Iraqis. Witnesses say Saif Aldin was shot at close range while taking photographs of burnt out houses. Since 2003, Saif Aldin had received many death threats, beatings and was detained and interrogated by US troops. His death demonstrates the precarious situation for reporters working in Iraq. (Washington Post)

"Progress" by the Numbers (September 9, 2007)

This TomDispatch article examines the "carefully defined and cherry picked"? numbers presented by the US government and General David Petraeus to sell progress in Iraq. The author says marketing tools have been used by the US since before the war. To illustrate the manipulation of numbers, the author presents a comprehensive list of his own alternative numbers - 17 nations withdrawn from the coalition of the willing, US$3 billion cost of the war per week, and 50,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes each month.

The Withdrawal Follies (July 26, 2007)

The Bush administration often boldly predicts that a high level of chaos will surely follow even a partial US troop pullout from Iraq. Such predictions ignore the uncertainty of the future, yet several mainstream media outlets have embraced this reasoning against a full-scale withdrawal. This TomDispatch article dismisses this future bloodbath of the imagination? as part of a propaganda campaign to maintain a long-term US presence in Iraq.

From the Grave, a Senator Exposes Bloody Hands on Capitol Hill (July 19, 2007)

The activist group, Sacramento for Democracy, hosted an event where they screened a 1964 video of former Oregon Senator Wayne Morse. In the video, Morse argues with a CBS journalist and maintains that the government and media, in the midst of the Vietnam War, were not presenting the truth to the public about foreign affairs, allowing the president to pursue his own will instead of the public.The event coincided with the ineffective Senate debate on the US occupation of Iraq. This AlterNet article argues that the notion that Congress is putting forward its utmost effort to enforce withdrawal from Iraq is a big media lie?

Media Silence about the Carnage in Iraq (July 5, 2007)

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died violently at the hands of coalition forces. Yet mainstream media reports of the daily fighting in Iraq often only include brief accounts of several different operations, none of them presented as major events.This CounterPunch article warns that such coverage grossly understates the rate of non-combatant fatalities a statistic that will likely escalate as the US military presence in Iraq expands.

US Military Blocks Soldiers' Access to Blogs, Popular Social Sites (May 21, 2007)

The US Department of Defense issued regulations that would prohibit access to blogs, YouTube, MySpace and other social networking and information sharing websites. These new rules affect soldiers, contractors and their families. While the Pentagon claims security and bandwidth deficiencies reasons for the ban, the move more plausibly reflects a desire to keep gruesome images and sentiments of dissent coming from soldiers away from the US public. (World Socialist Web Site)

Journalists Face Repression on All Sides (May 21, 2007)

According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the working environment for journalists in Iraq is becoming increasingly dangerous. Since 2003, 204 journalists have been killed in the country, a number that surpasses the media death figure in any other war zone. The secretary general of IFJ stated that 19 of the journalists killed were found to have US bullets in their bodies, but no satisfactory explanation has been offered as to the circumstances in which they were shot. Further, the organization criticized the lack of laws protecting freedom of press in the country, saying that the restricted legislation used by Saddam was still in place. (Inter Press Service)

Another Casualty: Coverage of the Iraq War (March 23, 2007)

The US claims the occupation of Iraq has brought freedom and democracy to the country. However, several journalists critical of the Iraq War have been killed since 2003 and the Iraqi government directly controls all the information in the country, prohibiting independent media like al-Jaazera to operate. The Bush administration has also been manipulating Iraqi public opinion, paying Iraqi newspapers to publish pro-US articles. Inside the US, the media has been covering the Iraq War in a distorted manner, giving inaccurate news that favors the US government and big corporations interests. (Foreign Policy In Focus)

Another US Military Assault on Media (February 23, 2007)

Despite all its rhetoric on civil liberties, the US is restricting freedom of expression in Iraq. US soldiers raided the office of the Iraq Syndicate of Journalists in Baghdad and arrested guards and seized computers in an attempt to silence journalists who have been criticizing the occupation. Further, US forces have continually killed and arrested hundreds of journalists and closed newspapers in the country. According to the General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Aidan White, anyone working for media that does not endorse US policy and actions could now be at risk. (Inter Press Service)

The Najaf Massacre: Annotated (February 7, 2007)

This Foreign Policy In Focus article reports that the US media has been covering the Iraq War in a distorted manner. During the months leading up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the New York Times inaccurately reported that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction without challenging questionable sources. Now the situation repeats itself in the January 2007 Najaf Battle. Although foreign media including Arab-language outlets said the event was a systematic massacre by US forces of Shia opponents, the US media continue to report it as a battle between two local tribes, doing a careless coverage, with unnamed sources and inadequate research.

Media Under Growing Siege (January 10, 2007)

Although the US has continually cited Iraq as an example of democracy in the Middle East, freedom of expression has diminished in the country since the beginning of the US occupation. According to Reporters Without Borders, Iraq fell from 130th in 2002 to 154th in 2006 out of 168 countries in the press freedom index. After journalists began to report abuses against Iraqi civilians and the growing resistance to the occupation, they started to face exile, arrest and ban on reporting. Furthermore, several journalists on duty have been killed by US forces, or have been kidnapped by criminal gangs or death squads. (Inter Press Service)


The Low Profile: CNN and the New York Times Execute a Denial of History (December 31, 2006)

This Electronic Iraq article argues that the Saddam Hussein execution coverage by mainstream US media outlets was biased. The media failed to depict US support for Hussein's regime during the 1980s, focusing instead on portraying him as an "evil dictator" that the US deposed. The article concludes that such censorship is designed to reassure Americans" that they really are blameless participants in "a cosmic struggle against evil".

Ten Fallacies about the Violence in Iraq (November 28, 2006)

This AlterNet piece criticizes the US media for dispersing a variety of myths regarding the Iraq war. The author argues that the presence of US troops does not prevent but rather escalates violence. Furthermore, the author asserts that other fallacies, such as the involvement of Iran and Syria in supporting sectarian violence, distort the reality of the conflict, which has caused half a million deaths and displaced more than two million civilians with "no end in sight".

The Media's Iraq Offensive (November 16, 2006)

While US media compare the current conflict in Iraq to the Vietnam War, the press fails to criticize US foreign policy, a failure also witnessed during coverage of the Vietnam War, argues this TomPaine article. Mainstream news outlets continue to support the US war effort in Iraq despite growing public dissent. The author concludes that, similar to coverage during the Vietnam War where the press "lagged way behind grassroots antiwar sentiment" the media will continue to reject the consideration of a US withdrawal from Iraq, even though that view reflects the majority of public opinion.

Media Ignore Iraq's Humanitarian Issues (November 13, 2006)

A study undertaken by a group of British universities reveals that UK media sources overly favored reports on Britain's military success during the initial fall of Baghdad, whilst ignoring humanitarian issues, including Iraqi casualties and the destruction of cities. Furthermore, over 80 percent of news stories regarding the rationale for war mirrored the British government's position, yet only 10 percent covered the anti-war protests, revealing a disturbing lack of media neutrality. (AlertNet)

Pentagon Boosts 24-Hour Public Relations (October 31, 2006)

The US Department of Defense has set up a system that allows it to rapidly respond and "correct" disparaging public statements. The system primarily targets statements made on the internet including weblogs. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, widely criticized in the media for his handling of the Iraq war, has claimed that news outlets have focused too much on the bad news coming out of Iraq and not "enough on the progress being made" hence the reason for the new quick response system. (Associated Press)

US 'Propaganda' Row Firm In Iraq Deal (September 27, 2006)

The Lincoln Group has won a lucrative two-year $6.2 million US government contract to monitor English and Arabic media in Iraq, despite the US media company's prior involvement in a covert Pentagon operation. The organization previously paid Iraqi newspapers and journalists to report stories favorable to the multinational forces. Critics claim that US control over the media impedes independent journalism and amounts to censorship. (Al-Jazeera)

The Best (PR) War Ever (September 15, 2006)

US President George W. Bush has repeatedly criticized the media for reporting only the "bad" news from Iraq. However, an independent study conducted by George Washington University has found that reporters actually underplayed rather than overplayed the negative aspects of the war in their coverage. As the author points out, the media's failure to broadcast visuals of coalition, Iraqi military or civilian casualties gives viewers an unrealistic perception of the violence that surrounds the US-led occupation. (Inter Press Service)

The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq (July 30, 2006)

Despite growing numbers of casualties in Iraq, US news coverage of the war has decreased dramatically since the invasion of 2003. The New York Times reports that time devoted to Iraq on the three leading US television networks evening newscasts has fallen by 60 percent. The author attributes the falloff to the failure of the US to reconstruct post-war Iraq and the Bush Administration's contempt for Iraqis.

"I Was a Mouthpiece for the American Military" (July 7, 2006)

A former senior TV producer tells Harper's Magazine of the restrictions imposed by the Pentagon on journalists in Iraq. Based with US troops at a military compound in Tikrit, a Reuters producer found it "impossible to pursue stories frowned upon by the military". During her 45 days in Iraq the US military did not permit her to leave the base on her own, restricting her coverage to "only one side of the story".

Maliki's Dead End Plan (July 7, 2006)

Al-Ahram examines the US objection to an amnesty for Iraqis fighting the US-led occupation. As the article points out, a US acknowledgement of the resistance movement would "undermine the very rationale of its presence in Iraq." The author also looks at the wider use of language and propaganda in describing the violence in Iraq, noting that the Western media label all anti-occupation activity as of an "insurgent" nature, grouping together all acts of violence “under a single, convenient, moniker."

SOS Ramadi (June 13, 2006)

US forces have launched a heavy attack on Ramadi, 100 km west of Baghdad. While the “anti-war front� meticulously followed the build-up of the assault, the western press has remained relatively silent, “their eyes still on Zarqawi." This article compares the reporting of different media sources in relation to the major assault, which has forced many of the city’s residents to flee. The western media consistently publishes testimonies from within the US Army denying plans of the offensive. In contrast, reports from Free Arab Voice and Al-Quds confirm that the US has cut off water and electricity, closed down fuel stations and bombed medical stores. (BRussells Tribunal)

Propaganda and Haditha (June 9, 2006)

Truthout analyzes the public relations tactics deployed by the US government and the Western media to report on the Haditha massacre. These tactics include delaying coverage of the event, distracting audiences, discrediting any allegations of war crimes, focusing the public's attention on a single topic within the larger issue, and inventing scapegoats. According to the authors of this piece, by failing to challenge these government “propaganda deceptions," the “US Corporate Media" is aiding and abetting the war crimes of the US military.

The Big Question: Should Western Journalists Be in Iraq, and Can their Reports Be Trusted? (May 31, 2006)

The number of journalists killed in Iraq since the US invasion stands at 69, making Iraq the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. The Independent assesses the risks to reporters' lives on the Iraqi frontline and the standards of journalism in Iraq. Though the situation is dangerous, the author argues in favor of having independent reporters on the ground, so that not only "professional propagandists" in the White House, Pentagon or Number 10 Downing Street tell the story of the war.

What Can You Believe? (May 2, 2005)

According to this article from Inter Press Service, many Iraqis do not trust the media. On the one hand, foreign media outlets have scaled back reporting operations, and have limited the bulk of their coverage to events within the US-controlled Green Zone of Baghdad. On the other, Iraqis criticize domestic reporting – whether print, radio, or television – for aligning too closely with various religious factions, political parties, or occupation forces. In addition, both Iraqi and foreign reporters face an increasingly dangerous security situation, further limiting the scope of coverage.

Iraq and the Media (April 11, 2006)

Journalists in Iraq face threats from all directions. The Bush administration and its "armchair analyst" supporters in the US condemn journalists for presenting critical views of the US occupation without acknowledging the "complete story." Meanwhile, the dangerous security situation in Iraq limits many reporters to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. During a panel discussion on reporting from Iraq, journalists highlighted the difficulty in reporting good news from Iraq when "you can’t drink the water, there’s little electricity" and thousands of Iraqis have been killed. As one reporter pointed out, the complete story in Iraq must include the fact that almost 90 percent of Iraqis believe a US withdrawal "would remove a major cause of the conflict." (MaximsNews Network)

Baghdad: The Besieged Press (April 6, 2006)

In this detailed account, Orville Schell addresses the reality of Western reporting in Baghdad after three years under US occupation. Given the level of violence and insecurity, Western journalists remain largely confined to the Green Zone or other heavily fortified compounds, relying on Iraqi "stingers" to do interviews, take photographs, and carry out routine reporting. In addition, almost all media teams require extensive security details, often employing private military companies for protection. (New York Review of Books)

The Media's Chance at Redemption (April 6, 2006)

In its fourth year of a violent and poorly planned occupation, the administration of US President George Bush has abandoned its initial justifications for invading Iraq: weapons of mass destruction. As this TomPaine article points out, the US mainstream media not only obligingly supported the case for war, but continues to report news on Iraq from a less-than-critical perspective. With more and more evidence of manipulated intelligence and backroom negotiations in the lead-up to war, it is time for journalists "to start looking for answers."

Pace Wants Review of Iraq Media Program (March 23, 2006)

Following an initial review and the subsequent authorization of its Iraqi "information offensive," the US military has continued to pay the Lincoln Group, a public relations firm, to write pro-US stories that it then pays Iraqi newspapers to publish. Nonetheless, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, the US military's highest ranking official, has criticized the program and called for a formal review of the Pentagon's propaganda scheme. Though military and civilian commanders have defended the program as "a necessary tool in the war on terror," Pace argued that Iraqi citizens should know if they are reading news that has been paid for by the US government. (Associated Press)

The Farcical End of the American Dream (March 19, 2006)

According to veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk, the US press should be "challenging the lies of this war." Unfortunately, as he demonstrates in this article, that is not the case. From torture and prisoner abuse to Iraq's resistance to the US-led occupation, the major US newspapers publish one-sided accounts of events in Iraq and rely almost exclusively on "US officials" and "US authorities" for their information. (ZNet)

Military Will Keep Planting Articles in Iraq (March 4, 2006)

The US military plans to continue planting pro-US articles in the Iraqi press. Under the propaganda scheme, US authorities write pro-war articles that are translated into Arabic by the Lincoln Group, a US consulting firm, which then pays Iraqi editors to publish the material. Though the procedure would be illegal if replicated within the United States, officials concluded that it is legal to do so in Iraq, and the military may engage in the propaganda effort in other parts of the world. (Los Angeles Times)

Slaughter in Iraq (March 2006)

According to Reporters without Borders, 86 journalists and media assistants have been killed and 38 kidnapped in the three years following the US-led invasion of Iraq. Most of the journalists killed - 77 percent -  have been Iraqi nationals, though attacks have been arbitrary and journalists from 14 countries have died. The high death rate has limited the ability of journalists to report from Iraq, as most have had to employ "radical security measures," with the extent of their work limited by "armored vehicles, bodyguards, and very few excursions."

Iraqi Voices Are Drowned Out in a Blizzard of Occupiers' Spin (February 8, 2006)

Nearly three years into the US-led invasion of Iraq, the US and UK continue to rely on deception and disinformation to justify an "immoral [and] illegal" war. The media routinely ignore Iraqi public opinion and sentiment, while disinformation provides the pretext for an ongoing occupation. Citing just one example, Professor Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi political exile, points out that it would not have taken a year for the world to learn about Abu Ghraib had the media listened to Iraqi families' claims of abuse rather than wait for US troops to circulate photos of torture. (Guardian)

IRAQ: Most Dangerous Place for Journalists in 2005, CPJ (January 4, 2006)

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Iraq was the deadliest place in the world for journalists in 2005. Twenty two journalists were killed in Iraq, representing nearly half of all journalists killed while working. The majority of deaths were the result of murder, ninety percent of which went unpunished. According to the CPJ, governments must do more to ensure protection for journalists. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)

Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid US Propaganda (January 2, 2006)

The Lincoln Group, a US public relations firm that has paid Iraqi newspapers to publish pro-US articles, has also paid Sunni religious scholars to assist with its propaganda scheme. Through a plan entitled "Divide and Prosper", the Lincoln Group and the Pentagon sought to infiltrate "target audiences" and weaken Iraqi resistance to the US occupation by including influential Sunni scholars in its "information offensive." (New York Times)




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