LETTER FROM AMERICA: Sanitised war coverage only misleads the public

The US Government's media management of the war in Iraq - and lack of US media objectivity - is giving Americans a distorted view of the military action, writes US commentator Paul Holmes.

The Anglo-American attack on Iraq has been both a PR triumph and a PR disaster.

The two allies have done a masterful job of presenting the war to their respective domestic populations, thanks in large part to a docile media.

So while we have been treated to dramatic footage of battles viewed through night vision goggles and spectacular film of bombs exploding in Baghdad, the level of gore on display has rarely risen above the level of a PG movie.

This is war sanitised for our protection. Images that might disturb or discourage the American people have been eliminated. Instead, we see images of American GIs passing out sweets to traumatised Iraqi children.

Thus the images of war we are seeing are startlingly different from those broadcast to the rest of the world.

Al Jazeera, criticised for showing pictures of American POWs and bloodied civilian victims, has been lambasted by the administration, banned by the anti-transparency New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq and had its website hacked by those who would expose our commitment to freedom - Iraqi or any other kind - as the flimsy sham it is. But it's doing a better job of reporting the reality of war than its US counterparts.

On an Al Jazeera video shot in Basra, according to British journalist Robert Fisk, 'A little girl of perhaps four is brought into the operating room on a trolley, staring at a heap of her own intestines protruding from the left side of her stomach'. Don't look for those images on ABC or CNN. Why? Because they're not newsworthy? Or because they don't fit with the approved image of this carefully media-managed war?

Similarly, while US reporters speculate about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, overseas media have been full of stories about US forces using cluster bombs and uranium-depleted warheads, both banned by international law.

The fact that we in the US are watching a different war from the one seen by the rest of the world has serious implications. It can only deepen the rift between the way the US sees its role in the world and the way the rest of the world sees us, leading to more miscalculations like the assumption that American invaders would be welcomed as liberators.

There may not be much that anyone can do at this stage about our image overseas (not that anyone in this administration seems to care), but the media are not doing the public any favours by refusing to depict the grim realities of war.

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