Mainstream Media and the Pornographization of War

It has been over two weeks since Donald Trump ordered the launch of 59 cruise missiles against the Syrian Government and President Bashar al-Assad in response to a chemical weapons attack on the civilian population in Idlib province, and a few days since a United States Air Force cargo aircraft dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” on a cave network utilized by the Islamic State in Afghanistan.
 
In the hours that followed Trump’s missile strike, according to Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting to Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), eighteen opinion pieces from major cable news outlets and newspapers that were either praising the President’s unilateral action or were neutral on the issue.  
 
CNN’s Fareed Zakaria stated, “Donald Trump just became President” — as if military action is that which is becoming of a President of the United States — who, when he was on the campaign trail, spoke like an isolationist. Zakaria’s praise of Trump’s actions suggested that, at least in his eyes, the litmus test that should applied to the “coming of age”, if you will of a new Administration is if it chooses to engage in military action. Further fawnation of the President’s decision could be found on MSNBC’s rolling coverage hosted by Brian Williams. He was equally as doting:
 
We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these US Navy vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean. I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.” And they are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them a brief flight over to this airfield.”
 
Williams uses the descriptor of beauty as if he were describing a sunset. Instead, he is in fact describing 59 delivery systems of death and destruction which did their job in delivering that death and destruction that night. Destroying 20 aircraft and killing nine civilians in the process. The United States launched an attack against the Syrian Government, something that is representative of an entirely new chapter of US involvement in the Syrian civil war, and instead of having that conversation, Brian Williams is fawning over an attack which killed nine innocent people.
 
That was the conversation we should have been having at the time: the conversation about unilateral military action by the President, and the conversation about what this means for the US in Syria going forward. And now we should be having a conversation about how the media is supposed to be the watchdogs of the Government rather than the stenographers of the Government as they beat the war drums.
 
The Use of MOAB in Afghanistan
 
Afghanistan: the graveyard of empires. It’s called that for a reason, but the mainstream cable news media decided to focus instead on the use of the device itself… It is definitely worth mentioning and maybe replaying test videos, so that the viewers can grasp the scale of the munition. However, according to MediaMatters, CNN spent 54 minutes in six hours showing test footage of the bomb, yet mentioned the possibility of civilian casualties and possible ramifications only fifteen times.
 
There was article after article, photograph and after photograph of the massive 21,000lb bomb.– and while it’s use in a theatre of war is unprecedented, the device itself is unbelievably powerful. Once again, what could have been an opportunity to have a conversation was lost in the fog of what might be best described as war pornography.
 
While I do not deny that the use of MOAB in a theatre of war does merit news coverage, and the ethics of using such a munition are at best, debatable. It is undoubtedly a shock-and-awe weapon, however, if it is the best tool for the job (and Afghan officials initially put the militant death toll at 36 put the militant death toll at 36. That has since climbed to 90 ISIS fighters. They also stated that zero civilian deaths occurred as a result of the strike), then, purely from a mission-success perspective, we can chalk the use of the weapon up as a good thing overall.
 
But, once again, the media failed to have the correct conversation at the time. The use of that particular munition is without precedent, but we shouldn’t be focusing on the scale of the munition — or the scale of it’s destructive power. The US dropped 26,171 bombs last year. That is 71 bombs per day, 3 bombs per hour. Seventy-one bombs per day, at roughly 500lbs to 2000lbs per-bomb is several times greater than the weight of the MOAB, and in terms of collective destruction, did a lot more damage and killed a lot more people. And yet, the relatively-small-by-comparison MOAB gets wall-to-wall coverage?
 
Another conversation could have been: Why are we still in Afghanistan? The United States has been engaged in the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban (and now ISIS) for the last sixteen years. The cost? 2,394 American lives. Not to mention the deaths of servicemen of other nations and of course, Afghan civilians and Afghan military personnel. The cost of the War in Afghanistan in dollar value could exceed a billion dollars, and the overall cost of American Middle Eastern conflicts could exceed $6 trillion dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service. Not only that,the Taliban now hold more ground in Afghanistan than they did before the US invaded in 2001, which means that the War in Afghanistan has been an empirical failure.
 
But none of those conversations were had by the mainstream press in the aftermath of those events. Instead, you had Brian Williams quoting Leonard Cohen, Fareed Zakaria implying that the litmus test of a Presidency was whether or not you used military force, and then the media fawned again over a big bomb. The conversations that matter were lost in favour of pornographizing war and death.

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