Jewish World Review May 13, 2004 / 22 Iyar, 5762

John Ziegler

John Ziegler
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Consumer Reports

The News media blows it on the Nick Berg story | Like millions of other Americans, over the past few years I have become increasing cynical about the nature of this country's news media. However, up until yesterday, I never thought that our fourth estate was actively (though I still believe, perhaps naively, unconsciously) working on behalf of our enemies.

That all changed with the disgraceful coverage (or lack thereof) of the slaughter of Nick Berg, the American civilian whose horrific murder was carried out by elements of Al Qaeda and videotaped for dissemination on a website.

When I first heard the news of how the same forces that killed 3,000 of our citizens on 9/11 had brutally butchered an innocent American on tape in Iraq as retaliation for the alleged abuses of Iraqi prisoners, I was sure that this was a story that would spark universal outrage against our enemy. I fully expected this story to dominate the news cycle and the Iraqi prisoner scandal to finally be put into its proper perspective. I was not only wrong, I wasn't even close.

While the Berg story was certainly treated as the top news item (though several news websites, including those of the LA Times and CNN, did not have it as their most prominent story by the end of the day), it was treated by most outlets as just another factoid. In fact, not only was the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal coverage not diminished by the revelations of Berg's murder, but instead it seemed to actually augment it.

In a media era in which everything gets reported in some fashion, it is what gets REPEATED that has become important. While the TV networks all led with the murder of Nick Berg, they provided only extremely abbreviated "hit and run" coverage that ignored several vital elements to the story and provided almost no context or even the remotely appropriate sense of outrage. It appeared that they viewed the Berg story only through the dangerously distorted prism of how a man died a horrible death because our enemies were justifiably upset about the naked pictures they had seen of Iraqi prisoners.

ABC was the only network that even briefly touched on the concept that maybe Berg's death showed that the abuse scandal was not being seen by the media elites in its proper context, and their mention of that aspect of the story was insulting at best. After their reporter characterized (and marginalized) those who felt this way as "conservatives" on "talk radio," Peter Jennings, with the kind of condescension only he can muster, dismissed this school of thought as being politically motivated. As if the only reason an American might think that the brutal beheading of one of our civilians is worse than an American reservist mocking an Iraqi prisoner's small genitalia, was because they are a mindless supporter of President Bush!!

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The most astonishing moment that I saw on TV "news" came from Paula Zahn on CNN. Zahn actually had the gall to speak on behalf of the American people when stated (without any factual foundation) that many of us must be looking at these photos and thinking that enough is enough, this isn't worth it any more and we should withdraw from Iraq. What???!!!!!

Of course, the vast majority of the American people had not seen the video in question because the TV networks made the outrageous decision to not show ANY of Berg's execution. While I realize we live in a world where everything we do and say is predicated on the concept that some child might be scarred for life if they were inadvertently exposed to it, I do not believe that there is ANY justification for this decision that treated all of us as if we are children ourselves.

I have seen the video and, while it is unquestionably horrible to look at, because of the grainy and fairly distant nature of it I strongly believe that, with proper warning, the entire clip could have and should have been shown on television. At the very least, after being bombarded with stills of naked Iraqi prisoners for over a week, the American people should have been given enough credit to able to endure still photos of Berg's severed head being shown off to the camera.

Would this have made for pleasant viewing? Obviously not. However, who ever said that democracy would always be pleasant? I fervently believe that it was an insult to Berg's sacrifice to not at least allow the American people to fully understand the evil against which we are fighting in a manner that they would not soon (if ever) forget. To not allow the majority of our citizens that option was a HUGE favor to Al Qaeda.

TV not only didn't trust you to see ANY of the relevant parts of the video, they didn't even play the chilling audio either. That was left to talk radio. What was the possible justification of that inexplicable decision? It is not as if Americans have never before been exposed to the SOUND of someone screaming in agony! Why did the TV networks seemingly go out of their way to shield the enemy from the wrath of our people? I honestly have no idea.

Not only did the news media blow it by "protecting" us from the truth, they completely ignored several other important elements of the story as well. For instance, how often was it reported that it is believed that the murder took place in Fallujah, where four other American civilians also had their murders and mutilations edited for our comfort by the media? Why did no one question whether our soft response to that event (for which Berg's murders claimed victory before they sawed his head off) might have led to the killing?

What about the simple fact that, like magic, we suddenly have Osama bin Laden offering rewards in "support" of the Iraqi people and major Al Qaeda actions taking place there? Why no examination of what this says about, the very least, the potential alliance between Saddam and Al Qaeda at which the mainstream media has always scoffed?

Why was there hardly any examination of the incredibly weak response of the Arab world to this event? Why no hard look at what it is about the Arab mind that makes an act this despicable seemingly acceptable to so many? Why so little mention that Berg, like Daniel Pearl before him, just happened to be a Jew?

These are just some of the questions that should have provided the news media with numerous angles of the Berg story to pursue, should they have had the desire to do so. I have no doubt that had they been able to captivate the soccer moms with Berg's plight while he was a hostage and BEFORE he was slaughtered, that commercial considerations (especially during a sweeps month) would have dictated a far more vigorous pursuit of this story. The fact that he was already dead before we got to know him evidently rendered his tale of little long-term economic value. This sad reality speaks volumes about the pathetic state of our news media and our culture.

After watching how the world has largely failed to react to the murder of Nick Berg, it is difficult for me to envision how we can possible win this war on terror. After all, those who control the information we receive seem to be rooting for the enemy.

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JWR contributor John Ziegleris a talk show host on KFI 640 AM in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2004, John Ziegler