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