You've just liberated a nation from a tyrant who spread his lies through a state-run TV network. What do you do next? If you're the Bush Administration, you spread the good news...by setting up a state-run TV network!
Apparently, along with market capitalism and the one-man-one-vote principle, the Administration intends to export to Iraq America's delicious sense of irony. As reported in the New York Observer, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) plans to begin a 24-hour broadcast service, dedicated to reporting the Iraq news it deems important. The broadcast will be live and unfiltered--unfiltered, at least, by meddlesome journalists. Dorrance Smith, a CPA media adviser and a former ABC News producer, told the Observer that the network's model was the wartime broadcasts from Centcom headquarters, which frustrated journalists with their lack of specifics but convinced audiences that we were blowing up a lot of stuff real good. The hope is that local TV stations will use the feed, allowing the government to take its reportage straight to the public.
This is not the first time the Bush Administration has pulled an end-around play on the national media. Just before the war, the President held a press conference with preselected questions from preselected reporters; in September, he gave a round of interviews with local journalists, a slap at big-media reporters who weren't playing nice. Now the Bushies gripe that the press is ignoring the good news from Iraq in favor of the bombing of the minute. With a dictator overthrown and schools being rebuilt, why should the press fixate solely on violence and dramatics?
Of course, the Bush team didn't have this scruple when the dramatic incident in question was the rescue of Jessica Lynch on a stretcher. But they actually have a good point. The media too often do play up violent stories at the expense of nuanced ones: if it bleeds, it leads. The problem is, Bush's crew have embraced this critique only now that they prefer the nuanced story to the battlefield one. At the same time, they have abandoned a worthy conservative principle: that government, and taxpayers' money, should stay the hell out of the media business.
But Bush & Co. have an unlikely media-bashing ally of sorts: Al Gore. Speaking last week at Middle Tennessee State University, the former Vice President bemoaned the "quasi-hypnotic influence" of TV that, he said, has dumbed down American political discourse. Says Gore, a onetime newspaper reporter who wrote a college thesis about TV and the presidency: "[TV news] does not lend itself most readily to the conveyance of complex ideas about self-governance. Instead it pushes toward a lowest common denominator."
Gore's solution, of course, is to start a TV news network. With deep-pocketed backers, Gore has looked into buying cable channel News World International. Despite initial reports, Gore's camp says he and his backers intend to make the channel not a liberal mouthpiece but a "hip" news channel for young viewers--CNN meets MTV. Maybe; maybe not. (Gore has long complained about the undue influence of conservatives on talk radio and Fox News, so you do the math.)