- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Reality check in progress: The war continues to unfold at its own pace despite press coverage centered around a rapid conclusion.
"This may not come as fast as some people would like," Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said yesterday after she was unable to immediately produce casualty figures of the day.
Military logistics are not necessarily meshing with news operations: Journalists are prematurely poised for a dramatic day of reckoning, to the point that they second-guess the military itself.
"People have to understand this isn't a video game, it's a war, it's a real war," said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell Tuesday.
Pentagon officials have scolded journalists for treating skirmishes with the same shrill intensity as they do a major battle. The worst moments may be yet to come, and there will be a demand for unembellished coverage that is accurate and straightforward.
Some journalists blame the Pentagon for their woes, saying that briefing officials don't offer enough information. Some say the information is being "spun," or that former senior military officers now acting as press resources are setting forth Pentagon "propaganda."
But the chafing Western news media is not the only issue. Cable news channels in the Middle East are eager to lure viewers through intense reporting and graphic images. Qatar-based Al Jazeera signed up 4 million new subscribers in Europe the past week.
Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi Television and Lebanon Television are in a "serious race to get the best and first pictures out," said CNN Middle Eastern media analyst Octavia Nasr.
Their emphasis, she said, is on showing "casualties, civilian losses and anti-war demonstrations."
They air footage of American dead and unsubstantiated reports of U.S. aggression. Such reports can spark premature coverage in the West, such as the multiple reports yesterday that U.S. forces had bombed a Baghdad residential area.
The Pentagon denied the United States was behind the attack.
Americans follow the war intently. More than 70 million watched the initial bombing of Baghdad, according to Neilsen ratings. In recent nights, NBC ranked first with 18 million viewers, followed by CBS (13 million) and ABC (11 million).
Among the news channels, Fox News won the race with 5.6 million, followed by CNN with 4.4 million and MSNBC with 2.1 million. Those numbers mark a 379 percent jump for Fox compared with this time last year. CNN's ratings rose 393 percent and MSNBC's increased 651 percent.
Several mental health groups, meanwhile, have cautioned viewers against war news overload. Even Fox's Bill O'Reilly told his fans to mind their psyches.
"If you watch too much TV news coverage, your perspective can get warped," he said earlier this week.
Pope John Paul II also had some advice for journalists.
"Freedom to seek and speak what is true is essential to human communication," he said yesterday.
"Not only in relation to facts and information but also, and especially, regarding the nature and destiny of the human person, regarding society and the common good, regarding our relationship with God," the pontiff continued. "This is the challenge facing the men and women of the media."
Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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