- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

Just 28 American reporters covered the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, according to a 1944 column by revered war correspondent Ernie Pyle while aboard a convoy ship crossing the English Channel.

"We were off to war," Mr. Pyle wrote, four days after D-Day.

He was killed in the Pacific by Japanese machine-gun fire less than a year later. But during that war, Mr. Pyle and his counterparts only pondered what "assignments" they might get, admitted to fear of combat, laced up their boots and headed out.

Their sense of patriotism was not at issue.

That is not the case almost six decades later. To some, patriotism and journalistic credibility don't mix. The American flag, they believe, does not belong on or in the reporter's notebook.

The thinking surfaced after the September 11 attacks when television correspondents began wearing flag pins and Old Glory dominated network logos. Critics fretted that such patriotic displays revealed political leanings and, therefore, violated news neutrality.

The hand-wringing has gotten more intense as perhaps 1,000 correspondents chime in on the expected liberation of Iraq. Journalists, apparently, aren't even supposed to admit they're Americans.

"With journalists on the front lines using 'we' to refer to U.S. troops advancing towards Baghdad, U.S. TV networks face accusations of twisted ethics as they wear their patriotism on their sleeve," an Agence France-Press (AFP) account noted yesterday.

The New York Post made news when it included an American flag on its cover beginning March 20. Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC were criticized for offering messages of support to troops, flag logos and language that allowed "patriotism to shine through."

"They have made the calculation that they wanted to make this kind of demonstration for support for America on this, despite any kind of journalistic cost," Harvard University media analyst Alex Jones told AFP.

This week, the sponsoring of pro-America rallies by Clear Channel Communications which owns 1,200 radio stations was deemed unsavory because the company "has ties with the Bush administration," according to The Washington Post and other papers.

Press coverage that "marginalizes" war protesters also draws ire. CNN's offices in San Francisco were picketed yesterday by protesters who said there was too much "underreporting of Iraq casualties and too much reporting of American patriotism by national news networks."

But a survey this week of 6,400 TV viewers found they had little interest in war protests, according to Broadcast and Cable magazine. "Viewers tend to hate seeing them," it noted, adding that the protest coverage ranked last in viewer interest.

The flag-waving networks are "thumbing their noses at an important journalistic principle," observed Missouri University journalism professor Geneva Overholser, while a recent New York Times editorial found that the networks "aren't covering the war, they're promoting it. … Anyone who opposes it is suspect."

The appropriate balance between patriotism and journalistic ethics has not been determined. The ongoing debate appears to be drawing closer to a reasonable conclusion, however.

"I don't see a problem with newspapers and television stations displaying the flag as long as it doesn't signal a loss of journalistic objectivity," Fordham University media analyst Paul Levison told Newsday. "And so far, I don't think that's happened."

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