Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Broadcasters continue to target the military, according to an analysis by the Media Research Center (MRC), which has detected a pronounced “bad news bias.”

From May 17 to June 7, NBC, CBS and ABC aired 99 stories — or 3 hours of negative news coverage — on the ongoing investigation of U.S. Marines in the death of Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November.

However, from September 2001 to June 2006, the same networks broadcast just 52 minutes of positive coverage of the nation’s top military heroes, such as U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who died while protecting 100 fellow soldiers during the battle for Baghdad’s airport in April 2003, earning the Medal of Honor.

Nineteen other men received high honors — the Air Force and Navy crosses and the Distinguished Service Cross — yet 14 were never mentioned on the air, according to the MRC analysis.

“None of those positive stories have interested the networks as much as news of possible military misconduct,” noted Rich Noyes, who led the research.

The analysis examined Haditha coverage from May 17 to June 7, “before the networks’ pessimism was interrupted by the successful termination of terrorist menace [Abu Musab Zarqawi],” the study said. It also found that the networks used terms such as “Marine massacre” and “mass murder” to describe the Haditha incident, which is still under investigation by the Pentagon.

The MRC analysis noted that ABC News was the worst offender, airing 86 minutes of negative coverage, followed by NBC with 67 minutes and CBS with 58.

“Much of the coverage has been repetitive, reviewing the allegations and the still unfinished investigation. At the same time, the networks have presumed a guilty verdict and a blow to the overall American military’s reputation,” Mr. Noyes said.

The trend has not gone unnoticed by the military. Major Gen. William Caldwell, a spokesman for the multinational force in Iraq, recently cautioned journalists not to muddle facts — such as confusing Haditha with a March 15 raid near Samarra in which Iraqi civilians died. That raid was investigated and found to be in accordance with standard rules of engagement.

“Recently there has been much attention in both the Western and Arabic media concerning reports of coalition soldiers killing innocent Iraqi civilians. Temptation exists to lump all these incidents together,” Gen. Caldwell said June 3. “However, each case needs to be examined individually.”

Such was the case, perhaps, when a grisly photo of blindfolded Iraqi civilians executed by local insurgents was used to illustrate Haditha coverage in the Times of London on June 1 and as an inspiration for a Chicago Sun-Times editorial cartoon. Both news organizations later apologized.

And overlooked: A May 28 Defense Department press release reporting that the United States recently spent $230,000 in repairing schools and water systems in Haditha, a city of 75,000.

• Contact Jennifer Harper at 202/636-3085 or jharper@washingtontimes.com

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