Tuesday, March 16, 2004

It has been billed as a “post-mortem,” but it sounds more like a broken record. Fifty mostly liberal journalists and foreign-policy wonks have clustered at the University of California at Berkeley to analyze media coverage of the Iraq war, a year after the fact.

The three-day conference is fixated on the idea that the embedded press compromised journalistic credibility and independence last year through wartime coverage that was supportive of Bush administration policy and patriotic in tone.

Organizers have made the trend sound more like a syndrome, saying they intend to dissect “the psychological pressures of embeddedness and where patriotism ends or should end and the independence of the press begins.”

The dean of Berkeley’s journalism school, Orville Schell, said: “Getting coverage from embedded reporters is like looking into a microscope. What we need is the broader picture.”

Berkeley’s version of the broader picture includes a sold-out discussion this evening between CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, who has adopted a second career as a Bush basher with a new book to sell.

He has a ready fan in Mr. Schell.

“Much of the best intelligence came from Blix’s team in the last month before the war, while the U.S. relied far too heavily on deluded and removed exiles as sources,” Mr. Schell said.

Bob Lichter, director of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), questioned the premise of the Berkeley meeting.

“This is the revenge of the left, their ‘I told you so’ time. The press and virtually all of academia were outraged with claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” Mr. Lichter said yesterday.

He says angst over press patriotism has been overblown. A CMPA analysis of network-news commentaries last year found that 44 percent of them were critical of the war, dispelling the notion that every journalistsuddenly had become a White House mouthpiece.

“Even if the watchdogs fall asleep, it doesn’t necessarily make them lap dogs,” Mr. Lichter said.

The Berkeley forum which ends tomorrow night has its own bias . Speakers include representatives from CNN, National Public Radio, PBS, Al Jazeera, ABC, CBS and the BBC, but no one from the Fox News Channel.

The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times are represented, but not the Wall Street Journal or The Washington Times.

In the meantime, deconstructing Iraq war coverage is the topic du jour among some media analysts.

The Columbia Journalism Review takes newspapers to task for not questioning White House authority in a post-September 11 world, noting, “Had the papers shown more skepticism, we might not have as much cause today to second-guess either the Iraq war itself, or the way leading editorial pages wrote about it.”

The New York Review of Books ran an immense critique of war coverage on Feb. 26, stating, “U.S. journalists were far too reliant on sources sympathetic with the administration.”

Even liberal actor Tim Robbins got in on the act, penning a play called “Embedded,” which opened to tepid reviews in New York this week, including one from the New York Daily News that called the play “adolescent.”

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

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