Reality TV Goes to War: A Different Kind of Fear Factor
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
And quite fitting: In a post-Clausewitz world, television, not politics, is war by other means.
Mr. Blair's proposal was not exactly novel. At the urging of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in 1946 the defeated Emperor Hirohito announced to his Japanese subjects that he was not a god.
But the prime minister's insistence on a television apology as a substitute for military defeat has a momentum all its own - the next step in a diplomatic universe where even the most delicate matters of international security are conducted in front of television cameras.
Mr. Blair may not have
expected the Iraqi leader to agree. After he announced the six punitive
conditions under which Mr. Hussein could avert military attack last week,
But the prime minister did tap into our culture's appetite for televised denouements, creating, in effect, the prospect of a reality show for third world tyrants, a Nuclear Fear Factor.
If Mr. Hussein were willing
to go on camera and humiliate himself in the eyes of his people and the world,
Viewers' expectations of
instant, live coverage of war have grown considerably since the Persian Gulf war in 1991. But particularly since the terror attacks of
Video weaponry is so
powerful that the White House asked news executives not to show the first
videotaped messages from Mr. bin Laden after 9/11. The
pretext given was that they might include coded messages to his followers in
the West, but the
Technology has made war more accessible and immediate than ever before, but that does not necessarily mean viewers will see everything that is filmed this time around. If there is a war, news organizations, and particularly television news, will be under pressure from the government
to hold back images of bombing raids and civilian casualties that cast an unflattering light on military action. Access to the front lines has a price: photographers and cameramen placed inside military units on the front lines will have to get their material cleared by the Pentagon, putting such journalistic decisions in the hands of officers.
There will be plenty of camera crews working independently, of course, but the White House is likely to pressure news executives to sanitize their coverage. So far, at least, the administration seems to have concluded that television is too powerful a weapon to leave in the hands of professionals.
Mr. Hussein, of course, is just as keen on the advantages of television warfare. He wanted to resolve the conflict by organizing a television debate between himself and President Bush. He was so insistent on the idea in his interview with Dan Rather of CBS News this month that precious minutes were squandered as he assured Mr. Rather that he was not joking.
Some critics dismissed Mr.
Hussein's proposal as a bluff, but it has merits that reach beyond the
possibility of victory without military defeat. Recent history has robbed our
media-hungry culture of the satisfaction of seeing a defeated enemy on his
knees. Throughout his trial for war crimes, Slobodan Milosevic, the former
Serbian leader, never once admitted that he led a campaign of genocide in
In other cultures, a
pantomime of repentance is a hallowed tradition. In 1992, the king of
Peace marchers protesting the administration's threat to use force might consider a new slogan: "make television, not war."
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