Reality TV?

See the John Metzler archive

By John Metzler

Friday, April 4, 2003

UNITED NATIONS — Americans have become increasingly inoculated against genuine reality by a spate of TV programs which present just about everything — love and war-- as a form of game, within a permanent entertainment zone that can be switched on and off at will. The passion is as absent as the reality. As if riding on an emotional roller coaster, moods swing and lurch, from giddy euphoria to unsettling angst-ridden surrealism.

TV reality shows such as; Joe Millionaire, the Bachelor, Married by America, and Survivor, present a world of tame pseudo-reality as the norm. So when the Show becomes the gripping “War in Iraq” there’s the natural expectation that everything will be clean, clinical, and clear. In the first few days of the current conflict, many people seemed almost disappointed that the jarring Shock and Awe air campaign was not really what they expected. Not good enough special effects? It’s basically presented as “War Live at 8, Movie at 11.”

But this is not shock TV, nor hardly entertainment, but reality on TV. While American and British forces are exceptionally good and exceedingly competent, there’s little room for many viewers to imagine the law of averages where the defending Iraqis will get a lucky shot or something will go wrong on our side. Thus mood swings and stock market gyrations flow from real time coverage of the crisis du jour.

Most media coverage has been quite professional and balanced. Still MSNBC’s Peter Arnet proved a sad exception. Naturally the When the Wall Street Journal asked “Which Network has provided the best War Coverage?” FOX News surged in with 51% according to the poll. Yet an almost insatiable desire to put out so much information 24/7 risks the danger that material will be either trivialized or overblown out of all proportions. This is not the fault of the reporters per se, but of the unspoken media mandate to keep churning out a whipped-up Wall to Wall information stream of events and emotions. The complexity and the context is often missing.

The shock of some reporters concerning the ill-fated American logistics unit which made a wrong turn in Nasiriyah only to be captured is a case and point. Reactions bordered on an underlying “Why did the Iraqis do that?” Ditto for the false surrender of Iraqi troops who then treacherously turned their guns on American Marines.

Or of the Iraqis firing Scud missiles, they don’t have, at Kuwait. Or the brutal tactics of Saddam’s Baath Party militia who maintain a frightening control of the populace. Some seem surprised by “off script” actions where Iraqi war crimes are de rigueur.

Reality check. That the Iraqis break the Geneva Conventions and mistreat or execute prisoners should come as absolutely no surprise from a regime with a long pedigree of heinous thuggery not only to us, but to its own people. The unalloyed viciousness of Saddam’s forces is not the hallmark of a good or tough army, but of a cornered one.

Dramatic mood swings jolt us from adrenalin highs to the sober reality of losses. The massive coalition armored advance 220 miles into Iraqi territory — a brilliant military maneuver--has cost combat casualties of about a platoon in two weeks of fighting. Though any losses present a somber case for sadness and reflection, the gains have been simply extraordinary for their lightning-speed and objectives seized against a large force defending its country. American forces are in Baghdad!

The massive and decisive momentum of American forces deep into Iraq — and the sheer logistical triumph — is under-appreciated such as the sheer precision of allied air strikes on military targets in populated areas. If the Iraqis likely use the chemical weapons they claim not to have, there will be an equal shock — especially for Saddam.

Few serious observers have proclaimed that the capture of Baghdad will be a cakewalk. President George W. Bush has repeatedly warned Americans not to expect a quick war. Certain Iraqi units will fight — even beyond the grossly overrated Republican Guard — and again probability says that we will suffer losses. Saddam’s loathsome regime is rightly deserving of what it will get. Saddam will reap the whirlwind of what he sowed.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World

Friday, April 4, 2002

See current edition of

Return toWorld's Front Cover
Your window on the world

Contact World at