Chapter 7 (cont.): The transcript
As hostilities began to build up, CNN consistently used more colorful graphics, most ofwhichwere created specifically for this war, in place of its regular logos. Some representations are full of action and movement-and, indeed, strikingly professional, both in content, visual attractiveness, and sound.
The beginning takes the form of the all-familiar "self-advertising," as
described by Schudson, just another commercial for CNN's coverage of the war. It begins
with a colorful drawing depicting George Bush, Saddam Hussein, and King Hussein, all
superimposed over a Navy F-18, which is in the process of landing on the top of an
aircraft carrier (a thrilling event to see), somewhere, supposedly, out in the Persian
Gulf. The picture is artistically enclosed within the cross-hairs of a gun sight
(presumably representing the encroaching danger from Iraq), while the voice-over (a deep,
anonymous voice) speaks in an overly serious tone, forcefully reminiscent of an Indiana
Jones movie. Orchestral music plays in the background, while cheers erupt from an
unacknowledged crowd of people.
Announcer (underlining shows emphasis):
As war erupts in the Persian Gulf, the world turns to one source: Where the principles check the widening conflict, key figures monitor world reactions, and families look for news of hope. Now, more than ever, shouldn't you be watching CNN International?
There is a distinctive break in the usual rhythm and flow of the broadcast as CNN cuts to:
A motorboat making its way up a choppy river. In the background is a city, possibly a resort on the Mediterranean-or is it the Persian Gulf? -- followed by a long shot of a naval vessel, a battleship, anchored in the harbor.
CNN International's logo is superimposed on the screen, in large white letters at the bottom half of the picture. Simultaneously, electronic music plays in the background. It soon becomes evident that this tape is out of synchronization with the usual pace of commercial television news. Perhaps this segment is being used to cover up for the commercials which are broadcast on CNN's US cable outlets in the non-North American markets?
The regular rhythm and flow resumes abruptly with loud music and a disco beat combined with a graphic picture of the "War-in-the Gulf" logo:
WAR IN THE GULF
Loud music and:
...which is written in a white, raised font (the letters appear to type out onto the screen as if from an invisible teletype machine):
"P-e-n-t-a-g-o-n m-a-y h-a-v-e
The tele-typed message is superimposed over a map of the Middle East with rings drawn around the epicenter of the conflict.
However, instead of going to the Gulf, the story begins in Washington, DC, with a cutaway to a close-up of David French in CNN's studio.
Many people believe it is only a matter of time before the US and its allies engage in a ground war with Iraq. CNN's Gene Randall takes a look at what the allies may face from the Iraqi military.
Abrupt cutaway to archive shots:
1. Rows of tanks (American?)
2. More tanks moving around in the desert
3. ["Cleared by US Military"] flashes on the screen as troops appear to run around in the desert.
Shots are fired. There is a medium shot of more tanks firing their weapons. The WAR-IN-THE-GULF logo is prominently displayed in a box in the lower-right corner of the screen. "Iraqi Military" is written at the top of the picture. Archive material from the war between Iraq and Iran is run, showing tanks, artillery and troops fighting in the desert.
4. Older, grainier film is shown of Saddam Hussein standing with presumably Iraqi army personnel, inspecting his troops
5. A long shot of a large group of Iraqi soldiers shouting and holding their rifles high in the air, as if chanting some fanatical slogan
6. A fighter plane takes off-a comparatively long sequence of shots of the same plane, coordinated with a voiceover which mentions the ground war.
GENE RANDALL: (Voiceover)
A ground war in the Persian Gulf would pit the United States and its allies against a formidable, well armed, well dug-in, enemy force. Saddam Hussein is a believer in sheer numbers.
Shouts from troops in the background seem to interrupt the report as the voiceover continues:
And even if the air war kills large numbers of those 545,000 Iraqi troops, now in and around Kuwait, massive numbers would still be a serious problem for a land offensive.
James Blackwell. Below his name, "CNN Military Analyst," is written on the screen.
We would still have to kill thousands of tanks, even if we eliminate half of their armory. And, we will have to wade through hundreds of thousands of people. Mass has its ownquantity in combat, and it provides its own strength for the defender who is using it as a central part of their defensive strategy.
More film from the CNN's archives follows:
7. More shots of tanks
8. Shots of American troops firing their weapons in the desert, as if training
9. ["Cleared by US Military] Larger weapons (howitzers?) are firing in the desert-the film is grainier, and, supposedly also meant to depict the Iraqi military
10. Shots of Iraqi troops
11. Shots of tanks firing their weapons
12. Troops carrying shoulder weapons
13. Troops running, as if to attack.
GENE RANDALL (voiceover):
The US-dominated military coalition in the Saudi desert would face a deadly combination: An Iraqi armed force that combines Soviet military doctrine with a battlefield flexibility, sometimes painfully learned in the bloody eight-year war with Iran.
Vladimir Sakharov-whose eyes seem to dart up and down, as if reading his words from the TelePrompTer ("Fmr. Soviet Military Attaché" appears at the bottom of the screen).
If there's a combination of the Soviet military doctrine to use massive (uh) military force, such as artillery, and Iraqi martyrdom in Islam and conducting the Holy War, and that adds (uh) extra dangerous element to the war, on the ground.
More archived film:
15. (As before, with natural sound)
a)Scene from the "gun camera" of a target
16. Soviet tanks shown moving (tracking shot) -- the terrain is different: there is grass, instead of sand. The texture of this archive film is different. Perhaps it is actually taken from Soviet military archive film?
17. A Soviet tank fires its gun
18. A target explodes
19. A tracking shot of more soviet tanks on the move.
GENE RANDALL (voiceover):
Sakharov also says Iraq's failure to commit its airforce to counter the US-led bombardment campaign...
20. Under the voiceover, with natural sound, is a Black and white video shot through the "gun camera" of a fighter plane's weapons system. The plane is closing in on its target; explosions on the ground follow; the plane pulls back up.
...fits with the Soviet strategy of counter-attack: Saving one's resources for battlefield opportunities. Analyst James Blackwell agrees.
Cutaway to James Blackwell who, incidentally, does not look at the camera. He seems to be looking at the interviewer, or, perhaps, a monitor which is off to his right. He is also in a different location from that of Sakharov.
I think one of the things we worried about in terms of Soviet doctrine, if we ever had to face them in Europe, was their use of massed artillery. The Iraqis have done them three times better in that sense, because they've taken Soviet doctrine and multiplied it.
GENE RANDALL (Voiceover):
Soviet defector Sakharov says Iraq presents a unique kind of enemy.
More archive film follows:
21. US Troops crawling in the sand
22. Shots showing more US troops
Cut back to Vladimir Sakharov and ["Cleared by US Military"] in the studio.
SAKHAROV (in broken English):
It's not the conventional enemy. It's an enemy that's conducting a holy war, it's an enemy that is hardened by the war with Iran and it's an enemy that has seen blood, and once have seen blood they have gotten used to seeing blood.
GENE RANDALL (Voiceover):
Sakharov and Blackwell agree, a ground war against Iraq would take a heavy toll in lives. The great majority of them, American.
23. We are shown more tanks
24. ["Cleared by US Military"] Soldiers shown loading the tanks' weapons
25. One soldier firing the tank's smaller gun
26. Soldiers are shown running towards the camera from a barbed wire fence in the desert
27. US Soldiers are shown firing weapons in the sand
28. A large explosion (with natural sound) in the sand
29. Soldiers are shown running back in the direction of the explosion and the barbed wire in the sand while more gun shots are heard in the background.
And at this point, most military analysts believe a ground war with Iraq is inevitable.
More gun shots are heard in the background.
Gene Randall, CNN Washington.
CU of Catherine Crier, the anchor, in the studio.
CATHERINE CRIER (looking straight into the camera):
Air raid sirens blared in southeast Turkey Tuesday, but a US military spokesman said it turned out to be a false alarm.
A close-up shot of the anchor in the studio (Catherine Crier), wearing a suit with
a rose in her lapel.
The voiceover begins as a fighter plane takes off into the sky, then another fighter plane taxies on a runway, with the subscript: "Adana, Turkey".
CATHERINE CRIER (Voiceover):
It happens near a NATO air base at Adana. US military officials say the siren was sounded after an Iraqi missile launch was detected. The "all clear" was given about 30 minutes later when the missile was found to be headed toward Israel.
Elsewhere in Turkey, a US Patriot missile was mistakenly fired from the Incirlic air base -- that, according to a Turkish military spokesman. Officials say the missile self-destructed harmlessly above the base. Military officials say that the Patriot was fired after its mechanism locked during a routine check.
A map of Turkey appears on the screen, possibly used to cover shots which are copyrighted and not to be shown in certain areas of the world. Natural sound is used in the background. A missile falls to the ground behind minarets, with the subscript: "Incirlik, Turkey" on the bottom of the screen. A long shot of smoke from a missile falling over a town
CATHERINE CRIER (looks straight into the camera):
Jordan's King Hussein is calling for a halt in the Gulf War in order to give peace negotiations another chance. Diplomatic sources say they believe the king is pushing for an unconditional cease-fire. As CNN's Tony Clark reports, it's only one of a number of peace initiatives originating in Jordan.
Amman Jordan (with the logo: WAR IN THE GULF displayed prominently in lower part of screen).
A close-up shot of a woman shouting in Arabic behind a megaphone, standing with a large crowd of Arab women who are demonstrating, followed by a medium shot of many women carrying placards in Arabic-one woman is carrying a picture of Saddam Hussein.
Sound: Women's voices shouting and chanting in Arabic over portable megaphones.
TONY CLARK (Voiceover):
(Garbled) are carrying anti-war banners. About 500 Arab women demonstrated outside the US and Egyptian embassies in Amman Tuesday. It was the largest protest march in Jordan since the bombing of Iraq began.
MS of woman demonstrator.
We are for the Arabs, for Palestine and Iraq, because we are all one land and we are all Arabs!
CU of helmeted riot police waiting in buses.
TONY CLARK (Voiceover):
Police stood by throughout the demonstration, but there was no trouble. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts at a cease-fire continued. Jordan's foreign minister has been meeting with ambassadors from non-aligned nations. And Tuesday, Jordan's King Hussein met with...about the war.
Shots of arriving negotiators form non-aligned nations to meet with King Hussein on finding a peaceful solution to the war.
CU of Crown Prince Hassan (muted and garbled speech).
CROWN PRINCE HASSAN OF JORDAN:
(Badly garbled sound) The main thing is that you have...all parties...devastation, uh, and loss of human life.
Street scenes of Amman.
TONY CLARK (Voiceover):
In addition to wanting to stop the bloodshed, there's an economic reason for Jordan to want a cease-fire. Jordan was a major trading partner with Iraq.
(Camera shots of the streets around Amman.)
UN economic sanctions, the unwillingness of the Saudis to sell oil to Jordan because of its closeness to Iraq, and the flow of war refugees into this country have dealt Jordan a severe economic blow. So much so, that the government seems to look the other way as Jordanians bring in tank-loads of Iraqi oil.
(Shots of tanker trucks on the road from Iraq).
The Pentagon-with a map of the Mideast in the background.
CU of Jonathan Crusoe from the Middle East Economic Digest, published in London.
In theory, the border is closed by the Jordanian government, but in practice there's clearly been a lot of smuggling of goods from Jordan into Iraq. And the Jordanian government needs Iraqi oil.
More tankers carrying oil from Iraq.
CU of driver, who makes three trips to Iraq every week.
TONY CLARK (Voiceover:)
Each day oil tank trucks roll between Iraq and Jordan in a steady stream, providing the country with about 20,000 barrels daily of Iraqi oil. This driver makes three trips to Iraq for oil every week.
DRIVER: (Speaking Arabic.)
We've been taking our petroleum from Iraq for a long time. We are committed to theeconomic sanctions, but in the case of petroleum, we are not committed to the sanctions.
(Shot of more tankers.)
Hilltop at night overlooking city of Amman.
CU of reporter Tony Clark (slow zoom in as he speaks), who explains that Jordan is officially neutral, but internally pro-Iraq. This situation causes pressure to be brought on Jordan to negotiate an end to the fighting. (The wrap follows):
TONY CLARK (looking into the camera):
Western observers say it would be economic disaster for Jordan if the tankers stopped those daily trips. The economic squeeze facing Jordan simply adds to the pressure in this officially neutral, though internally, pro-Iraqi country-pressure that has officials here working as hard as they can to bring an end to the fighting. Tony Clark, CNN, Amman."
CNN's Studio with CU of anchor David French.
DAVID FRENCH (looking into camera):
When we return, we'll check on the world's financial markets and see how this night-this rapidly disappearing night-has gone in Saudia Arabia.
Sections of a frame
As can be seen by reading the transcript, Iraq's point of view, either official or otherwise, was conspicuously absent. Considering that the evidence presented to us in favor of the "peacemakers," King Hussein, his brother, and a few very outspoken, radical women, the arguments, whether true or false, seemed to be unduly weighted in favor of Blackwell and Sakharov, especially when the other evidence presented in the form of archival material is taken into account. Because of their "expert" status, both Blackwell and Sakharov possess more authority than either the demonstrating women, the truck drivers or King Hussein himself. When the archival material is then edited around their interviews, it serves to further underline their remarks, making their point of view even more difficult to oppose. With the archival material edited in, whether their statements are actually correct or false, no seems at issue. For example, immediately after Blackwell tells CNN's audience that "we would still have to kill thousands of tanks...wade through hundreds of thousands of people," CNN conjures up fast-moving tanks, troops firing weapons, larger weapons firing in the desert, more Iraqi troops, tanks firing, troops carrying shoulder weapons and troops running to attack.
The terrorist threat...
Where Blackwell leaves off, Sakharov continues and implies that the Iraqi soldiers are actually engaged in a "Holy War" and that they are striving to become Islamic martyrs. Is Sakharov telling the truth, or is he deceiving his audience? The question is inappropriate as we are instantaneously shown fast-moving scenes from the gun camera of some distant cruise missile, with its target exploding, followed by a tracking shot of Soviet tanks, with one Soviet tank firing its gun, then an exploding target and then another tracking shot of more Soviet tanks in a terrain which is, incidentally, alien to the desert and the Middle East. Nevermind. "Cleared by US Military" supplies the credibility to CNN's archival material about some enemy, any enemy, perhaps the Soviet Union? (although it no longer exists).
Dehumanizing the enemy...
Sakharov's monologue metaphorically conjures up a sinister, almost supernatural force, especially when he describes the Iraqis as
... not the conventional enemy. It's an enemy that's conducting a holy war, it's an enemy that is hardened by the war with Iran and it's an enemy that has seen blood, and once have seen blood they have gotten used to seeing blood.
As George Lakoff so insightfully observed in his "Metaphors of War," written, incidentally, during the Gulf War, this "fairy tale" ...has an asymmetry built into it. The hero is moral and courageous, while the villain is amoral and vicious." This means, of course, that the villain "cannot be reasoned with." He must therefore be defeated. "The enemy-as-demon metaphor arises as a consequence of the fact that we understand what a just war is in terms of this fairy tale."
Van Dijk has pointed out that metaphors and comparisons have also shown up in media reports when, for instance, describing riots as a "war," and "demonstrators as 'guerrillas.'" People and events, framed by rhetoric which focuses the attention of audiences on a "specific dimension" of a news story, such as the "warlike" nature of rioters, or the "bloodthirstiness" of enemy soldiers, obviously enhance the excitement and drama of the story. "However," Van Dijk also points out, "when race relations are involved, such exaggerations suddenly become highly selective: They are used especially to emphasize the aggression or other negative properties of black people." This very same technique was used by Sakharov to frame the Iraqis as "not the conventional enemy."
"Metaphors," as George Lakoff has so aptly pointed out, "can kill. The discourse that took place over whether we should go to war in the gulf was a panorama of metaphor."
Secretary of State James Baker saw Saddam as "sitting on our economic lifeline." President Bush saw him as having a "stranglehold" on our economy. General Schwarzkopf characterized the occupation of Kuwait as a "rape" that was ongoing. The President said that the US was in the gulf to "protect freedom, protect our future, and protect the innocent," and that we must "push Saddam Hussein back." Saddam is seen as Hitler. It is vital to understand just what role metaphorical thought played in bringing us to the brink of war.
The tendency is to use metaphors unconsciously, as if automatically in order to explain intricate relations of power in concrete ways. In the same report, James Blackwell states that "We would still have to kill thousands of tanks, even if we eliminate hundreds of thousands of people." Is this a metaphor? It does seem that Blackwell goes out of his way to avoid using the most obvious combination of words, in particular the key combination of words-which is, of course, "killing people." Instead, he does indeed expect his audience to accept that "we" have to "kill tanks"...and "eliminate people." Blackwell is no doubt accustomed to audiences which expect his explanations to be framed in the rhetoric of the military, in whose interest it is to draw attention away from the fact that people-large numbers of innocent people-would have to be killed in such a war. Nevertheless, as Lakoff has stated, "The use of a metaphor with a set of definitions becomes pernicious when it hides realities in a harmful way."
Pain, dismemberment, death, starvation, and the death and injury of loved ones are not metaphorical. They are real and in a war could afflict tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of real human beings, whether Iraqi, Kuwaiti, or American.
Overestimating the Iraqi war machine...
Some statements made by both Blackwell and Sakharov definitely defy reason. Iraq, at the time of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, had become a nation whose economy was dominated by the oil trade. With a population of approximately 18 million people, however, it is doubtful whether Iraq could in any way be considered "formidable," as an enemy; and while the Islamic faith does have prominence in Iraq, the country is divided between 62 percent Shi'a Muslims and 35 percent Sunni Muslims (according to pre-war statistics). 17 percent of the population belong to the Kurdish minority, which has, in fact, become a tremendous security problem for Saddam Hussein's regime.
It is interesting to note at this point that one of the frames consistently used by the media during hostilities was that of Iraq's supposed military superiority. The frame consisted, as exemplified in our report from CNN, of the following elements, which were emphasized in our transcript (above). These are "semantic strategies," defined by Van Dijk as "goal-directed" properties of discourse which take the form of "functional moves." For example,
Iraq is a formidable enemy because:
Iraq makes use of Soviet doctrines, especially Soviet military doctrines.
Iraqi soldiers have seen blood and are now bloodthirstier than before.
Iraqis are religious fanatics and believe in "Holy War."
Iraq has very large numbers of tanks and artillery.
The Iraqi military is well dug-in.
Iraq has hundreds of thousands of troops.
As Van Dijk explains, "In order to show that x is the case, we may go through the strategy of arguing the points y1, y2...yn, which may each seem to be undeniable by our opponent..."
Nevertheless, one still wonders how a country like Iraq with a population only 1/13 the size of that of the United States (not to mention the population of the "coalition" forces' countries) could possibly be considered a "formidable enemy." It would certainly take a miraculous combination of military might and religious fanaticism to transform Iraq into a world-class, terrorist superpower which could even dream of challenging American military superiority in that region.
Nevertheless, Winter has quoted a report from The New York Times concerning a
statement by General Schawarzkopf, which, in fact, can give us some clues as to the origin
of many of the frames used during the war by the media:
A bold strike was needed, [Schwarzkopf] said, because the Iraqis outnumbered the allies 3 to 2 overall and 2 to 1 in fighting forces, when the offense classically needs a 3-to-1 superiority over the defense.
The terrorist threat ...
Iraq was not a fundamentalist, Islamic state, and it is therefore questionable whether the Iraqi people would ever support a "Holy War," in the Islamic sense, by Saddam Hussein (if he could actually make such a proposal, not being a religious leader, is questionable) against Kuwait, the United States and its allies. Although Iraq did have a reasonable standard of living for an underdeveloped, militarily aggressive oil state, the principle source of income was incontestably tied to a single commodity: namely, oil. 95 percent of Iraq's exports consisted of oil. Economic dependence on oil also meant economic dependence on the United States and its Western European allies.
Iraqi industry, though developing, was not very developed by western standards, and
pre-war estimates of per capita GNP came to only $2000. Most machinery, consumer goods and
weapons were imported. Imports came primarily from developed Western countries, in
particular Great Britain, the United States and the former Soviet Union. Still, the United
States, and not the Soviet Union, was Iraq's biggest trading partner before the war.
Furthermore, before the August 2nd invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein was considered an ally of the United States. It is the Reagan Administration which stood behind Iraq in its eight-year war with Iran. In November of 1989, for example, the US gave Iraq a $1-billion-dollar loan. Winter informs us that by early 1990, "Iraq had massive debts of from $70 to $100 billion..." $40 billion of that debt came from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, Iraq's ability to recover from its war with Iran was harmed by Kuwait's practice of dumping its oil on markets at low prices. The Iraqis, reports Winter, "were in a very tight condition financially, which is why we had the invasion." "On top of this," he continues, "Iraq feared another Israeli or US. attack." In July of 1990, in a meeting between April Glaspie, the US Ambassador to Iraq, and Saddam Hussein, assurances were given that the US would not intervene in any disputes with Kuwait.
In addition to the Iraqi-military-superiority frame, horror-story frames abounded in
the media and on CNN. One of the more outrageous tales was that of the 300 newborn Kuwaiti
babies who were supposedly taken off of their life-support systems by invading Iraqi
soldiers, a story which has since been proven to be totally false.
Eco-terrorism was another popular frame clamped on many stories coming out of the
Middle East. Many of these also belonged to the horror-frame category, as, for example,
CNN viewers will never forget the shots of birds covered in oil-attributed to Saddam's
madness at a time when "the United States was bombing thousands of Iraqi petroleum
refineries, oil storage areas, rigs and tankers" not to mention the hundreds of
thousands of human lives which were destroyed in the process.
In reporting the demonstrations outside the US and Egyptian embassies in Amman, Tony
Clark notes that "police stood by throughout the demonstration." Obviously, the
reporter is semantically implying that it was believed that the women demonstrating could
have turned violent at any time, or perhaps be duped into violence by terrorists. This,
according to Van Dijk, would be an example of a presupposition in which the reporter is
stating something which need not be stated. "In this way, the Press may indirectly
and sometimes rather subtly state things that are not 'known' by the readers...but which
are simply suggested to be common knowledge."
The only Arab woman interviewed for this story is recorded as saying: "We are for
the Arabs, for Palestine and Iraq, because we are all one land and we are all Arabs!"
Again, by choosing this particular segment of videotape, the editor is implying that
Jordan is not on the American side. There is, however, an explanation: "Jordan was a
major trading partner with Iraq." (But so was Britain and the United States, a fact
which was not mentioned.) "The economic squeeze facing Jordan," Clark tells us
in his hill-top wrap-up on a dark evening in Amman, "adds to the pressure in this
officially neutral, though internally, pro-Iraqi country."
With Clark's wrap-up, the audience is rhetorically returned to the beginning of CNN's report in which the anchor, David French, expressed the following:
"Many people believe it is only a matter of time before the US and its allies engage in a ground war with Iraq."
"Many people" is very vague, however, but Van Dijk has pointed out that "when it is essential to conceal responsibility for negative actions," vagueness must be used. "Biased reporting, thus, generally draws attention to the agency of out-groups when their acts are negative, while playing down or concealing similar acts by in-group members." The anchor's statement, therefore, expresses the purpose of this entire report, which is, to justify and legitimate the political will of those in the United States who were in favor of agressive military action against Iraq.
As Tony Clark's close-up disappears from the screen, the audience is brought back to CNN's studio and the anchor David French who looks straight into the camera and promises that CNN will return (after a few commercials, which he does not mention) to "this rapidly disappearing night" after checking on the financial markets.
French's rather suspense-filled closing and tease, promising more excitement to come,
is followed by heavy marching music and the CNN logo in the colors of the WAR-IN-THE-GULF
logo. Loud music continues in the background as, suddenly, the letters CNN within the logo
block are slipped sideways and replaced with WAR IN THE GULF. CNN then continues with an
advertisement for itself after a short pause, a change of rhythm, signaling audiences that
it is time for a commercial.
CNN's "self-advertisement" begins with accordion music, suggestive of an old French film about Paris. Scenes from the Seine and a beautiful evening for sightseeing, or a late evening stroll-perhaps even a visit to the Eiffel Tower.
But wait! A streetcar suddenly appears from around the corner. It isn't French. It has German writing on the front.
The streetcart explodes in sync with the sound of a loud snare drum and cymbal crash.
Our exploding streetcar is magically transformed into an army tank, heading toward us at
high speed. The camera takes us instantly to far away scenes of street fighting with
machine guns and more explosions.
Mysterious black and white spots seem to be sticking to our screens, as the Berlin wall is pulled down, followed by celebrations and rockets. We see a crowd of people, then more mysterious black and white spots appear, followed by a man who walks straight into our screen. Still more spots appear as three jets zoom across the sky overhead. The jets transform themselves into a swarm of bees,
...and in a puff of smoke we see a New York street scene, filled with cars, and muslims
praying. More spots appear, while the police save a little boy. More spots! At last, the
camera zooms back to reveal that the spots are printed text from an inkjet printer.
A helicopter hovers overhead while demonstrators fight in the streets and cars burn. More letters appear. We can read them!
(Rocket launchers are fired in some distant war.).
...followed by CNN's old, familiar Headline News logo. Only, this time it is in an eerie black and white, as if in a dream or just an old memory.
Another street scene: People are injured. More letters appear on our screen:
...with a close-up shot of Nelson Mandela and Soviet Soldiers in lock-step at the Kremlin wall while Bush waves to a cheering crowd.
And currency dealers print fresh dollar bills.
And Paul McCartney raises his fist-clinched -- as Zsa Zsa Gabor cries in a courtroom.
A soccer team.
A strong wind blows in northern Europe.
A Romanian baby in its hospital crib.
Celebrations at the Berlin wall. And while people tear it down, Chinese soldiers fight in the streets.
"30 MINUTES HEADLINE NEWS." (Repeated over and over.)
An F-18 in a landing approach on a carrier in the Gulf.
"AROUND THE WORLD."
And the plane lands
"IN 30 MINUTES."
A SWAT team rushes into somebody's house with weapons drawn.
"HEADLINE NEWS GIVES YOU ALL THE NEWS."
While Chinese students are talking to soldiers.
"MORNINGS ON CNN INTERNATIONAL-HEADLINE NEWS."
(Repeats over and over.)
Zoom back into the magnified letters which have the large black and white spots.
Drum crash. The music ends.
Finnish interpretations: "American propaganda"
Finland, like many other western countries, profited from its trade relations with Iraq. Iraqi oil had, through the years, financed a number of lucrative contracts with Finnish exporting companies, while the state airline even established a route to Bagdad for purposes of ferrying Finnish workers and other skilled personnel to construction sites in Iraq. The air route was subsequently closed after the Iraq-Iran war, but, like Germany, Finland's economic and political relations demanded a measure of caution in expressing its official view of the Persian Gulf War.
The word "propaganda," when used in describing CNN in Finland, has come up on a number of occasions, but mostly in regards to the reporting of the Gulf War. Olli Kivinen, an editor of the leading Finnish daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, has been critical of CNN's coverage of the Gulf War. Kivinen bases his observations, which were aired on CNN's "International Hour," on the measure of CNN's objectivity. Basically, his argument is that CNN and the United States government are in a conspiracy to distort the news and produce propaganda for the American point of view. The impression one gets from this pattern of criticism is that the United States government is seen as a virtual monolith, able to force its media to promote American ideas, American foreign policy, and American culture. This way of thinking probably has its roots in the fact that YLE does indeed reflect the official foreign policy of the Finnish government. Also, Kivinen concludes that CNN's news coverage is "extremely shallow" and only serves to improve the appeal of serious newspapers, such as his own, which, he claims, can "provide the in-depth analysis which people really want." According to Kivinen:
The [American] media has...always rallied around the flag in a way which really astonishes Europeans... These decisions have been made in the higher echelons of the company [and] ...the [American] media has accepted this very tight censorship...quite obviously it is a political censorship which is aimed at furthering the aims of the [Bush] administration by making the war look like a nice picnic on the sand.
Finland's YLE, when reporting wars, can and often does include scenes of dead and mangled bodies. It is rather obvious, to Finns, that such scenes are taboo on the American commercial media. In this context, Kivinen brings up the role of entertainment in CNN's coverage of the war:
...CNN has quite clearly used the footage that they have and their whole coverage as entertainment. It is a family show, with no bodies, no blood...
In April of 1991, the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Tampere held a special seminar to enable Finnish scholars to discuss the role of journalism in the Persian Gulf War. Ari Meriläinen described how the war was reported on one of Turku's local commercial radio stations, January 17, 1991, at the beginning of the American air attack. Smaller commercial stations in Finland, says Meriläinen, discovered that CNN, when it came to immediate information about the war, served their purposes better than the wire services.
CNN was available as a topnotch professional service. It served during the Persian Gulf War in the same way as an international news service would. As a wire service medium it functioned even faster and better than radio reports would with reporters on the spot who told that Saudi Arabia was still at peace, and the same thing in Israel, Turkey and New York. The first thing in the morning, every listener wanted to hear that and only that, at which time the threat of war was spreading and became real. Still, nighttime radio anchors gave additional information by reporting George Bush's recorded speech straight from the television (CNN has yet to send the bill).
With these little pieces of information every Finnish local radio station, which was in possession of a satellite dish, had the possibility of succeeding greatly in the first morning news report. ...The predicament of the Iraqis and the destruction remained invisible...
Finnish expectations: "Something very formal-not a show"
One of the participants in this study, after viewing CNN's news reports about the Persian Gulf War, rather appropriately defined the Finnish perspective when it comes to broadcast television news: "Finns expect something very formal-not a show."
The expectation of "something very formal" reveals the lacuna between Finnish and American expectations in news reporting. It is the commercial style of discourse which causes CNN's news reports to seem corrupted, misrepresenting the "real" news, the straight forward, "typographical" format, which Finns are so used to seeing on YLE. Although there were no commercials presented in this particular segment, the concept of advertising seemed, to our Finnish audience, to saturate CNN's broadcasts in a way which distorted the accustomed "truth" associated with YLE news reports.
For example, let us return to Schudson's observation, mentioned in Chapter 6 of this
study, in which he stated that the principle fundamentals of commercial news media are
that they function as "brokers" for their own news.
"Self-advertising," as Schudson calls it, appeals to CNN's potential sponsors.
If, in the commercial environment, "...everything, including advertising, could and
should be news, " it is only logical that "everything, including news, could and
should be advertising...
CNN International's report on the Gulf War (see the transcript above) was viewed
by an audience of eighty Finnish students. After the initial viewing, intensive,
individual interviews were carried out. Participants were encouraged to draw independent
conclusions about CNN and its reporting of the Persian Gulf War, and although they were
prompted for details on various aspects of CNN's reports, interviewees were not led to
give any answers in particular. Each interview lasted for at least ten minutes, and often
for as long as 20 minutes. Most participants were in their mid-20s. Before viewing the
audience was asked to compare CNN's reporting to YLE and to disregard other news programs,
such as the Finnish Kymmenen Uutiset (the Finnish commercial evening news) or the
BBC. Frank and sincere answers were requested and first impressions were important, in
particular when it came to such matters as wardrobe, makeup, hairstyles, facial
expressions, gestures, the use of music, lighting, camera and editing. It was requested
that special attention be paid to vocabulary and "tone of voice" on
CNN-"How would it compare if it were in Finnish"?-participants were asked?
Most of those taking part in this study had heard of CNN from television commentaries
or from reports in Finnish newspapers. With the exception of short news clips shown on
YLE, however, few had seen an actual CNN broadcast. None of the participants considered
themselves regular CNN viewers and, although CNN is generally known to be an American
all-news network, few had actually ever seen it. The only other points of contact among
our Finnish audience with the American commercial news style were through American sitcoms
on Finnish commercial television during primetime or listening to local commercial radio
CNN's reputation among the Turku students was tainted by recent stories in the press
about CNN's "biased" reporting. In the interviews, many of those questioned were
able to point out immediately that CNN is an American television network which presents
the "official American point of view." Some believed that CNN was supported by
the US Government. Several hours of CNN's Persian Gulf War broadcasts had been shown for
free on Turku's cable television during the war in January of 1991 and many of those in
our audience had seen at least one broadcast. This limited exposure, combined with
critical Finnish media reviews during the war, contributed to the belief that CNN was
indeed "biased" and "sensational." It would seem that CNN's reputation
was blemished from the outset. On the other hand, it is also interesting to note how much
influence CNN had had on all of the media in Finland during the Persian Gulf War. CNN was,
in effect, the first and main source of breaking news for most television and radio
reports and newspaper articles in Finland. Newspaper reporters, for example, could stay at
home and watch the war on their TV sets, while composing their articles for the next day's
In spite of the expectations initially expressed among those in our audience that CNN
is American state supported, and for that reason "biased," it is important to
point out that most of those who viewed CNN's reporting from the Gulf were impressed with
CNN's ability to put on a "very good show." In fact many particpants began our
interviews with those very words. CNN's style was also considered "modern," and
YLE, correspondingly, "old fashioned." (Some stated, however, that older Finns
would not approve of CNN's pace, and that younger people would probably welcome its
rhythm, while better educated Finns would probably reject it.) Others stated the belief
that the commercial television media in general, especially Music Television (MTV) and
music videos, "conditioned" younger people to prefer CNN's style.
The fast pace, the lack of time to consider each story separately and the
"unexpected" news stories which were presented-or rather, "non-news,"
as some put it-were mentioned by almost everyone as being factors which contributed to
CNN's being "different." Most, in fact, considered the experts' opinions
practically irrelevant to the news story that was being reported. The sustained inclusion
by CNN of graphics and other elaborate visuals, such as computer-generated fades, drew
considerable notice and CNN's on-the-spot reporting gave the impression of being
"visually interesting" and "omnipresent." Most agreed that CNN offers
more pictures with a more personal, emotional message and style than YLE. Also, YLE
usually presents its anchors as "talking heads" or a voice-over, while CNN's
voice-overs are more often than not read by an on-the-spot reporter.
Again, as in earlier studies, many actually believed that CNN's anchors were ad-libbing
straight into the camera and not actually reading their lines. And, again, as before, some
mentioned that at times YLE anchors will even use words which are not generally understood
(in contrast to CNN). Also, the language used on YLE's evening news report is "more
formal." It was generally agreed that CNN's anchors seemed to be actually
"talking directly to the audience." Others, however, doubted the sincerity of
the friendly looks and stated that the anchors seemed almost "mechanical." Many,
on the other hand, stated that the anchors were "very convincing,"
"knowledgeable," and "persuasive."
One of the anchors, Carolyn Crier, was compared-not without derision-with a certain
Finnish fashion promoter because of her exquisite costume, makeup and
"Dallas-like" personality. The female anchors' general make-up and hairdos were
mentioned by most of those interviewed and most agreed that it reminded them of either a
commercial, a beauty contest, or the television soap opera "Dallas." While Finns
are certainly no less fashion conscious than Americans, when it comes to television news
anchors, I was told, women are not taken seriously when they wear heavy make-up and dress
up too much. One male student commented: "Finns like their news read by common
people; not the sharply-dressed types."
There were also comments expressing dislike of the "aggressive" music used by CNN when reporting Gulf War news. This music, some said, made them feel like they were "watching a music video." YLE's music, on the other hand, has been composed for the purpose of enhancing YLE's image while CNN choose to use "popular" music. CNN's rapid pace and rhythm are always factors which attract immediate notice among Finns. Some stated that such a fast rhythm made it impossible to pay attention, while others liked the speed and found it pleasant and agreed that they could find depth, if they wanted it, by reading the morning newspaper, which "all of them did anyway." Everybody agreed that the lack of on-camera interviewing in the field added to the feeling of "being there." YLE, I was told, always has someone standing by asking questions on-camera and thereby detracting from the real news.
Most assumed that, because CNN is American, it represents the "official American point of view"-especially when it comes to reports about the gulf war. Some were surprised at the anchors' open expressions of patriotism and by the "experts" who were just as openly pro-American. The general opinion among those interviewed was that an open display of patriotism, such as was seen on CNN, could never occur on the YLE news since it would be too controversial and, even, appear to be contrived. A number of students mentioned that, on the whole, CNN is "less conservative" than YLE. This is interpreted to mean that CNN's style is more "modern" than YLE's style and, although it is more "modern," CNN very often "misses the point" when it comes to reporting the news. Instead of reporting "real" news, CNN reports disasters. Also, the "background" to the news is almost completely missing.
Some stories and interviews were considered to be "melodramatic." A YLE news report would be more factual and, I was told, "neutral" in reporting the Persian Gulf War. In summing up, the general impression of CNN's style of presentation was positive, while the great majority of those who were interviewed in this study were of the opinion that YLE is "more realistic" and "more credible" than CNN. CNN would have more difficulty than YLE in "being totally objective" about world events because, according to the opinion of most, CNN is generally considered to be "loyal to the American point of view." On the other hand, more than half of those interviewed stated that they very much enjoyed watching CNN, that it was "relaxing" or "exciting" or "refreshing," and that they could agree with the statement that "CNN represents good, entertaining and professionally made commercial television news." Although if what CNN is reporting is "news," then a number of students felt that the American concept of news must be different from the Finnish. Those who were positive towards CNN and found it entertaining also stated that they were not afraid of its "point of view" because they felt that they were able to "decide for themselves" and they were interested in "hearing different points of view," including the American.
Finnish Views of CNN Copyright © 1995 by Brett Dellinger
Order the book:
BRETT DELLINGER (1995). Finnish views of CNN television news: A critical cross-cultural analysis of the American commercial discourse style. Linguistics 6. (Väitöskirja). 337 s. 136 Finnish Marks.