Media

Cable News, Cheerleaders for War: The Establishment Media’s Post-Paris Bloodlust Explained

If you're looking for sober-minded analysis of the fallout from the Paris attacks, don't look to your television.

If you're looking for sober-minded analysis of the fallout from the Paris attacks, don't look to your television.
Photo Credit: Credit: Fox News/Screen Montage by Salon

It’s entirely predictable that the Republicans would be hysterical in the wake of a major terrorist attack in the west that takes place during a presidential election. It’s not the first attack in Europe of this scope since 9/11 — the Madrid attacks in 2004 were even more deadly. But Madrid happened while a Republican president was in office and they were still heavily invested in the Iraq war, so the reaction wasn’t quite as overwrought.

But they can usually be counted upon to immediately call for some kind of military action and propose draconian restrictions on civil liberties whenever the chance presents itself and last weekend was no exception. This time they smoothly jumped on the existing anti-immigrant zeitgeist by hysterically denouncing the proposal to allow some Syrian refugees into the country. By the end of the day yesterday, 15 governors and counting (all but one a Republican) had declared their states would refuse to allow them inside their borders.

Unfortunately, much of the press seems to have decided to reprise their role in the run-up to the Iraq war and cheer on calls for military invasion while criticizing anyone who suggests that everyone take a breath before deciding that it’s time to invade more countries in the middle east. One such object of their ire was President Obama who held a press conference on Tuesday and, in their view, failed to offer up the satisfyingly bellicose saber rattling they apparently needed to hear.

During the Q&A, Jim Acosta of CNN (who had been fulminating about the fall of western civilization all week-end) asked the question that perfectly illustrated their excited delirium:

“I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world. It has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS, and I guess the question is, and if you’ll forgive the language, is why can’t we take out these bastards?”

The president was too polite to ask if Acosta was five years old, but he did seem a bit annoyed. This vacuous question came on the heels of a long deliberate explanation of the complexities and challenges involved in trying to solve the problem, including the obvious fact that “the greatest military in the world” is not the answer to every problem.

When the president said, “We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they are a state and we use routine tactics used to fight a state that is not a state — that’s not what is going on here — these are killers with fantasies of glory,” he inflamed the hawkish press representatives so much they just couldn’t contain themselves. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, for example, was very angry:

AMANPOUR:If anybody was expecting to hear in the passion and eloquence and speech patterns of President Obama a tipping point, they did not hear that today. And as you say, defensive when he was asked questions about American leadership, dismissing the notions of American leadership as mere slogans, seeming not to take into account the very palpable fear amongst citizens, certainly here in France, to an extent in the United States, certainly in the United Kingdom — everybody bracing for the worst of the worst to happen again…

COOPER: In terms of containment, though, he is trying to stress, and whether it’s walking back comments he made before, he’s really in this was stressing geographic containment on the ground compared to the same time —

AMANPOUR:Fine. But in terms of ability they are not contained. They have just slaughtered 129 people in Paris. The death toll may rise very higher because there are 352 people injured, of whom 99 are critically wounded. So the question is to have an honest conversation now about a new strategy.

Let’s just say that if you are looking for dispassionate reporting and analysis, you’re going to have a hard time finding it on CNN.

But that was nothing compared to what Fox News offered up. Bill Hemmer was practically in tears bemoaning the fact that the president was refusing to declare war on evil:

 

BILL HEMMER: If you were waiting to hear a U.S. president say “I feel your pain,” or if you were waiting to hear a U.S. president say “it’s them or us,” that is not what you just heard… President Obama has made it quite clear, in that Q & A that lasted more than 45 minutes, that he has accepted there are evils in this world and evils in places like Paris, France, and this is something that we all must face today. It’s a reality in which the world we live. [sic] If you’re at home wondering with your own set of anger and your own set of fears about what could happen next, you were not alone, because that’s precisely what you feel here in Paris, France. And if you were waiting for clarification on your feelings through that Q & A, you weren’t going to get it.

He was clearly very upset and didn’t feel comforted by the president’s words. And no he isn’t 5 years old either.

At the end of the president’s comments he admonished those who would close the door to desperate refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria. Chris Matthews was furious  at this and made it quite clear that he doesn’t think much of them:

Chris Matthews: I think it’s a problem that millions of Syrians coming here while we go fight their war for them. I think it’s insane. I can’t see why we should go fight a war with Syria without at least asking the Syrians if they’d like to join up.

Evan Kohlmann [terrorism expert]: These are families, These people aren’t fighters.

Matthews: Our country is filled with families too. Do you know how many of our soldiers are in multiple deployments who have families!!?

Kohlmann: Everyone has families, but when you have little kids and there are barrel bombs being dropped …

Matthews: Look, we’ve been talking about building up the Syrian army now for year. There is no Syrian Army, the basis of a Syrian Army is leaving.

Kohlmann: I don’t think you can fault these people from running from barrel bombs dropped on them.

Matthews:I’m saying “think about fighting for your country !”

Kohlmann:The time for that was back in 2013. These people are desperate…

Matthews: Try that on the American people. They’re not going to accept this. It’s not going to work. Thank you Evan Kohlman you know your stuff about terrorism. Let me tell you about politics.

Matthews, at least, does not pretend to be a reporter. But the idea that refugees of a civil war are cowards is a low point for his commentary.

That’s just a random handful of examples of the barely suppressed hysteria that cable news has been offering its audience over the past three days. The Paris strikes were terrifying, just as they were designed to be. People all over the world watched in horror over the past few days as the full scope of the attacks became known. As President Obama said, ISIS is a barbaric organization and there is no decent person on earth who doesn’t find this act despicable in every way. But these are journalists and they have a responsibility to keep their heads about them when these things happen.

It was well documented that during the run-up to the Iraq war there was tremendous pressure coming from the executive suite of the news networks to cheerlead for the administration. Those who resisted were marginalized and fired if they refused to go along. It’s unlikely that the word went forth on Saturday that reporters should get on a war footing and issue demands that the president use “the greatest military in the world” to “take out these bastards.” But they don’t have to say it explicitly do they? Everyone knows the drill.

There is no doubt the Republicans are getting ready to launch a full blown campaign of paranoid bloodlust which, if successful, would have devastating consequences. The media were willing recruits in their cause fifteen years ago. Let’s hope they gather their wits about them before they take us down that dangerous road again.

 

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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