Journalist and radio show host Larry Bensky ’58 challenged students Thursday to view with skepticism news coverage of the American-led war with Iraq, charging a widespread lack of objectivity in much Ameircan print and broadcast reporting.
Bensky, a National Affairs Correspondent for alternative radio network Pacifica Radio and a former managing editor of the Yale Daily News, spoke to a crowd of about 60 students and faculty members to air his concerns about how the media is reporting on the conflict. The talk, titled “The Media and Iraq: Beyond the Propaganda Frame,” was sponsored by the American Studies Program and the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Program.
Bensky charged that media broadcasts are relying on exciting images of the conflict on the front lines of the war instead of offering balanced analysis.
“Television media’s way of framing stories is just to give the bang bang,” Bensky said. “Sometimes, the broadcasts don’t even bother with a script and show a series of edited pictures and let the viewer draw his own conclusions.”
To illustrate his point, Bensky played the brutal opening sequence from the movie “Saving Private Ryan” as he spoke. He pointed out that the audience was so focused on the images that it did not hear what he was saying. Bensky then showed a news segment that aired on the Fox News Channel. The segment, which was not narrated, showed images of a fierce American firefight with Iraqi troops and later showed an American soldier smoking a cigar.
Bensky charged that many media outlets are not reporting the war objectively and said that stories are often clearly biased in favor of the war. He said that the sets of newscasts often revealed the pro-war stance of the news station. One clip, which Bensky referred to as “warnography,” showed an MSNBC anchorman standing in front of images of President George W. Bush and replicas of American fighter planes as he debated the merits of American military strategy.
“The viewing public is definitely getting something framed for them,” Bensky said. “Is the news media complicit in this? Yes.”
After Bensky’s talk, John Coggin ’05 said it was important to investigate the motives and objectivity of the media.
“One thing that most people who watch cable news don’t question is where do the news analysts come from, what organizations are they representing and why are they authorities on the ideas that they are explaining?” Coggin said. “People should be asking those questions.”
Coggin later said Bensky’s views were slightly more critical than his own.
“It was a great discussion but I am surprised at the extent at the level of his disillusionment,” Coggin said. “I’m not that disillusioned.”
American studies professor Stephen Pitti said he was pleased with the level student interest in the talk.
“I am very happy with the turnout,” Pitti said. “[Bensky] was a natural person to speak about the role of the media in the current situation in Iraq.”
Bensky urged those in attendance always to question what is presented as a fact.
“Be skeptical,” Bensky said. “You shouldn’t believe what I have just said. Go and check it out for yourselves.”