Reporting the Business of War

31 Mar 2003
March 31, 2003

The way to play it on the air for Morning Shows right now is “What’s hot and what’s not?” Relate to the news as you have always done. That would lead humor to decrease in amount, but not in totality. Relate, but do not create. That means that you should not create a “funeral-like” atmosphere during an ongoing war.

Mike McVay
McVay Media

While most of the most poignant parts of the war are happening at its center, some of the most interesting parts are happening at its periphery. What does someone as intelligent as Colin Powell really think about the wisdom of this conflict (let alone the wisdom of the President and his other advisors)? I’m watching Donald Rumsfeld dodge his own bullets. And, just how are we citizens supposed to react to the information and images we are being given from our self-described “most trusted” news outlets? The rules of engagement on the home front have my mind working in overdrive and my fingers riveted to my keyboard.

Last week I mentioned that American companies were being advised to tone down their patriotic advertising. But the Washington Post is now reporting that broadcast news consultants are telling their radio and TV station clients to ramp it up. Their message: anti-war is bad business. And, by extension, pro-war is good business.

McVay Media, a Cleveland-based consultant, has issued a “War Manual” for its clients. Among its list of recommendations it suggests “ASK CALLERS ‘HOW DO YOU FEEL?’ Not “What do you THINK?” In addition: “Air the National Anthem at a specified time each day as long as the USA is at war. Get the following production pieces in the studio NOW: …Patriotic music that makes you cry, salute, get cold chills. Go for the emotion.” It is advising its talk show stations to “make sure your hosts aren’t ‘over the top.’ Polarizing discussions are shaky ground. This is not the time to take cheap shots to get reaction…not when our young men and women are ‘in harm’s way.’”

Frank N. Magid Associates, a major consulting firm, put it more succinctly: covering war protests may be harmful to the station’s bottom line. McVay offers more suggestions: dispatch reporters to military bases in the area, find experts in some 30 categories including “veterans of Desert Storm, “Former G Men,” and “Military Recruiting Offices.” And, of course, “have at least one expert outside the broadcast industry as your ‘go to’ analyst—a former military specialist is ideal, especially with Desert Storm experience.” Every station I’ve been watching must be reading this book.

To back this up Magid released a survey just before the war that declared that war protests tested lowest among 6400 viewers across the nation. Only 14 percent believed the media wasn’t paying enough attention to anti-war protests. If these statistics are true, in the civil war between conservatives and liberals, where is our Democratic leadership? Are they too on the boards of big corporations who have a stake in the rebuilding of Iraq? Or are they just running for re-election?

The Post interviewed one local media consultant who stated: “If one of our guys got on the air and started ranting against the war, it would create an unnecessary controversy. As a business, you don’t want half the population hating you. So you plant your flag in the stand.” From this one could gather that one half the population is more important than the other and that controversy is bad and must be avoided at all costs. The “unity” that conservative pundit David Horowitz demands seems to not only be a political strategy but a business one as well.

And that’s the important thing to remember: media outlets are businesses. The industry is made up of highly consolidated, huge corporations, like Clear Channel (which, it has been reported, are the organizers of many pro-war rallies across the country).

Some network and cable stations are losing less advertising money than they thought they would because the heaviest fighting is occurring outside of prime time. Since Baghdad is eight hours ahead of the East Coast, most major bombardments and presidential press conferences are taking place during daytime here. Lower cost daytime commercials are being preempted.

Less advertisers are pulling their ads than networks anticipated. Jim Hoffman, senior vice president for sales for NBC and MSNBC said that part of the reason for the high retention rate was the absence of bloody war images so far.

Since the media are “cleansing” our homeland images of the war (not showing more graphic photographs and video of captured and dead American soldiers), is there a relation between the business of reporting and Americans’ visions and opinions of this conflict?

War is a dirty, gruesome affair. When American lives are at stake, the politics and business of war is even more so. Maintaining a strong association between the heart at this conflict’s center and the mind at its periphery is critical to how we interpret its cost and its success. Ignoring McVay Media’s advice, I will both think and feel my way through this one.

1 reply
  1. Kate S. says:

    Umm, I fear I may have gotten my comments/your articles confused, but a I copied your “don’t be afraid to speak up” gif and will now proceed, sweaty palms, into my template to attempt to strategically place said gif in a position that does not require the reader to stand on their head to view. Thank you, carry on.

Comments are closed.

© 2001-2015 Jeff Gates ISSN 1544-4074