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U.S. eyes wide shut to real-life gore and guts
Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2003

By Antonia Zerbisias, Toronto Star

"It was just like in the movies," U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Horgan told reporters at the U.S. Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany on Wednesday. "It was a whizzing noise. I thought, `Oh my God, I'm gonna die.'"

Horgan was one of the lucky ones. Although he'll never be a great dancer part of his right heel was torn off he still has his legs and his life.

Not unexpected, his reference to the movies.

After all, this sweet-faced 21-year-old likely nursed on a video game joystick, shooting and killing E-nemies by the thousand. He probably watched years of bing-bang-boom action flicks, either at the local Cineplex or at home in front of the VCR. He's seen miles of fake guts torn apart and rivers of cosmetic blood spilled.

That's what's so surprising about how the war coverage is playing on U.S. TV: A culture so inured to violence, so conditioned to watching people being blown up for fun and profit, is being shielded from witnessing the real-life-and-death effects of its support for a war which is killing real people for real.

Which brings us to yesterday's explosion in a busy market of Baghdad's Shula neighbourhood, where at least 50 people were reported killed.

I didn't hear about it from CNN, which was hyping President George W. Bush's latest speech. Instead, I was alerted to the tragedy by sharp-eyed reader Carlos Coimbra, a bigger media junkie than I, who emailed me the news with links to Australian and Israeli web sites.

It took a while for CNN to catch up to the rest of the world.

Finally, for a few seconds just after 2 p.m., after a lengthy advisory about the disturbing Abu Dhabi TV pictures to follow, CNN showed a clip of a screaming man in a stretcher, his feet bloody stumps, and scenes of other carnage.

Was it an American missile? Iraqi anti-aircraft fire gone awry? CentCom, from its lavish Hollywood set in Qatar, offered no information or confirmation. CNN's Nic Robertson could only say that, had it been a U.S. bomb, the Iraqis would be trotting out pieces of the thing as proof.

We never saw that mutilated man again. But later in the afternoon, CNN ran a few scenes from a hospital, depicting a calm and unbloodied woman on a bed, and people carrying coffins.

Eventually, at the channel's map and shuffleboard, retired talking brass Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd and anchor-with-pointing-stick Miles O'Brien pronounced a few words about the explosion before cutting to a computer cartoon of a U-2 spy aircraft.

This, Judy Woodruff would later intone, is "just one more reminder of how war can hurt" people.

Ya think?

Then, in the early evening, a big kaboom in Baghdad, with CNN speculating that Iraq's Ministry of Information was hit. Was it? As I write this, CNN has yet to enlighten me, but has replayed the sound and light show over and over.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that "the United States unleashed one of the heaviest bombardments of the war'' yesterday.

You wouldn't know it from CNN. That's because, around dinnertime our time, something Iraqi? American? knocked out an empty shopping mall in Kuwait City.

On this, CNN dwelled for hours, without returning to the dead in Baghdad. Instead, resident health expert-turned-war-correspondent Sanjay Gupta gave a series of panicky reports about bombs and gas leaks and people running and I don't know what else that turned out to be not true.

Bottom line, nobody died.

But we did learn lots about how Kuwaiti shopping malls look just like American ones.

It doesn't matter who hit that Shula market.

Even if Saddam Hussein bombed his own people and haven't we been conditioned to believe that he would at the drop of a Scud missile? aren't the lives of those victims, who died for the sins of a bunch of mostly Saudi Arabian men did on 9/11, were worth at least as much Wolf Blitzkriegering as an empty mall?

You can bet the Arab world did, since the images of the dead and dying in Shula were all over their TV networks, as well as European channels.

Even Toronto's CP24 had more on the Shula blast than CNN or, as I have come to think of it, The Pentagon's Bitch.

What Americans see, or more likely, don't see, is turning into the media story of the war so far.

Why the self-censorship? Is it a matter of taste? Of not offending American sensibilities?

Then why is it that the media corporations, including those that own most of the networks and news channels, make millions of millions churning out "entertainment'' that blows people up real good?

Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.

Reprinted from The Toronto Star

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