The war addiction of American cable TV

US cable news networks are addicted to war.

War is their intoxicating elixir of choice. It has also become their raison d’etre. There are only two stories that matter to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News: presidential politics and war.

The two are, of course, inextricably linked. One not only informs but can also define the other. In this narrow context, the real, lasting and graphic human consequences of war are rarely given attention or exposure. Rather, war is considered solely through the antiseptic prism of its domestic political and international geopolitical ramifications.

This cynical pantomime has, once again, been on depressing display in the aftermath of the killing last week in Iraq of General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), that has triggered the latest Middle East “crisis”.

Ever since President Donald Trump announced the assassination, US cable news networks – to varying degrees – have been willing and, at times, almost giddy conduits for the typically incoherent rationales offered by his administration for a decision that could lead to yet another war in the midst of the US’s other perpetual wars. (My goodness, CNN host, Jake Tapper, asked a panel of guests on Wednesday if Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani could already be deemed a “win” for the president.)

Trump, I suspect, understands this predictable, made-for-TV dynamic. He knows that cable news journalists and editors are obliged to report unquestioningly whatever he says, when he says it – such are the exigencies of the live, 24-hour news cycle.

So, if Trump defends his decision to “terminate” Soleimani by branding him a “terrorist” intent on staging “imminent” attacks on American soldiers and diplomats, the marquee TV journalists dutifully parrot it without even the hint of scepticism.

Few questioned the veracity of Trump’s claims of an “imminent” assault. Instead, reporters played mock war-games, using three-dimensional graphics of Iran and its neighbours to point out possible military targets, its arsenal and capabilities, and to diagram how a conflict could unfold in the smouldering region.

Left unsaid by the telegenic anchors is this fact: the president making these unsubstantiated claims is a well-documented liar who traffics in conspiracy theories originating in the lunatic recesses of the internet. It would not be good form, I suppose, to tell the truth when the country needs to “rally behind” the commander-in-chief.

That Trump’s rhetoric mirrored George W Bush’s discredited Iraq war script to the letter has also escaped their notice and memory.

Clearly, introspection is an alien concept among the editors and reporters who populate US cable news networks. In 2003, they abandoned journalism for stenography wrapped in patriotism and, with a sprinkling of exceptions, they are doing largely the same today.

Hence, the parade of mainly white, male former soldiers, spies, think-tank academics and journalists who once assured the world that the invasion of Iraq was necessary to kill another “terrorist” with “blood on his hands” who, in their concocted calculus, also threatened to kill Westerners “imminently”.

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