Peace lies ahead

War has a way of breaking through the facade of civilization we live behind.

It gives the lie to everything we wish our world were about. It destroys plans, ruins lives and transports us to our most basic selves. It intrudes on our everyday, comfortable lives to the point where they seem somehow farcical. War strips away the membrane of what we claim to know, and it exposes the arrogance of our assumptions.

In some perverse way, it also makes us appreciate those lies we tell ourselves in peacetime.

You don’t have to look far to see how the news media have already been altered to reflect the war reality. The slick packaging of this war against Iraq has been torn off like so much shrink wrap.

While the build-up to invasion was sold by the mainstream media like a commodity—a new Dell desktop computer or Superbowl Sunday—the high-technology machinery and “our team can beat theirs” rhetoric has become irrelevant compared to the tears of a mother who fears for her captured son’s safety or the cracking voice of a veteran anchorman when faced with crumpled corpses.

Gadgetry and boosterism mean nothing up against the looks of terror in our sons’ and daughters’ eyes as they are paraded before television cameras like tortured sheep. The images of these POWs, and the apparently murdered bodies before them, emphasize our lack of control over our world. The news comes in: A Nevada man, Second Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney Jr., is among those killed in An Nasiriyah, Iraq.

War, like an earthquake or a blizzard, is beyond anyone’s control, even those people charged with prosecuting it.

This war with Iraq makes everything else seem insignificant. And yet it also illustrates profound truths about the media and their ways of packaging news and information to enhance their entertainment value and thereby attract more readers and viewers and more advertisers. But we’re way past being entertained by this war. It’s become gruesome and painful, as wars are, and the media have no choice but to convey that reality to us.

This week’s issue was planned, long before this war began, to highlight the relationship between money and the news media. Our idea was to show, in specific ways, how advertising dollars can corrupt or at least influence what you see and hear in the news.

We wanted every story scrutinized by readers from this point of view. Some are legitimately newsworthy; others are unabashed puff pieces. We challenge our readers to tell the difference.

Consider it an April Fool’s Day challenge. War or no war, our ability to discriminate between pandering and honest reporting is always being tested.