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What do you know about the Media and Abu Ghraib??

February 9th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments



Although in recent months, Abu Ghraib has not been making front page news, it is still an issue at large in the United States and the world. Millions around the globe witnessed shocking images of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib at the hands of their American captors; the reaction was anger and outrage. The constant bombardment of shocking photos and articles made sure that everyone knew about the problem at hand. And that something needed to happen to resolve this issue.
In this paper I will be exploring the mass media coverage of the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. I will examine a few different media outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Times. I will also attempt to compare the amount of coverage given to Abu Ghraib by the two newspapers as well as the underlying motives of the liberal New York Times and the conservative Washington Times. Also, I will be examining the Abu Ghraib coverage broadcasted on national television in the United States. CNN, a known liberal news station and The Fox News Channel a known conservative news station will be my mediums. I will be examining them to see if I can find distortions in the coverage, the amount of coverage, bias in the coverage, and more importantly the repercussions of the said statements from the newspaper and television.
I chose these particular news mediums because they are all well known, trusted institutions of news. Also it is important to understand that each carry their own political views, whether they are Republican or Democratic. That being said, I believe we will find many differences in the coverage of the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal between the news agencies


To acquire data for my analysis of Abu Ghraib media coverage I turned to the primary sources themselves. By using the internet to review old articles and the fact that I constantly watch cable news, I was able to review a fair amount of data. Some of which is stuff I remember from watching CNN and FNC during the height of the Abu Ghraib pandemic.
By contacting staff writers at the Washington Times and using microfiche to review articles posted by the New York Times, I was able to see many differences in the media coverage. However, the internet proved to be my most valuable player in helping me compile my research. Depending on the key words used to research Abu Ghraib in the media I would get many different results. By typing in “Abu Ghraib” I would get websites that were mostly focused on the cold hard facts of the case without the left or right wing bias. However, when I typed in words like distortions, propaganda, and sensationalism attached with Abu Ghraib I found that the websites information changed dramatically. I noticed a great deal of what I would call finger pointing, people playing the blame game, and the attempted defamation of character was always popular.
The three search engines used where; Yahoo, Google, and Ask.com. For the most part the three search engines returned most of the same information but it’s always nice to mix it up a little. It was difficult to sift through what I considered to be accurate coverage and what I will call uneducated coverage of the issue. Everyone’s got an opinion but I think it’s best to just stick to the facts of the cases and use the comments and statements of accredited news agencies
In order to discuss differences in media coverage of Abu Ghraib I needed to first understand what actually happened at Abu Ghraib. To complete this task I used a number of internet sites describing the events that took place. Wikipedia on the web proved to be the most complete, unbiased information on the actual facts and timelines of the case.


In the early months of 2003, various abuses and torture tactics were being used on inmates at the Abu Ghraib Prison. Private contractors, CIA officers, and U.S. armed forces were among the many individuals who would ultimately be charged with cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners. On April 28th, 2004, the emergence of various reports of abuse and graphic pictures of Americans abusing POW’s appeared in the international media. CBS aired an episode of 60 minutes 2 that went into graphic detail of the events at Abu Ghraib. The New York Times published an article on the abuse just 2 days later. I will go into greater details of this story later in this report.
The damage of this scandal to the U.S.’s credibility was tremendous. The news of the abuse reverberated throughout the entire Arab world, leading millions to believe that these instances represented a “broader American attitude of disrespect and violence towards Arabs.”(CNN) The U.S. countered by saying that the abuses were committed by a handful of low-ranking personnel, and that their individual actions did not represent the U.S. armed forces as a whole. In response to the scandal the removal of 17 officers from duty, the arrest 7 soldiers for dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault, and battery, for which they were sent to prison, as well as 2 officers who spent 10 year prison terms.
Ironically, the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal, led by the U.S. coalition, was not the first account of torture that the walls of the prison had seen. In fact, thousands of political prisoners held by Saddam Hussein were believed to have been tortured and murdered. “Up to 4 thousand prisoners are thought to have been executed there in 1984 alone. Prisoners are routinely executed, guards fed prisoners into plastic shredders, and there are even allegations that some of these detainees were subjected to experiments as part of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons program.”(Wikipedia 2004) After Baghdad was invaded and the government was overthrown, the U.S. took over the prison where it would eventually come to hold over 5 thousand prisoners.

Washington Times

The Washington Times is a D.C. newspaper that reaches about 103,017 readers on a daily basis. It was created by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon to be the conservative counterpoint to the liberal Washington post. Both papers claimed to print neutral news coverage but reserve the right to print conservative and liberal opinions in the respective papers.
The Washington times is known and is seen as a conservative newspaper. By conservative, I mean that their political views are in support of traditional values and the “existing social order.” The support of republicans in times of political discussions and events is also common place. This is precisely why we have seen a difference in the amount of coverage in Abu Ghraib by the New York Times versus the Washington Times.
According to Jennifer Harper, of the Washington Times,” positive images and accounts of the U.S. armed forces is rare.”(Harper 2005) She goes on to give an example, “30 U.S. airmen and soldiers delivered school supplies and toys – gifts from American children – to an Iraqi village.” “Yesterday air force medical teams airlifted a critically ill infant and mother to an Ohio hospital for treatment.”(Harper 2005) The question is why are these stories being overshadowed by all the bad images of the war? The Washington Times claims it does an excellent job at staying neutral.
The Washington times, as well as other agencies such as the Media Research Center, are very suspicious of the fact that there are broadcasters in news companies using their influence to build a case against the war in Iraq, as well as the Bush administration. Abu Ghraib proved to be the catalyst for many to turn away from the war on terror and question the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. For this reason, the Washington Times opted out of sensationalistic media coverage of the Abu Ghraib incident. The Washington Times was not one to publish a ridiculous amount of shock articles along with anger incising photographs to amplify the severity of the events. The liberal media has had no such qualms doing so; as the Washington Times has gone on to say in many of their articles.
Why would the Washington Times shy away from an obscene amount of coverage of Abu Ghraib? Why would they retaliate and say that the liberal media is using the scandal to undermine Bush’s war efforts. The answer is simple. We have a Conservative in office. The Washington Times and any conservative media for that matter do not want to see their poster boy’s image tarnished. It is in the Washington Times best interest to keep a republican in office and writing stories that discredit Bush’s control on the situation at hand would have a negative effect… As we have seen from the “bombardment of Abu Ghraib images from CBS, CNN, Washington Post, and especially the New York Times.”(O’Reilly, 2004)

Fox News Channel

Another entity with similar conservative ideology is the Fox News Channel, with their “hardballer” Bill O’Reilly. Fox News Channel was founded by Rupert Murdoch in an attempt to combat the liberal media. They operate under the slogans “Fair and Balanced”, “We report you decide”, and as Bill O’Reilly says, “your now entering a no spin zone.” Although Fox News Channel was criticized in the 2000 election for being, “the last to retract the call of Florida for Gore and first to call Florida for Bush, their record of being unbiased is pretty good.”(Wikipedia 2003)
Perhaps the most well known and noteworthy television personality on the Fox News Channel is Bill O’Reilly. He is known for his conservative political views, unorthodox methods of interviewing guests on his show, and sensational commentary. As someone who watches the O’Reilly Factor, it was not hard to compile the feelings and articles from O’Reilly on the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. On a side note, O’Reilly does not believe he is either a conservative or a liberal. As he has stated time and time again.
In response to the Abu Ghraib scandal, O’Reilly was forthcoming to say that the photos did show abuse but was reluctant to admit that the photos showed what the New York Times Dubbed as torture. O’Reilly’s focus was more turned toward what he perceived as sensational coverage of Abu Ghraib by the leftist media and the consequences of their journalism. O’Reilly goes on to say that “the New York Times, of course is using the prisoner story to hammer the Bush administration and continue to do so, but here’s the unintended consequence of that. By creating hysteria over Abu Ghraib, the much more important war on terror story has vanished from the newspapers. Last weeks dog and pony show by Senators Kennedy and Bidden once again placed blame on the Bush Administration. And the senators did everything they could to mandate no coercive interrogations of suspected terrorists. Meantime foreign governments are encouraging suicide killers and we are the targets. Yet it’s all Abu Ghraib, all the time in much of the media, politics once again trumping your safety.”(O’Reilly 2004) He also states that the New York Times ran with 43 front page stories on Abu Ghraib in 47 days. An incredible amount of coverage.

New York Times

The New York Times is published in New York City but is an international newspaper. “It is owned by the New York Times Co. which also publishes some 40 other newspapers including the international Herald Tribune and the Boston Globe.” We will return to the Globe later in the essay. The New York Times is viewed by many to be a liberal newspaper. By liberal I mean that they are concerned with individual rights, civil liberties and the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. Tax breaks for the poor are generally favored over tax breaks for the rich.
The New York Times is usually thought of as supporting the Democratic Party. It has been suggested that “during presidential campaigns the paper systematically gives more coverage to democratic topics, but only when the incumbent president is a republican.”(FNC 2005) Based on these facts some might assume that the New York Times would have much to gain from extensive coverage of Abu Ghraib. Much like their opponent conservative paper, the New York Times has a stake in the reactions of their readers. For the liberal side of the news Abu Ghraib was the Holly Grail of leverage points.
There is no doubt that the New York Times covered the Abu Ghraib prison scandal extensively. In fact from April 29, 2004 to may 31, 2004 the Abu Ghraib scandal was on the front page of the New York Times in full color. A few of the 32 headlines read,” Iraqi recounts hours of abuse by U.S. troops. The solider; from picture of pride to symbol of abuse, and abuse; afghan deaths linked to a unit in Iraq.” (NYT 2004) All articles painted vivid images of the tortured and mutilated Iraqis in the minds of Americans and the world. Many of the articles also attempted to illustrate the incompetence followed by the underhand ness of the bush administration and the U.S. armed forces as a whole.
One article in particular, Abu Ghraib, Stonewashed, published by the New York Times read, “while piously declaring its determination to unearth the truth about Abu Ghraib, the Bush Administration has spent nearly 2 months obstructing investigations by the army and members of congress. It has dragged out the Armies inquiry, withheld crucial government documents from a senate committee and stonewalled senators over dozens of Red Cross reports that document the horrible treatment of Iraqis at American military prisons.”(NYT 6/30/04). This seems to be one of the running themes in the liberal media.
As mentioned before the New York Times publishes the Boston Globe. Like the New York Times the Globe is also thought of as having liberal bias toward political issues. Apparently this bias carried over into the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. “On May 11, 2004 after the Abu Ghraib photos were released, Boston City Council Chuck Turner called a news conference with activist Sadiki Kambo. At the conference Turner and Kambo claimed to have pictures of American soldiers raping Iraqi women which Kambo said he got from the Nation of Islam. The Americans have a right and responsibility to see the pictures, Turner said standing beside a poster showing some of these graphic photos.’(Zinsmeister, 8/4/04) After three days it was found that the photos were blatant fakes and the Globe was forced to publicly apologize for reporting the case of abuse when the photos were nothing more the commercially produced pornography.”(Wikipedia, 04)Let’s hope the Iraqis got that omission.


Created by Ted Turner and Reese Schonfeld, CNN has been dubbed “the most watched 24 hour news network in the world.”(CNN) It is available to 1.5 billion people in over 212 countries. Also being dubbed as the Clinton news network, CNN has come under scrutiny by conservatives for the practice of liberal bias in their reporting. CNN has been known to be a mouth piece for the New York Times and the Washington Post. All three cover stories with the same slant and Abu Ghraib is really no different.
CNN’s coverage of Abu Ghraib was also extensive and made a habit of plastering shocking photos on T.V. of tortured and tormented Iraqis at the hands of Americans. I also watch CNN. It’s not to say that the coverage was inaccurate or untrue but the constant harping on the issue six months after the fact led many to believe that CNN had a greater hidden agenda in the reporting of the abuse case. Perhaps to discredit the Bush administration and make themselves look right righteous crusaders trying to uncover the truth, increasing the credibility of the left wing.


In order to best understand the juxtaposition of the conservative and liberal media outlets we must first understand the broader situation going on. I will attempt to give you a condensed background of the political forces at work when dealing with Abu Ghraib and the media in general.
Currently we have a Republican president in office and have had one in office since 2000. This has not set well with the Democrats very well. As we have seen in the 2000 election with the Florida recall and again in 2004 when the Democrats tried to get the votes of soldiers in Iraq disqualified from the count. A noteworthy side note, most US soldiers are supporters of Bush and his administration.
Perhaps the most talked about aspect in the media has been the American led war in Iraq. Since the beginning of the war, liberals have tried to slam Bush and the American people, as I see it, for going to war with the country that supposedly has nothing to do with terrorism. This is false. On the 16th of March, 1988 Saddam and his followers used chemical weapons on the Kurdish people in the town of Halabjah. “Around 5000 people were murdered, mostly civilians.”(CBS 2004) The fact that the United States was unable to find weapons of mass destruction has been a staging point for much of the liberal criticism. Perhaps someone should tell them that Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction and the United States has the receipt to prove it. A mistake made by the Reagan administration. However, since the weapons of mass destruction debacle has gone away the Liberal media has been starving for a new media headline to discredit the Bush administration. Abu Ghraib would come to be the headline.
There is no doubt in my mind that what happen at Abu Ghraib was a horrible thing and those responsible should have been punished, but was the constant streaming of torture photos really necessary. The unfortunate aspect for all the coverage of Abu Ghraib is that the problem had been uncovered and fixed by the military six months before the media ever caught wind of it. The way the media portrayed the issue was that the supposed tortures were going on, on a daily basis when in fact the abuse had stopped. It wasn’t as if the media had uncovered the evil Americans torturing inmates, it was the military that discovered it and dealt with in accordingly. So I ask, if the Bush administration is so incompetent and don’t have a handle on the war and all its aspects, (AG), then why were they the ones to uncover the problem and fix it.
Another problem I have with the coverage of Abu Ghraib was that of the photographs alone. When the Liberal media showed these pictures they never gave timelines of when the pictures were taken. They just showed pictures and led people to believe that these photos were taken over the course of weeks and even months when they were actually taken on the same day. Probably within hours of each other. But that’s not what the Liberal media would have you know. They attempted to make it look like the torture was an ongoing and everyday practice.
Tim Graham of the Media Research Center noted that “this abuse story is just not going away” it is still the topic on most network news. And there strong focus of the court martial, on the bad apples-it’s as if those troops represent the military at large as far as the media is concerned. The center has been following the bias problem among broadcasters who use the abuse story to build a case against the war in Iraq and the Bush administration. As a sample the group tracked abuse stories from April 29th to May 11th on NBC and found that the network aired 58 stories on abuse in that period. In the past year NBC only aired 5 stories on mass graves found in Iraq from the Saddam Hussein era.”(Graham 2004) From this information it is easy to see where NBC, a known Liberal station, is focused.
Another aspect of the Abu Ghraib case that needs to be addressed is the flagrant use of the word torture. I believe that the word torture really needed to be evaluated and defined before the media as a whole began tossing it around. The context the word carries with it is very different from country to country, culture to culture. To a great deal of Americans the photos were disturbing but were not viewed as torture. To me most of the” photos showed nothing more than you would expect to see at a fraternity hazing.”(Tim 5/3/2004) The others clearly showed textbook procedures in dealing with a person you were interrogating. Although I do admit some of the marine’s actions went too far and deserved to be punished.
The media loved to show the image of an Army ranger restraining a snarling dog from ripping into an Iraqi they were interrogating. Using dogs and other “high stress” tactics to get information out of detainees is completely legal. Though I think the public could have gone without seeing that image. If you were to ask Iraqis who lived under the murderous Saddam Hussein, the Vietnamese and Bosnians if they thought the pictures showed torture, they would probably disagree.
Overall, I would have to say that both the conservative and liberal media’s did a good job of covering the topic. However, Fox and the Washington Times may have been a little to relaxed about the whole issue but did cover all of the main focal points of the scandal. CNN and the New York Times on the other hand may have gone a little overboard on the Abu Ghraib coverage but were well within their rights to do so. I think all agencies had accurate coverage of the issue and presented their slants on the issue very well. It is my contention that a cross between the two media circles would be able to produce better and possibly fairer coverage in the future.

that was the worst thing I’ve ever read. It was poorly written, made unsubstantiated arguments, and was basically devoid of conclusions. It was terrible. We are all stupider for having witnessed this. May God have mercy on your soul.

  1. dukefenton
    February 10th, 2010 at 03:02 | #1

    I think you were looking for ‘Yahoo Dissertations.’ Down the hall, take a right; can’t miss it.
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  2. Charles D
    February 10th, 2010 at 03:08 | #2

    that was the worst thing I’ve ever read. It was poorly written, made unsubstantiated arguments, and was basically devoid of conclusions. It was terrible. We are all stupider for having witnessed this. May God have mercy on your soul.
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  3. dawn f
    February 10th, 2010 at 03:16 | #3

    With Reuters and other media that has been caught fabricating and screening for lebanannese actors and actresses for video shots it seems thats the medias favorite pass time..,oh and dont forget Dan the Man Rather.Our soldiers get urine and feces thrown at them daily and the press doesnt cover that,the get spit on and a few of the soldiers have been attacked with make shift weapons and we never hear that.Poor prisioners get special menus and prayer rugs and korans and air condtioning,better than what american prisoners get.But we have sympathizers in the media for people trying to kill our soldiers.But they are so mistreated..,I think Al Gore should see if they contribute to the global warming.
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  4. g
    February 10th, 2010 at 03:31 | #4

    the only problem I have is that you seem to "cherry pick" your points… good points for those you agree with… bad for those you don’t… I don’t see much objectivity on your side… it’s very easy to see who you side with…

    there doesn’t seem to be any "on the other hand"… devils advocate work at play here… and there is ALWAYS another side to every point…

    one could easily write a paper stating almost the exact opposite points… with just as many citable points…

    but what’s the point in that… both papers would be clearly bias…

    to try and find the middle ground… at least an attempt… would be nice…
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