Western Media Mortified Over NATO's TV Strike

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Dacha Danilovic/AP

Yugoslav Army soldiers take a break from inspecting the wreckage of Serbia's state television headquarters

Richard Holbrooke was in gung-ho mode as he told the annual awards ceremony of the Overseas Press Club Thursday night that NATO had just blasted Serb TV. His audience did not share his enthusiasm. Instead of applauding, the gathered executives from many of New York's leading print and TV news outlets gazed furtively around the room at their peers, looking for hints of an appropriate response to a piece of war news that had left most with mixed feelings. Killing journalists and media employees, after all, had generally been the preserve of thuggish regimes such as Slobodan Milosevic's; the idea that the forces supposedly fighting for democratic principles could blow away a TV studio -- no matter how noxious its political orientation -- was never going to sit well with the keepers of the Fourth Estate.

Reporters at NATO briefings the following day peppered officials to explain how a TV station could constitute a legitimate military target. They were told that it was a "Ministry of Lies" that had whipped the Serb population into a frenzy of hatred, and was therefore an essential component of Milosevic's war machine. "Television has been a powerful means of mobilizing the Serb population behind Milosevic's war effort by deliberately creating a patently false impression of events, and NATO believes it has a strong argument for knocking it out," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "Of course, there are powerful arguments against it too, but on balance NATO believes it had more to gain by trying to force Serbs to search elsewhere for news." In any case, such a search would have been rather brief. Six hours after the strike, Milosevic's channel was back on the air broadcasting dramatic footage of firemen pulling the broken and bloodied bodies of night-shift technicians out of the twisted wreckage of the building -- not the sort of images that were going to endear even anti-Milosevic Serbs to NATO's version of events.

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